WILD (20-10-5) at OILERS (14-16-3)
TV: FS-N (HD), FS-WI (HD), SNET-EDM
Minnesota 5-3-2; Edmonton 2-7-1
Fifth of six meetings between these Northwest Division rivals, who won't see each other again following the final matchup on Dec. 29. The Wild have won three times, all via the shootout -- Devin Setoguchi
, Matt Cullen
and Kyle Brodziak
scoring the decisive goals. The Oilers won the only game decided in regulation, 5-2 on Nov. 25, as rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
had a pair of goals.
The surprise story of the 2011-12 NHL season, the Wild have been dealt their first real taste of adversity as they enter on an 0-3-2 stretch in which they have scored only six goals. Minnesota still leads the Northwest, but Vancouver is creeping up, and Chicago has gone ahead in the overall standings. Meanwhile, Edmonton enters on a four-game skid of its own that has dropped the Oilers into last in the division.
This is the finale of a three-game road swing through western Canada for Minnesota, which has fallen to 28th in League scoring (2.31 goals per game) with its recent offensive struggles. The Wild were shut out in Vancouver on Monday night, and 24 hours later in Calgary the only player to solve Miikka Kiprusoff was Pierre-Marc Bouchard
, whose goal 6:10 into the first created a 1-1 tie. But Flames captain Jarome Iginla's goal in the second was the difference as the Wild suffered a 2-1 defeat.
"We've had the feeling all year long that we're never out of it, and we had that feeling again," forward Dany Heatley
said. "But even though you have that feeling, it doesn't mean you're going to come back every night. We kept coming at them, drew some penalties, created some chances, and we'll have to do the same thing in Edmonton on Thursday night."
Growing pains have started to set in in Edmonton, where the young Oilers have won just twice in their past 11 games. Their two most recent losses, however, have been one-goal defeats to two of the Western Conference's better teams, the Sharks and Red Wings. When Detroit visited Rexall Place on Monday night, Ryan Jones
and Jordan Eberle
wiped out a pair of deficits with second-period goals, Eberle scoring on the power play with 0.5 seconds left in the period. But the Oilers fell 3-2 when they allowed a goal to Drew Miller with 4:15 to play in regulation.
"We played hard and I felt we were with them every step of the way," coach Tom Renney said. "We worked hard and did a lot of good things. We have to stick with it. We can't feel sorry for ourselves. No one is going to hand you points. We have a couple of games to build on now and maybe we can start winning again."
Wild captain Mikko Koivu
has 4 goals and 4 assists during a six-game points streak, but has missed the last three games with a leg injury -- the team has scored just two goals in his absence. … Eberle and Jones have both scored in consecutive games for the Oilers. Eberle has 10 goals and 13 assists in the last 17 games, tying Nugent-Hopkins for the team scoring lead. Each has 13 goals and 34 points.
Koivu remains day-to-day for Minnesota, while Setoguchi (ankle) and fellow forwards Casey Wellman
(wrist) and Guillaume Latendresse
(post-concussion symptoms) are on injured reserve. … Edmonton forward Sam Gagner
(neck) is day-to-day, while defenseman Cam Barker
(ankle) is on injured reserve.
Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom
is 3-0-0 against the Oilers this season with a 1.24 goals-against average and .952 save percentage, while at the other end, Nikolai Khabibulin
is 1-0-3 with a 1.41 GAA and .953 save percentage. Nugent-Hopkins has 3 goals in the four games so far, while Eberle has 5 points.
First-year Minnesota coach Mike Yeo told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he was "very hopeful" Koivu could return to the lineup in Edmonton, but cautioned, "We're not going to put a guy in there that's not ready to go. We have to look at the big picture here." Koivu leads the team with 28 points and had been held off the score sheet just once in his last 15 games prior to being injured.