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Wild hope to end recent home struggles vs. Sharks

by Matthew Mankiewich /
SHARKS (19-12-5) at WILD (16-14-5)


Last 10 --
San Jose 6-3-1; Minnesota 5-3-2

Season series -- Minnesota prevailed in the series opener with a solid 1-0 home win on Nov. 2, thanks to Niklas Backstrom's 36 saves and a 5-on-3 power-play goal by Andrew Brunette. This game is also at Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild have lost four of their last five. The win in November ended a five-game losing streak against the Sharks, who were on a 13-0-2 run in their previous 15 meetings.

Big story -- Inconsistency has been the story of the Sharks all season, but a season-high four-game winning streak going into the Christmas break led people to believe they were back to their old selves. Then the Kings came to town and reminded them how tough the Pacific Division will be the rest of the way with a suffocating 4-0 victory. The Wild also came out of the holiday recess on a winning streak, three games in this case, but they've since dropped post-Christmas matchups to Detroit and Columbus.

Team scope:

Sharks -- They came into Monday with a shot at sole possession of second place in the division and riding a streak where they outscored their opponents 14-6. Then the Sharks took 12 minutes to get a shot on goal, got outshot 30-14 through two periods and rode Antti Niemi until he could hold the hustling Kings off no longer, allowing four third-period goals in the Sharks' fifth shutout of the season.

"I'm just embarrassed," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "It was a terrible effort. There were a lot of line changes and faceoffs where things could happen. It was just effort. A lot of us took the night off and against a team as good as that, it can't happen."

Wild -- All season long, the Wild's power play got them out of trouble, especially on the road, where it's third-best in the NHL at 23.3 percent. So when they draw seven power-play opportunities in Columbus on Monday night, a five-minute major among them, one might have expected a couple extra goals on the scoreboard. They pulled an oh-fer, as the Jackets managed to grab a point in the shootout, 4-3 at Nationwide Arena.

It's a rare night when the Wild outshoot an opponent, and they did convincingly by a 40-22 clip, leaving a good impression on coach Todd Richards for the most part.

"I like the way that we played. Five-on-five play was great," he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "I liked every facet of our game except the power play."

Who's hot -- Antero Niittymaki will likely get the start once again for the Sharks despite Niemi playing well against the Kings. He was in net for all four games of the winning streak, stopped 47 of 49 shots in the last two and has a 6-1-1 record on the road with a 2.23 goals-against average. … Cal Clutterbuck led the NHL in hits two seasons running and does so once again by a sizable margin, but his late goal on Monday tied the game and forced overtime.

Injury report --
Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell suffered a lower-body injury in Colorado on Thursday, and remains day-to-day. Other than long-term injuries, the Wild are healthy.

Stat pack -- Before they went 0-for-7 on Monday with a man advantage, the Wild hadn't missed that many chances in a game since they went 0-for-9 against the Sharks in their last meeting. For all their road prowess on the power play, the Wild have gone 3-for-28 at home, which contributes to a 2-5-1 record in their last eight games at Xcel Energy Center. Overall, their 8-8-2 home record is third-worst in the Western Conference. On the other hand, the Sharks have registered at least one power-play goal in each of their last five road games.

Puck drop --
"There has to be a complete turnaround. There's nothing from this game we can take and say 'keep doing that.' We were outworked, outhustled, outmuscled and outcommitted. It was pretty obvious one team came to play and another team came to see what would happen." -- Sharks coach Todd McLellan after their 4-0 loss to the Kings on Monday

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