WILD (35-27-7) at CANUCKS (45-16-9)
TV: FS-N (HD), FS-WI (HD), SNET-VAN (HD)
Minnesota 4-5-1; Vancouver 7-3-0
Fifth of six meetings between these Northwest Division rivals. The season series is currently even at two, but the Canucks won the most recent matchup, 4-1 on Feb. 15, and took the only game played in Vancouver so far, 5-1 way back on Oct. 22. Manny Malhotra
leads them with 3 goals and 5 points, while Matt Cullen
has 2 goals and 4 points to pace the Wild.
Following a semi-lull for the Presidents' Trophy leaders in which they alternated wins and losses over a stretch of a dozen games, the Canucks seem to have rounded back into top form after sweeping a five-game road trip. This presents a formidable challenge for the Wild, who not only have dropped the first two on their own four-game road trip, but are still looking for their first goal.
Life doesn't get any easier for Minnesota after matching 4-0 losses in Nashville and Dallas, as it must face Vancouver and San Jose before returning to the Xcel Energy Center on Saturday to begin a four-game homestand against Columbus. The Wild start Monday four points out of a Western Conference playoff spot, but need to find a means of getting the NHL's 25th-ranked offense (2.52 goals per game) kicked into the next gear.
"No sugar-coating, it's tough," Cullen said. "This is going to be a good test for our team. We have to respond. We can't sit here and complain and whine. It's two tough games."
The road sweep for Vancouver was impressive on a number of levels. All five teams the Canucks beat were West foes that either already occupy a playoff spot or are very much alive in the fight for one, and they outscored them by a 19-11 margin. That included three consecutive one-goal victories to finish out the run, with Saturday bringing a 4-3 win over the Flames. Daniel Sedin
scored twice and assisted on an Alexandre Burrows
goal as Vancouver prevented Calgary from jumping four spots in the standings.
"Before the trip, we were struggling putting pucks in the net, so it was nice to be able to score a few goals," Sedin said.
Each twin took advantage of the road trip to put together a five-game points streak, as Daniel Sedin
registered 5 goals and 5 assists while Henrik Sedin
had 1 goal and 8 assists for the Canucks. Burrows has goals in consecutive games and three of the last five.
Minnesota will be without forward Guillaume Latendresse
for at least one game, as he returned home to be examined by team doctors after experiencing soreness related to abdominal issues that kept him out for much of the season. Captain Mikko Koivu
is on injured reserve with a broken finger, while forward Cal Clutterbuck
is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. Defensemen Clayton Stoner
(groin) and Cam Barker (upper body) are day-to-day. … Vancouver defensemen Alexander Edler
(back), Lee Sweatt (foot), Andrew Alberts
(wrist) and Kevin Bieksa
(foot) are on injured reserve. Forward Tanner Glass is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo
was lit up for six goals on 24 shots and pulled after two periods of a 6-2 loss to the Wild on Oct. 20. That's his only appearance against them this season, as backup Corey Schneider has gone 2-1-0 with a 1.80 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in three starts and one relief appearance.
Minnesota could be close to getting Koivu and Clutterbuck back, which would be a huge lift to the lineup both offensively and in terms of on-ice leadership. Koivu had the splint taken off his broken finger Friday, but wasn't ready to be activated to play against Dallas.
"We're taking it day by day. That's all I can say," Koivu told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It is what it is. There's nothing you can do about it. It's getting there. It is what it is."