The first three months of the season have also been some of the toughest for goalie Curtis Joseph. The 15-year veteran endured losing his job as the starter, went unclaimed on waivers and was later demoted to the minors.
However, after injuries to Dominic Hasek and Manny Legace, Josep has reclaimed the starter’s role, and has helped the Western Conference-leading Red Wings win five of their last six.
“You want to play and play a lot,” said Joseph, 5-2 with a 1.57 goals-against average since his return earlier this month. “But that’s not always the case.”
Joseph made 24 saves in a 2-1 win over Central Division rival St. Louis on Monday night. He made several saves in the final minutes, denying the surging Blues a 10-game unbeaten streak and a share of the division lead.
Second-year sensation Pavel Datsyuk scored his 20th goal and assisted on Ray Whitney’s game-winner. Datsyuk is tied for second in the NHL with 42 points— 10 short of breaking last season’s career high.
Datsyuk’s 20 goals have helped the team average an NHL-leading 3.35 per game.
“I think you’re looking at a guy who is learning the game day-by-day,” teammate Brett Hull said.
The Wild entered the break with a six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2), including a 3-3 tie with Nashville on Tuesday. Marian Gaborik’s fourth goal of the season broke a nine-game drought, and Richard Park and Jason Wiemer also scored for Minnesota.
The Wild have scored 20 goals during their six-game streak. However, scoring this season overall has not been easy.
Despite the recent surge, the Wild are only averaging 2.25 goals-per game and don’t have a player with 10 goals, as Alexandre Daigle leads the team with nine.
“We’re playing well right now,” center Wes Walz said. “We’re on our game. I’m really excited here about what we can do in the second half.”
That second half starts with five of the Wild’s next six games on the road, where they are 7-6-3-0.
“I think our guys are starting to have confidence,” Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. “That’s the reason why they’re scoring more goals.”
STANDINGS (through Dec. 23): Wild - 35 points, 4th place, 9 PB, Northwest Division. Red Wings - 48 points, 1st place, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Wild - Daigle, 9 goals; Andrew Brunette and Jim Dowd, 14 assists; Brunette, 21 points; Matt Johnson, 84 PIM. Red Wings - Datsyuk, 20 goals, 22 assists and 42 points; Darryl Bootland, 74 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 25): Wild - Power play: 14.5 percent (21 for 144), 20th in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.9 percent (17 for 130), 5th. Red Wings - Power play: 21.8 percent (33 for 151), 5th. Penalty killing: 85.3 percent (21 for 143), 12th.
SEASON SERIES: Red Wings, 1-0-1.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 22; Red Wings, 5-2. At St. Paul, Minn., Joseph made 27 saves in just his fourth start this season. Brett Hull had a goal and two assists as Detroit score three third-period goals.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Wild - 7-6-3-0 on the road; Red Wings - 14-3-0-0 at home.