The Minnesota Wild has had a bear of month, winning just three times in 15 games, but its last two outings have left players and coach Bruce Boudreau with reasons for optimism.
While losses to Philadelphia and Vancouver last week left Boudreau angered -- even embarrassed, as he noted following Saturday's loss to the Canucks -- Minnesota's past two games have him feeling like the Wild is on the right track.
Each of the past two games have resulted in overtime losses, but besides the valuable two points in the standings, the Wild has resembled the team that was among the NHL's best for the first five months of the regular season.
"The negatives were when we played Vancouver. We didn't have anybody going against a team that we should beat," Boudreau said Tuesday night. "These last two games I thought we dominated both games 5-on-5. It's always darkest before the dawn, that's a saying, and I truly believe that. It's getting better."
Over the past two games, Minnesota has held Detroit and Washington to a combined 39 shots on goal. In those games, they have given up a total of two goals 5-on-5.
The issue Tuesday was the penalty kill. Alex Ovechkin scored three times with the man advantage to finish off his 17th career hat trick.
On Sunday, Tomas Tatar's tying goal 55 seconds into the third period also came with the Red Wings on a power play.
During that stretch, Minnesota has gone 0-for-7 on its own power plays.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Wild worked hard on special teams on Wednesday in an effort to get its special teams on par with its outstanding 5-on-5 play.
Video: Wild Practice Recap 3/29/17
"Obviously, our special teams have to be better," said Wild forward Jason Pominville. "But it was a big step in the right direction. If we keep playing that way 5-on-5, we'll win a lot more games for sure."
During its recent stretch, the Wild has struggled to piggyback a quality game with another. It's managed to do so this week, with the added benefit of being able to follow that with a productive practice to help clean up certain areas of its game.
Video: Bruce Boudreau Practice Recap 3/29/17
"We hadn't had a chance to practice too often, and even some of the stuff we've practiced was getting away from us," Boudreau said. "It wasn't as smooth as it would have been three months ago. But those are some of the [details] you have to pull back in and get tighter. Hopefully we achieved a little bit of that today."
Eriksson Ek arrives
The Wild recalled Joel Eriksson Ek from his club in Sweden on Tuesday. After a long day of travel to get to Minnesota, he arrived around game time and was on the ice for his first practice with the club since they sent him back to Sweden in mid-November.
"I'm glad to be back," Eriksson Ek said. "Hopefully I can bring my game, if I'm playing, I'll do the best I can."
Eriksson Ek scored two goals and had three assists in nine games with the Wild early in the season but was sent back to Sweden so he could play big minutes in all situations, a scenario that may not have been possible here.
But with his club team's season over, the Wild felt it was prudent to add him back to the mix here for the stretch run.
He played center during his time here but also has the ability to play left wing, as he did in Sweden over the past several weeks. That flexibility makes him a valuable commodity as Boudreau fills out his lineup.
"He looks bigger and stronger," Boudreau said. "He's 205 pounds now, he wasn't 205 when he first got here. He's starting to grow into his body. He's been a great player in Europe and he was good here for us early on. I think when he plays for us, he'll be good again."
Boudreau said he hasn't decided whether Eriksson Ek will play on Thursday against the Ottawa Senators, but he did skate on a line with Nino Niederreiter during practice Wednesday.
Parise on the mend
Wild forward Zach Parise appears to have escaped serious injury after he was high-sticked in the face by Washington's Tom Wilson during the first period on Tuesday.
Video: WSH@MIN: Parise takes high stick, exits early
After taking a stick blade under the visor, Parise crashed to the ice, colliding with the Capitals' Jay Beagle on the way down, and sustaining an upper-body injury in the process.
While the eye is swollen and the club will have Parise run through a battery of tests on Wednesday to make sure nothing else is wrong on that front, it's likely the upper-body injury that will keep him from the lineup for a couple of days.
"His eye looks pretty black and blue, but he can see and he's fine as far as that goes," Boudreau said. "A little sore in his upper body, but I don't think he's going to be out for a long period of time."
Boudreau said he doesn't think Parise will play Thursday but could be ready to go this weekend or shortly thereafter.
Scouting the Senators
After starting the month with six straight wins, the Ottawa Senators have lost four of their past six games. Despite the rough patch, the Senators are still in the mix for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, beginning the day Wednesday four points behind the Montreal Canadiens while also possessing one game in hand. Defenseman Erik Karlsson is in the midst of another Norris Trophy-caliber season, with 15 goals and 53 assists in 75 games. Former Wisconsin Badger Kyle Turris leads the club with 26 goals.