Wild vs. Predators preview
The Nashville Predators have surged to the top of the league over the last three-plus weeks while the Minnesota Wild have plummeted in the standings.
Nashville tries to continue its run Saturday when it visits the Minnesota Wild, who hope Zach Parise’s return can provide a spark.
The Predators (27-9-4) are tied for the most points in the NHL, riding a Western Conference-best 8-1-2 stretch since Dec. 16 during which they’ve averaged 3.9 goals. Five different players have at least four goals in that span, with Roman Josi scoring a team-high 12 points.
"Now we want to hold onto (first)," goaltender Pekka Rinne, who ranks among the league’s leaders with a 2.00 goals-against average, told the team’s official website. "We’ve been fighting a lot to get there. Everybody knows it’s not easy to hold onto the top spot in the League, because every team is coming at us really focused and trying to take two points. But I think as a team, that’s just made us better."
Six of their last 11 games have gone past regulation with Thursday’s 3-2 home overtime win over Dallas marking their fourth victory in those contests. Shea Weber scored in the first period and had the winner 17 seconds into overtime.
Weber has four goals and seven assists over his last 11 games and is one of the league’s top scoring defensemen with 28 points.
"He’s our leader. He makes so many right plays," said Josi, who had two assists. "He’s the biggest part of our team. You saw it today, he steps up when it counts."
Nashville won 6-5 in overtime at Minnesota on Dec. 20, outshooting the Wild 44-27. Darcy Kuemper was pulled before the second period after allowing three goals on 14 shots.
The Wild (18-16-5) are surrendering 4.0 goals per game during a West-worst 2-5-4 stretch since Dec. 16, falling to last place in the Central Division and trailing Nashville by 17 points.
Minnesota tallied 44 shots in its third straight loss Thursday, a 4-2 defeat to Chicago. The Wild, who have dropped six of seven at home, hadn’t had as many shots in a loss since recording 45 in a 3-2 defeat at Edmonton on Feb. 28, 2009. They outshot the Blackhawks 37-10 over the final two periods after falling behind 2-0 in the first.
"We were short. That’s the bottom line," captain Mikko Koivu said. "But I thought we had a good 60-minute effort from everyone, from the whole team, and that’s what we’re going to need to get out of this."
Parise, whose father died Wednesday, missed his second straight game but is expected to play after returning to practice Friday. Second on the team with 30 points, Parise has 10 goals and five assists in his last 12 meetings with Nashville.
Minnesota could use more production from Ryan Suter, who is fourth on the team with 22 points but doesn’t have any in his last seven games.
Kuemper was placed on injured reserve Thursday with a lower-body injury. Niklas Backstrom stopped 16 of 19 shots against Chicago in his second start in eight games.
These teams combined for 21 goals in the last two meetings.