Preview: Oilers at Wild
THE STORY: A must-win game in the first week of the season? As foolhardy as that sounds, that likely will be the mind-set of the Minnesota Wild as they prepare to host the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night. After a rousing opening-night victory at home against Columbus in which prime offseason acquisitions Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi played prominent roles, Minnesota has stumbled in back-to-back road games against the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators. Given the soft schedule they were handed to open the season, the Wild need to beat Northwest Division rival Edmonton – more for their collective pysches than for their place in the standings. Otherwise, Minnesota could be staring at three consecutive losses to three of the league’s worst teams from 2010-11. The Oilers have played only once, getting a late tying goal from this year’s No. 1 overall pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, before beating the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins in a shootout.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, RSW, FSNO
ABOUT THE OILERS (1-0-0): After wresting the starting job from Nikolai Khabibulin in training camp, goaltender Devan Dubnyk turned aside 33 shots in the opener. His performance was rewarded when Jordan Eberle and Ales Hemsky scored in a shootout to beat Pittsburgh. Nugent-Hopkins’ tying tally came on a between-the-legs pass from Taylor Hall, last year’s No. 1 overall selection. LW Ryan Smyth drew a game misconduct for a late elbowing penalty Sunday, but escaped further punishment by the league.
ABOUT THE WILD (1-1-1): Minnesota squandered a pair of two-goal leads in Tuesday’s shootout loss at Ottawa, spoiling a 41-save effort by Niklas Backstrom. Setoguchi, Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson scored for the Wild. RWPierre-Marc Bouchard will be back in the lineup after serving a two-game suspension for high-sticking Columbus’ Matt Calvert in the opener. LW Eric Nystrom was traded to the Dallas Stars on Wednesday for future considerations after he cleared re-entry waivers.
1. The Wild have beaten the Oilers six straight times and have won 20 of the last 26 meetings in Minnesota.
2. Minnesota G Backstrom gave up three goals on as many shots in Tuesday’s shootout. He fell to 12-25 in shootouts and owns an NHL-worst .568 save percentage in that format.
3. Edmonton coach Tom Renney improved to 8-0 in home openers in his career.
PREDICTION: Wild 4, Oilers 2. Minnesota extends its winning streak over Edmonton to seven in a row behind Heatley, who has 19 points in 16 games against Edmonton.