THE STORY: After coming into the season with the promise of an improved offense, the Minnesota Wild have already split up their top line. The Wild face another goal-starved club Thursday as they visit the Edmonton Oilers in the second meeting of the season between the Northwest Division rivals. Minnesota is coming off a 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, a game in which the Wild broke up the No. 1 line of Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Mikko Koivu. Setoguchi was moved down in favor of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, a decision that yielded nothing on the scoresheet. Edmonton has also had difficulty finding the net, scoring just nine times over the opening five games. Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has four of those tallies, good for top spot among first-year players.
TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports North (Minnesota), Rogers Sportsnet (Edmonton)
ABOUT THE WILD (2-2-2): It isn’t clear whether Minnesota will reunite its top line, but for his part Setoguchi says he understood the decision made by head coach Mike Yeo on Tuesday night. The 24-year-old has two goals and zero assists in six games, and his tally in a 4-3 overtime loss to Ottawa last Tuesday was the only offense the top line had produced in the previous four contests. Minnesota is scoreless in its last 10 power-play chances.
ABOUT THE OILERS (2-2-1): With Oilers forward Taylor Hall expected to return from a bout of the flu, expect he, Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle to give Minnesota’s defense fits all night long. The trio has shown flashes of dominance since being joined together a few games ago, punctuated by Nugent-Hopkins’ hat trick in a loss to Vancouver. Edmonton dropped a 2-1 shootout decision when the teams met a week ago in St. Paul.
1. Koivu is still looking for his first goal of the season – and if career trends mean anything, he won’t get it against the Oilers. The Finnish forward has scored just three times in 41 games versus Edmonton.
2. Hall has yet to figure out the Wild, having gone scoreless with a minus-three rating in five games against them.
3. The Wild have won seven straight meetings between the clubs. Edmonton’s last victory against Minnesota came on April 5, 2010.
PREDICTION: Oilers 3, Wild 2. The expected return of Hall should give Edmonton the edge it needs to squeak out a narrow victory.