ST. PAUL, Minn. -- After falling in Thursday’s shootout, 4-3, to New Jersey, Minnesota’s winless streak hit five games. Later today, the Wild welcomes the last team over which it recorded a victory.
The Los Angeles Kings are in St. Paul for the second time in two weeks, with the Wild earning a 2-1 overtime win on March 2. That result marked Minnesota’s third consecutive win, and the team has gone 0-2-3 since. In its most recent result vs. New Jersey, the Wild ran another streak of its own to three games, that of its shootout losses.
"It's tough not to get two points, but it's good that we're back playing good hockey," Brent Burns said afterward. "The last two games, we played good enough, we just have to keep going. If we're playing good hockey, that's what matters."
Both teams enter the 7 p.m. CDT game, which will be televised nationally only on HDNet, having played to a 3-4-3 record over their previous 10 games, a mark that ranks lower than all but two other teams in the Western Conference.
Overall, however, the Wild and Kings are separated by 20 points in the standings, with Los Angeles’ 62 points ranking No. 30 in the NHL. The Kings also rank No. 15 in the West in losses (38), road losses (20), goals against (235) and penalty killing (79.6%).
Los Angeles does, however, know how to put the puck in the net. The Kings rank fifth in the conference in goals scored (204) and third in power play conversion (18.1%), and are coming off a four-goal effort in a win over Nashville on Thursday. The win gave Los Angeles a 2-1-1 record over its previous four games and it enters with a chance to win two straight for the first time since early February.
Minnesota, on the other hand, hasn’t scored more than three goals since Feb. 17 and has only three wins in the 12 games since. In the tight Northwest Division race, the Wild has remained in the hunt throughout the month, and currently sits tied for second with Calgary at 82 points, each of whom trails division-leading Colorado by two points. (Both teams have a game in hand on the Avalanche.)
The teams have met three times this season, with the Wild taking a 2-1-1 season series record into tonight’s game.
Marian Gaborik. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft has points in each of his last eight games (seven goals, five assists) vs. the Kings since Feb. 7, 2006. The Wild is 5-1-2 in that span.
Wild Keys to the game
1. Overcoming the spoiler factor: Los Angeles is nearing mathematical elimination, but has been out of contention for long enough to relish the role of spoiler down the stretch. The cliché is that a team with nothing to lose is a dangerous one, and the Kings are young and aware of the ability to ruin some opponents’ days over the last month.
"This is the playoffs for the Kings," said Barry Trotz, after his Predators lost to Los Angles on Thursday. " There is not a better feeling for a team that is out of the running for the playoffs but to be able to anger or really disrupt a team that is still trying to make it.”
2. Keep on keepin’ on: The Wild, on the heels of a disappointing two-game trip to the Southwest Conference late last week, regrouped to author a pair of spirited efforts against two of the top four teams in the NHL. With the efforts submitted over the previous two games, Minnesota’s results should start falling in the win column.
3. Mixing and matching: The Wild called up prospect Benoit Pouliot to fill the roster spot left open by injured center Steve Kelly, who was called up to fill the roster spot left open by injured center Eric Belanger..
Keep an eye on ...
Erik Ersberg. The Los Angeles goaltender stopped 37 shots Thursday, and the 26-year-old, first-year goaltender, one of a league-high six goalies used by the Kings this season, is, according to the Associated Press, 2-2-1 with a 1.99 goals against average in five starts this month.
Probable (though not definite) Wild line combos
Todd Fedoruk-Mikko Koivu-Marian Gaborik Pierre-Marc Bouchard-Pavol Demitra-Brian Rolston
Stephane Veilleux-James Sheppard-Branko Radivojevic
Mark Parrish-Benoit Pouliot-Chris Simon
Probable (though not definite) Wild defense pairings
Brent Burns-Nick Schultz
Kim Johnsson-Martin Skoula
Kurtis Foster-Keith Carney