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Numbers suggest Wild have work cut out in Detroit

by John Kreiser

It's no surprise that one of the two teams in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry matchup (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN/TSN2) is in first place. The surprise is that the Minnesota Wild, not the Detroit Red Wings, are the club on top of their division as the season heads for the home stretch. The Wild are trying to win just the second division title in franchise history and end a four-year playoff drought; the Red Wings are trying to make the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive season.

Here's a statistical look at this week's Rivalry Night matchup:

No go at the Joe: The Wild won their first visit to Joe Louis Arena by beating the Red Wings 5-3 on Dec. 27, 2000. Since then, however, Detroit has been a nightmarish stop for Minnesota. The Wild have won only two more games in regulation at the Joe, none since a 4-2 victory on Jan. 3, 2006. The Red Wings have points in each of the Wild's last 13 visits (10-0-3) and are 16-3-1-3 against Minnesota on their home ice, including a 5-3 win on Jan. 25.

First things first: The Wild enter Wednesday night on top of the Northwest Division with 34 points after a 3-1 victory at Vancouver on Tuesday moved them past the Canucks. Detroit comes into the game with 33 points. The Wild are trying to win the second division title in franchise history and the first since 2007-08. A victory would also help their quest to finish with more points than the Red Wings for the first time since entering the NHL in 2000.

Pavel power: If the Wild want to leave Detroit with a rare victory, they'll have to find a way to stop Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk. The Red Wings have scored eight times in their two meetings with the Wild this season, and Datsyuk has been involved in five of the eight goals, scoring twice and assisting on three others. In all, he's 9-18-27 in 36 career games against Minnesota.

Getting their money's worth: The Wild made major commitments last summer to a pair of free agents, forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter -- and so far, they're largely happy with both players' production. Parise leads the team in goals with 11 and is third with 22 points. He's one point behind Suter, whose 21 assists lead the Wild. Suter also leads the NHL in average ice time at 27:20 per game.

Nick and Howie: Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom has been on a roll, going 11-3-1 in his last 15 decisions -- including a 35-save performance in Monday's 3-1 win at Vancouver. But he's struggled against the Red Wings, going 1-4-3 with a 3.24 goals-against average, and didn't play in either of Minnesota's first two games against Detroit. In contrast, Detroit's Jimmy Howard has enjoyed great success against the Wild, going 9-2-2 in 13 career games against Minnesota. He was in goal for the Red Wings' 5-3 home win in January.

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