Though the Minnesota Wild are mired in one of the worst skids in franchise history, first-year coach Mike Yeo is staying upbeat.
Looking to avoid setting a franchise record with their ninth straight loss, the Wild meet the last-place Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night for the sixth and final time this season.
Minnesota's skid grew to eight - matching the club's longest set from March 10-26 - with a 2-1 shootout loss to Nashville on Wednesday. Dany Heatley tied it with 3:59 left in regulation, but neither Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu nor Pierre-Marc Bouchard could end the slide in the tiebreaker.
Yeo was pleased, nonetheless.
"For sure it was important, and not just for the sake of getting a point," he said. "It was a reminder that if we stay with things, if we play our game for 60 minutes, then we are going to have a great chance to win the game. We didn't win the game today, but I believe we deserved to win it."
Minnesota has scored just 10 goals during its skid, a sharp drop from the 24 it tallied during a seven-game winning streak from Nov. 28-Dec. 10 that preceded the slide.
The Wild, who have taken the season series from Edmonton each of the last six years, are 3-2-0 against the Oilers this season with all the wins coming in shootouts. They lead the series despite having been outscored 13-7.
Heatley and Devin Setoguchi have led the way with two goals apiece. While Heatley is tied with ex-Oiler Kyle Brodziak for the team lead with 11 goals, Setoguchi (eight goals) has been sidelined since Dec. 7 with a lower-body injury.
After Josh Harding started in Nashville, Niklas Backstrom will likely be back in net and looking to raise his home record to 16-0-0 all-time against the Oilers while ending his recent struggles.
Backstrom, who defeated Edmonton 2-1 in a shootout on October 13 in Minnesota, has a 1.19 goals-against average and four career shutouts at home when facing the Oilers. However, he's gone 0-4-2 overall since beating Phoenix on Dec. 10.
Edmonton (15-17-3) opened a season-high seven-game road trip with Monday's 5-3 loss to Vancouver. The Oilers trailed 3-0 after one period and eventually fell for the 10th time in 13 games (3-9-1).
Though Edmonton has dropped to the bottom of the division, Yeo won't look ahead.
"We've got a big challenge (Thursday). Edmonton is sitting there, waiting for us, so we have to be ready to go," he said.
Edmonton, which is in the middle of the pack with 95 goals, may have veteran winger Ales Hemsky back in the lineup. Hemsky, who missed 11 games earlier this season with a right shoulder injury, hasn't played since Dec. 19 due to the flu.
"We're off the pace here a little bit and we want to make sure that we stay with the pack, and all we know is we need Ales Hemsky back in our lineup playing," coach Tom Renney said.
Hemsky has three goals with eight assists in 22 games this season.
Jordan Eberle, who had a goal and assist in the loss to the Canucks, leads Edmonton with 16 goals and 38 points. He's notched three goals and four assists versus Minnesota this season while Ryan Smyth and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have chipped in with three goals apiece.
Despite posting a 2-0-3 record against the Wild in 2011-12, Nikolai Khabibulin has surrendered just seven goals for a 1.33 GAA and should start the season series finale.
Khabibulin has dropped five of his last six road starts and is 3-5-1 with a 2.56 GAA away from home this season.
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- Sports & Recreation/Ice Hockey
- Edmonton Oilers
- Dany Heatley