Preview: Wild at Jets
Following a lackluster road trip, the Minnesota Wild quickly got back to winning when they returned home for two games against struggling teams.
The Wild will likely face stiffer opposition and a seemingly motivated rival in the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday when they hit the road again for a brief trip.
Minnesota (5-1-1) secured its best start since going 6-0-1 in 2008-09 by topping winless Columbus 3-2 on Thursday and beating Anaheim 3-0 on Saturday. Devan Dubnyk needed to make just 15 saves for his first shutout this season and drop the Ducks, a Western Conference finalist in 2014-15, to 1-5-1.
Jared Spurgeon also had a pair of assists for the second straight contest.
"It was a good team win and now we get to forget about really quickly and get ready for a tough game (Sunday)," coach Mike Yeo said. "Obviously, they’re going to play hard against us, but we’re going to play hard against them in our own way. We’re going to go in there and focus on playing our game."
The Ducks previously sent the Wild to their only regulation loss, a 4-1 defeat Oct. 18 that ended a 1-1-1 road trip. Minnesota will return home after this trek to Winnipeg and play five of its next six games on its own ice.
The Wild just missed their third straight win in Winnipeg in their most recent visit Feb. 10, falling 2-1 in overtime. They went 2-1-2 in the season series against their Central Division rivals and finished one point ahead of the Jets in the Western Conference.
"I don’t think either team really likes each other," coach Paul Maurice said. "It’s a function of us being neck and neck with them in the standings and scratching and clawing and playing five times. That will be the story (Sunday)."
The Jets (4-2-1) head into this season’s initial matchup seeking to snap their first losing streak in 2015-16. They lost 4-3 in overtime to Tampa Bay on Friday and dropped to 1-1-1 on their six-game homestand.
Blake Wheeler tied a franchise record with a seven-game season-opening point streak. He scored a short-handed goal in the third period, giving him four goals and five assists during his run.
"He has a real strong understanding of his game," Maurice said. "He’s not necessarily hoping for points. He’s certainly doesn’t cheat anywhere on the ice. He gives everything he can.
"I think he’s just a real mature, high-end pro now."
Wheeler had two goals and one assist last season against Minnesota. Wild forward Jason Pominville had two goals and five assists in 2014-15 versus Winnipeg, but he’s gone pointless in his last four games.
Pominville scored both goals on Michael Hutchinson, and Maurice indicated there’s a chance the Jets’ backup goaltender could start Sunday.
Hutchinson has allowed two goals on 62 shots while winning his first two games this season and is 2-2-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average in four career starts against Minnesota.
With Dubnyk starting Saturday, Darcy Kuemper will likely make his second appearance this season. He made 35 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss in Los Angeles on Oct. 16 and is 2-0-0 with a 1.71 GAA in two career starts against the Jets, both last season.