The Blue Jackets (27-19-5) and the Wild (26-18-5) have struggled with consistency all year.
For Minnesota, it’s a tale of two different teams at home and away. The Wild have one of the league’s best records at home and one of the worst on the road.
After a 6-3 loss in Pittsburgh last Thursday immediately before the break, the Wild fell to 9-14-1 away from home. Compare that with a 17-4-4 record in the Xcel Energy Center and the disparity is striking.
That doesn’t bode particularly well for the Wild in their visit to Nationwide Arena.
“It’s hard to put a finger on it,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We’re one of the best teams at home and one of the worst teams on the road. We have to find a way to get the road side better because we have some tough road buildings to go to and we can’t afford to go in like this.”
Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk believes it’s all about the quality of play at the start of games.
“There are a lot of teams that are good in their own building that are going to give you a good push at the drop of the puck and sometimes you have to embrace that and just play simple,” he said. “Let them come at you, stay simple, get to your game.
“When you try to do too much and turn pucks over, that is when it starts to feel out of control. You just have to keep it as simple as you can until you start to feel good, and I don’t think we have done a good job at that.”
The Wild have relied on veteran center Eric Staal, who leads the team with 20 goals and 43 points after scoring once in the loss to the Penguins. He is back with the team after participating in his first NHL All-Star Game since 2011.
The Blue Jackets’ lone all-star representative was defenseman Zach Werenski, who replaced Seth Jones on the Metropolitan roster. Jones became ill during Columbus’ 2-1 at Arizona on Thursday night, which came two days after the Blue Jackets were drilled in Las Vegas by the Golden Knights.
Werenski practiced with the team on Monday after returning from his weekend in Tampa. Teammate Brandon Dubinsky was one of the first players on the ice.
Dubinsky left the team last week in Las Vegas and came home before he was scheduled to play against the Coyotes on Thursday after a six-week absence while a facial fracture healed.
There were questions about whether Dubinsky’s departure was for disciplinary reasons. He denied that Monday.
“I had to deal with some stuff, some medical issues for myself,” he said. “It’s nice to be back at practice and have the opportunity to try to play more.”
Also back from injury is forward Cam Atkinson, who scored the winning goal at Arizona in his first game since missing a month with a broken foot. His return could help jump-start the Blue Jackets’ sluggish offense.
Even though the Blue Jackets have not been able to sustain their level of play through the first four months of the season, they’re still in second place in the Metropolitan Division, six points behind the Washington Capitals.
“We’re still working through some guys just not having great years,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “It’s going to go one way or the other. It’s going to pile up on you or it’s going to help you get some confidence. You can only get that done through games and not practices.”