Preview: Wild vs. Stars

Just when it looked like the Minnesota Wild had busted a three-week slump, it’s returned with a vengeance.

The culprit: A lack of goal-scoring. In three consecutive losses, Minnesota managed only two goals, dropping out of the Western Conference playoff picture as the season nears its halfway point.

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The Wild look to find the back of the net and the win column Saturday night in their last game before the NHL’s mandatory Christmas break, hosting the Dallas Stars at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Minnesota’s 2-1 defeat Thursday night in Pittsburgh was easily the most frustrating in its recent string of defeats. The Wild carried play to the Penguins most of the game, taking 41 shots on goal and also outhitting Pittsburgh.

But all that good work resulted in Jordan Greenway’s first period goal and nothing else. Casey DeSmith, who has not been confused with Ken Dryden or Martin Brodeur — or even teammate Matt Murray — stood on his head with 40 saves.

The website naturalstattrick.com credited Minnesota with 25 scoring chances, 13 from high-danger areas. None of it mattered, not on this night.

“It’s hard to believe the open nets and the chances we’re getting and we’re not scoring,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think you talk to the players, who are probably just as frustrated as I am. Those are plays we’ve got to bury … we’ve got to bury those things.”

Minnesota (17-15-2) is 18th in the NHL in goals with 102, an average of three per game. But its offense has come in short, brief bursts. Last week, it routed Montreal 7-1 on Dec. 11 and then thumped Florida 5-1 on Dec. 13.

Since then, it’s like the Wild have been shooting on a thimble instead of a net. Basketball players talk about how after they make a couple of shots, the goal seems to increase in size. Well, the net sure doesn’t seem to be increasing for Minnesota lately.

“You just got to work, compete … you got to get to the dirty areas,” forward Eric Staal said. “You got to keep shooting and you get a couple of greasy ones and the confidence slowly builds. It’s pretty simple. It’s not anything that no one knows.”

Dallas (17-15-3) may not come into town with much sympathy for the Wild. It’s fresh off a bad 5-2 home loss Thursday night to Chicago. The Stars fell behind 3-0 early in the second period en route to their fourth loss in five games.

“There’s no excuse, it’s a tough league,” first-year Dallas coach Jim Montgomery said. “We’ve got to go to Minnesota and we’ve got to be a lot better than we were tonight.”

If there was good news for Dallas, it came in the form of John Klingberg’s return. The high-scoring defenseman missed 18 games with a hand injury suffered in early November. While Klingberg didn’t score a point and recorded a minus three in his return Thursday night, his presence should eventually boost an offense which ranks 23rd in the league with only 96 goals.