Reeling Wild start tough stretch Saturday in Winnipeg
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — In the midst of an offensively anemic five-game losing streak, the Minnesota Wild enter the NHL’s toughest building to face their most recent playoff opponent, the Western Conference-leading Winnipeg Jets, in a 3 p.m. puck drop Saturday.
“Obviously, things haven’t been going as well as we’d want them to, and this is obviously a huge game for us,” winger Nino Niederreiter said Friday. “We’ve got two find a way to get back on track.”
Like many of his teammates, Niederreiter has been held off the scoresheet since the Wild’s last win — a 5-1 victory over Florida on Dec. 13. The Wild have just five goals during their five-game skid, and Winnipeg plays an aggressive, up-ice style of defensive hockey.
“They play right in your face and all over the map and all over the ice,” Neiderreiter said. “They play a tight-checking game and it’s definitely very tough to play against them. … There’s a reason they’re on top right now.”
The Wild’s division rival is 10-2-0 in December and has accumulated the second-most points on home ice in the NHL, going 13-5-2 at Bell MTS Place this season. The Jets’ 45-12-4 record home record over the past two years is tops in the NHL.
The Wild put 48 shots on net Thursday in Chicago but lost 5-2.
“We’re hoping you go out and beat the best then maybe things turn right around; that’s what we’re hanging our hat on,” wild coach Bruce Boudreau said after an afternoon practice Friday. “We’re not going in there and saying, ‘Woe is me.’ If you look at this league, a lot of teams are really sort of struggling right now, but then they turn it around and go for seven wins in a row. That’s just … what confidence has to do with this game.
“We want to get on that train, and we know we’ve got a tough stretch ahead of us. I mean, if we can do it during the tough stretch, then more power to us.”
Following Saturday’s game, the Wild return home for a New Year’s Eve date with the Penguins. They then have two days to prepare for another tough road test on Jan. 3 against the NHL’s current No. 2 club, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“You always are trying to realize where you’re at,” forward Jason Zucker said. “I think when you’re playing a division rival, there’s always a little bit more urgency and a bit more eagerness to that game, and a little bit more of a battle level. So, it’s something that could be good for us.”
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk is expected to start Saturday despite being pulled in Chicago for the third time in his past 13 games.
“He’s our No. 1 guy,” said Boudreau, who yanked Dubnyk after he allowed three goals on 10 Blackhawks shots Thursday. “Hey, we all have our moments in the sun. If forwards got pulled every time they didn’t gave a good game, or defensemen, boy, you’d see a lot of teams playing with 13 players a lot of nights.
“He’s the guy I’ve relied on since the day I got here, and I thought he had a really good practice today, so I’m sure he’s going to come out and play great tomorrow.”
Defenseman Nick Seeler took a maintenance day Friday after getting nicked up in Chicago. “He was sore, but we’ll see,” Boudreau said. “I would venture to guess that, if we make a determination tonight that Seeler can’t go, then we’re going to be bringing somebody up.”