Wild vs. Maple Leafs preview
Despite a slow start, the Minnesota Wild managed to make the playoffs last season because of their success after New Year’s Day.
The struggling club will try to launch another such push beginning Friday night against the short-handed Toronto Maple Leafs and avoid matching the longest home losing streak in franchise history.
Minnesota went 23-10-7 in its 2014 portion of last season’s schedule after starting 20-17-5, claiming a wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Wild (17-14-4) have had a similarly lackluster start this season, going 1-3-3 in their last seven to enter 2015 seven points out of a playoff spot.
They’ve also dropped four in a row at home, one shy of the team-record five-game skid recorded twice in 2011-12 and most recently April 1-21, 2013. The club had three winless streaks of six games or longer on home ice before shootouts were implemented in 2005-06.
This home skid has seen the Wild give up an average of 4.5 goals and lose three in overtime.
Minnesota hasn’t earned back-to-back victories anywhere since a four-game win streak Nov. 13-20. The most recent failure to do so came Wednesday, giving up two goals in the third period in a 3-1 loss in Columbus.
"We can’t get on a roll," coach Mike Yeo said. "It’s disappointing. That was a game that was there for us. But we didn’t dig in deep enough to get it."
Toronto (21-14-3) also is having some difficulty defensively, giving up 27 goals in a 2-5-0 stretch.
The Maple Leafs did earn a 4-3 shootout win over Boston on Tuesday after blowing a two-goal lead in the second period.
"We needed it. That’s for sure. The one thing we tried to preach to our group is there has to be a stop sign in what was happening," coach Randy Carlyle said. "We were playing too loose. We can’t continue to play no-touch hockey, and that’s what we felt we were playing."
Carlyle’s club, though, also lost two key forwards to injury. While Joffrey Lupul (lower body) was placed on injured reserve Thursday, Peter Holland was slated to return to Toronto for more evaluation after suffering an upper-body injury. Lupul has 17 points in 26 games, and Holland has set career highs of eight goals and eight assists.
Leo Komarov scored Wednesday in his return from a concussion that had kept him out since Nov. 29, and Jonathan Bernier was back in net after a two-game absence due to the flu.
"I tried to play my style, but I don’t think I played that good today. I only had a couple practices under me," Komarov said. "I need to get into it and I need some more games."
The Maple Leafs will play their sixth of a season-high seven consecutive road games because of the World Junior Championship being held in their arena, and they’re 2-3-0 so far. They’re also in a stretch where 16 of 20 games are away from home until Feb. 7.
Toronto lost 2-1 to the Wild in a shootout in the most recent matchup Nov. 13, 2013, snapping its three-game win streak in the series. The Maple Leafs are 1-2-1 in their last four visits to Minnesota.
Bernier is just 3-1-3 against the Wild despite a 1.11 goals-against average which is his lowest versus any opponent. Three of his nine career shutouts have been against them.