Avalanche-Wild Preview

The Christmas break may have come at the perfect time for the

Minnesota Wild, who hobbled into the holiday on a six-game losing

streak – but still with a slim lead in the Northwest Division.

The return of their captain and leading scorer would be a great

gift.

The Wild hope to have Mikko Koivu back in the lineup Monday as

they look to end their skid and hand the Colorado Avalanche a 10th

consecutive road defeat.

Minnesota (20-11-5) was the surprise of the early season,

surging to the top of the NHL standings at one point under

first-year coach Mike Yeo.

A harsh dose of reality has set in lately, however, with the

Wild suddenly lacking several key forwards – and, consequently,

most of their offensive production. They’ve totaled three goals

during their last four games, all played without Koivu due to a leg

injury.

Koivu, the team leader with 28 points and a plus-9 rating, had

been hoping to return Thursday at Edmonton but is now targeting

Monday

That 4-1 defeat to the Oilers was perhaps the ugliest during the

Wild’s 0-4-2 skid, as Minnesota fell behind 4-0 in the first 23

minutes and was outshot 20-3 in the first period.

“We just weren’t ready at the start and it cost us the game,”

forward Kyle Brodziak said. “I think we have to take a look in the

mirror and make sure we are better from here on out. It hasn’t been

good enough. It’s not fun right now.”

It may be even less fun for the injured players – besides Koivu

– who are watching their teammates slump. Forwards Devin Setoguchi

(ankle), Casey Wellman (wrist) and Guillaume Latendresse

(post-concussion symptoms) are all trying to work their way back

into the lineup.

Minnesota maintains a one-point division lead over Vancouver,

with Colorado (18-17-1) also climbing closer thanks to a four-game

winning streak.

All those victories, however, came at the Pepsi Center – part of

an eight-game home winning streak that’s the Avs’ longest since

they moved to Denver.

“We are comfortable here at home, no doubt,” goalie

Jean-Sebastien Giguere said after Friday’s 2-1 overtime victory

over Tampa Bay. “I always believe to be a playoff team, you have to

be .500 on the road. We have to get back on the road and start

winning some games.”

The last time the Avalanche won a road game was Oct. 22. Since

winning their first six road contests, they’ve been outscored 41-20

while going 0-8-1 outside of Colorado, also the franchise’s longest

such streak since the Quebec Nordiques relocated.

The drought includes a 1-0 defeat at Minnesota on Nov. 17, the

Avs’ third straight loss in St. Paul. Niklas Backstrom stopped 27

shots in that game, improving to 18-4-2 with a 2.18 goals-against

average versus Colorado.

Giguere has started the Avs’ last four games ahead of

first-stringer Semyon Varlamov, going 4-0-0 with a 1.45 GAA. He

lost to the Wild last month, stopping 17 shots but yielding the

lone goal of the game to Setoguchi with 2:31 remaining to end up

with his sixth straight defeat at Minnesota.

Varlamov, 1-3-0 with a 4.63 GAA in his last four starts overall,

has never played in the Twin Cities.