RANGERS (8-4-1) at WILD (3-9-0)
Last 10 -- Rangers 6-3-1; Wild 2-8-0
Season series -- This is the first and only game between the Rangers and Wild this season. New York defeated Minnesota 2-1 in the clubs' only contest last season on March 24, 2009, at Madison Square Garden. Current Ranger Marian Gaborik scored the only goal for the Wild.
Big Story -- Will he or won't he? Gaborik, the top scorer in Wild history, was set to make his return to Minnesota for the first time as a member of the visiting team, but his status remains uncertain after he went down with a lower-body injury late in the third period on Monday against Phoenix. He didn't play in Wednesday's 3-1 loss to the Islanders. The All-Star right wing signed a multiyear deal with the Rangers on July 1 after playing eight seasons for the Wild. He left as the franchise's all-time leading scorer with 437 points.
Rangers -- New York won seven of its first eight games of the season, but has dropped four of its last five. Wednesday marked the first time that the Rangers played without Gaborik, and his absence was noticeable in the loss to the Islanders. P.A. Parenteau, who was recalled from Hartford (AHL) to fill in for Gaborik, scored his first NHL goal for the Blueshirts. It was the first time this season that they scored less than two goals in a game.
If Gaborik can't skate Friday, then New York will have to look for other sources of offense. That could prove difficult as key players have been in scoring droughts recently. In their last seven games, captain Chris Drury has only one point and right wing Ryan Callahan has just two assists. One positive note for the Rangers is that they are 3-1 against Western Conference opponents this season, but their last win in Minnesota occurred on Feb. 19, 2003.
Wild -- The Wild have had a problem scoring this season -- their 26 goals are the fewest in the Northwest Division, and their six points are in last in the Western Conference. Like the Rangers, Minnesota has several important scorers struggling to find the back of the net as center Eric Belanger hasn't tallied in his last seven games and right wing Martin Havlat -- brought in to replace Gaborik -- hasn't registered a point since the Wild's third game of the season. The Wild are 3-1-0 at home but are coming off their first loss at the XcelEnergyCenter, 4-3 to Nashville on Wednesday night.
The recent rough stretch has certain players calling for a positive change. Right wing Antti Miettinen spoke freely about the Wild's struggles after Wednesday's game.
"It's extremely frustrating. It makes you angry too because we are not playing up to our level," Miettinen said. "We're playing not to lose instead of trying to win."
Who's hot -- The Rangers' Vinny Prospal has recorded five points over his last five games (1g, 4a). Captain Mikko Koivu is in the midst of a three-game points streak for Minnesota and has registered at least a point in four of his last five games.
Injury report -- Gaborik is still questionable for the Rangers with a lower-body injury. Minnesota has three players expected to be missing in action: Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion), Kim Johnsson (upper body) and Josh Harding (lower body soreness).
Stat pack -- The Rangers won't soon forget their last trip to Minnesota on Dec. 20, 2007, a night when Gaborik set a Wild single-game record for goals and points. Gaborik lit up New York to the tune of five goals and an assist in the Wild's 6-3 victory.
Puck drop -- Gaborik desperately wants to play against his former team in his old home. But don't expect the Rangers to rush him back -- even though they say the current injury has nothing to do with the hip and groin problems that plagued him last season. The Wild's change from Jacques Lemaire's trapping system to Todd Richards' up-tempo style isn't going well so far, so a victory over the Rangers -- with or without Gaborik -- would help a lot.
- Eric Goodman, NHL.com