The New York Rangers are the top point-per-game team in the NHL, but the Minnesota Wild hold that distinction since the All-Star break.
Even that might be selling the latter’s recent dominance a bit short. The Wild have been so impressive in that stretch that they’re averaging as many points as their opponents are goals.
They’ve done a particularly good job of grabbing the league’s attention with a five-game winning streak over mostly impressive competition, and adding the visiting Rangers to that list Thursday night would match the Wild’s longest run of the season and spoil the return of Martin St. Louis.
St. Louis, whose 0.50-point average in 18 games against Minnesota is better than only his marks against Colorado, Detroit and Tampa Bay, has missed eight games with a lower-body injury.
"I’m not used to not being part (of the lineup)," St. Louis told the team’s official website. "I don’t know what the amount of games I’ve missed in my career is, but I know it’s not a lot."
The Rangers (48-21-7) were 4-4-0 without him and are still recording 1.36 points per game for the season, while Minnesota (44-25-7) is at 1.63 in 30 games dating to Jan. 27. What might be more impressive than the 24-5-1 record in that time is that Minnesota hasn’t allowed more than three goals during the stretch while limiting opponents to 1.63 goals per game.
The Wild’s winning streak includes victories over St. Louis, Toronto, the New York Islanders, Calgary and Saturday’s 4-1 home win over Los Angeles.
Mikko Koivu had two goals and an assist, and Nino Niederreiter also scored twice. The penalty kill was 3 for 3 to improve to 25 of 27 over the last 10 games, and goaltending continued to be a non-issue for a team that had more than its share of shake-ups at the position prior to the arrival of Devan Dubnyk.
The Jan. 14 acquisition made 31 saves in his 35th straight start – 34 with the Wild – and since the break he’s posted a 1.63 goals-against average while no other goalie has graced the team’s crease.
"When the guys give such a consistent effort in front of me, and I can go into every game just knowing how hard they’re going to work, and knowing exactly what my job is, and not ever question what the game is going to be like for me, it makes it a lot easier mentally to prepare," Dubnyk said.
New York will be the third team to drop in on the Wild’s five-game homestand. The Rangers scored five third-period goals to erase a three-goal deficit for a 5-4 win Oct. 27, their third victory in the last four meetings.
Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello each had a goal and two assists, while Rick Nash added a goal and an assist to give him 18 points in his last 13 games against the Wild.
While Minnesota pursues wrapping up a wild-card spot or finishing among the top three in the Central Division, the Rangers are nearing the Metropolitan title with sights set on the Presidents’ Trophy.
Tuesday’s 3-2 victory in Winnipeg ended a two-game skid, and Henrik Lundqvist won for the fist time in nearly two months. The veteran made 32 saves in his second game back after missing 25.
"I feel a huge improvement from the first game, just the way I felt and my focus on the right details," said Lundqvist, who lost 4-2 at Boston on Saturday. "It’s definitely a step in the right direction for me."
Minnesota forward Kyle Brodziak will return after missing three games with an upper-body injury.