Preview: Wild at Senators
If the Minnesota Wild hold on to make the playoffs, they might look back and credit themselves with improved play on the road as the difference and be immediately rewarded without home-ice advantage in the first round.
That’s looking less and less like such a daunting task entering the second of a three-game road trip Tuesday night against Ottawa as Minnesota has a shot at a season-best four-game winning streak away from home.
The Wild (32-27-10) didn’t have too much trouble with Montreal in Saturday’s 4-1 win for a sixth victory in eight away games, a stretch that followed a season-opening 9-12-6 road record. Minnesota sits in eighth in the Western Conference, tied with Colorado with a game in hand.
"It’s just keeping the game simple," interim coach John Torchetti told the team’s official website. "Just like we talked about this morning, and the other day prior, and now we have to take that, we’re still on the road here for a little bit, but we have to take that game home with us, too."
Mikael Granlund scored twice, Nino Niederreiter had a goal and an assist, and Thomas Vanek managed two assists Saturday after totaling one point in his previous seven games.
"We got pucks in deep early and then played a solid game," Niederreiter said. "There were moments where they definitely outworked us but overall we stayed strong and we deserved to win."
That was in part because Devan Dubnyk made 30 saves in his return from a one-game absence due to illness. He’s been in goal for the three-game away streak, posting a 1.30 goals-against average and .953 save percentage. He’s also won both of his career starts against the Senators behind a 1.44 GAA and .957 save percentage.
The teams haven’t met this season and will play again March 31.
Ottawa (32-30-8) is also coming off a multigoal win, 4-0 at home over Toronto on Saturday, but it’ll need quite a few more to return to the playoff picture. The Senators are seven points back of eighth-place Detroit in the East and have given up an average of 3.22 goals over a 3-4-2 span since they last won consecutive contests.
Mark Stone had a goal and two assists against the Maple Leafs to extend his point streak to five as part of a 10-game span with 14 points, and Zack Smith scored for the fifth straight contest on an eight-game point streak. Both are career bests.
"Much better game management, puck management," coach Dave Cameron said. "The only thing that I would have liked to seen more of was shots at the net. I still thought we passed up too many shots looking for the grade-A chance, but overall happy with our puck management, game management and what we limited Toronto to."
Whom they limited is of importance considering the Senators’ wins in that nine-game span are against the Maple Leafs twice and Calgary. The win before that came against Edmonton, so it’s been since a 3-2 shootout victory over Detroit on Feb. 20 that Ottawa defeated a team that’s not currently in the bottom two of its respective conference.
Pumping a little life into the power play could help that along. The Senators have gone 0 for 14 over the last six games, while the Wild are 15 of 42 (35.7 percent) with at least one power-play goal in their last 13 on the road.
Craig Anderson figures to be in goal for a follow-up effort to the shutout after a four-game stretch on which he’d gone 1-2-0 with a 4.81 GAA and .874 save percentage. He also shut out Minnesota in his last game in the series, a 35-save effort in a 3-0 home win Nov. 6, 2014.