The Minnesota Wild know all about playing in one of the NHL’s most competitive divisions. The New York Islanders have strong teams in their division as well, but as the losses pile up, it’s becoming more evident that list doesn’t include them.
New York tries to avoid its first seven-game skid in more than four years on Saturday when it travels to Minnesota to face the Wild, who are clinging to a slim lead atop the Northwest Division.
Just three points separate Minnesota (30-20-4) from fourth-place Vancouver in the division, while in the Atlantic, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey and the New York Rangers have begun to pull away, leaving the Islanders (24-25-6) alone in last place.
The Islanders have scored the fewest goals (131) in the NHL, and they’ve struggled even more during their six-game slide. They’ve scored only eight goals during the losing streak, and had just five in five games prior to a 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh on Thursday.
“It gets more frustrating every game you lose,” said Mike Comrie, who scored two goals for New York. “It’s frustrating right now, we’re close, but when you’re close you’ve just got to work hard.”
Comrie leads the Islanders with 39 points and is second with 16 goals, but he had gone 10 games without scoring before Thursday.
If New York is hoping to break out of its scoring slump, a game against the Wild would appear to be an unlikely time to do it. Minnesota has given up just 12 goals in its past seven games.
Rick DiPietro has been having trouble keeping the low-scoring Islanders competitive in games of late, going 0-6-1 with a 3.87 goals-against average since Jan. 19.
DiPietro is 2-1-0 with a 2.36 GAA in three starts against Minnesota.
Meanwhile, the Wild have been getting some stellar goaltending from Niklas Backstrom. He’s 4-1-2 with a 1.70 GAA in his last seven starts, and has only allowed more than two goals once in that stretch.
Backstrom hasn’t picked up a win in his last two starts, however, dropping two home games. Minnesota had its three-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday, falling 3-2 in overtime to Detroit. The Wild followed that up with a 1-0 loss to Dallas on Thursday, the third time they were shutout this season.
“The first two periods I don’t think we worked hard,” coach Jacques Lemaire said. “The third period we worked harder, but they elevated their game too, as soon as we started to play harder. That’s what usually happens.”
The Wild are in the bottom half of the league in goals (149), but Brian Rolston has been trying to change that. The veteran left wing had a goal in six straight games before Thursday’s loss.
Rolston has eight goals and 16 assists in his career against the Islanders, though all of those points came when he played for New Jersey and Boston.
Marian Gaborik, who leads Minnesota with 28 goals and 55 points, has been held pointless in his last two games after registering seven goals and eight assists in his previous 10 contests.
Gaborik had two goals the last time these teams met, a 4-3 road win for Minnesota on Dec. 13, 2005. New York hasn’t played in St. Paul since a 4-2 win on Dec. 19, 2002.