Avalanche-Wild Preview

The Associated Press

The Christmas break may have come at the perfect time for the Minnesota Wild, who hobbled into the holiday on a six-game losing streak - but still with a slim lead in the Northwest Division.

The return of their captain and leading scorer would be a great gift.

The Wild hope to have Mikko Koivu back in the lineup Monday as they look to end their skid and hand the Colorado Avalanche a 10th consecutive road defeat.

Minnesota (20-11-5) was the surprise of the early season, surging to the top of the NHL standings at one point under first-year coach Mike Yeo.

A harsh dose of reality has set in lately, however, with the Wild suddenly lacking several key forwards - and, consequently, most of their offensive production. They've totaled three goals during their last four games, all played without Koivu due to a leg injury.

Koivu, the team leader with 28 points and a plus-9 rating, had been hoping to return Thursday at Edmonton but is now targeting Monday

That 4-1 defeat to the Oilers was perhaps the ugliest during the Wild's 0-4-2 skid, as Minnesota fell behind 4-0 in the first 23 minutes and was outshot 20-3 in the first period.

"We just weren't ready at the start and it cost us the game," forward Kyle Brodziak said. "I think we have to take a look in the mirror and make sure we are better from here on out. It hasn't been good enough. It's not fun right now."

It may be even less fun for the injured players - besides Koivu - who are watching their teammates slump. Forwards Devin Setoguchi (ankle), Casey Wellman (wrist) and Guillaume Latendresse (post-concussion symptoms) are all trying to work their way back into the lineup.

Minnesota maintains a one-point division lead over Vancouver, with Colorado (18-17-1) also climbing closer thanks to a four-game winning streak.

All those victories, however, came at the Pepsi Center - part of an eight-game home winning streak that's the Avs' longest since they moved to Denver.

"We are comfortable here at home, no doubt," goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said after Friday's 2-1 overtime victory over Tampa Bay. "I always believe to be a playoff team, you have to be .500 on the road. We have to get back on the road and start winning some games."

The last time the Avalanche won a road game was Oct. 22. Since winning their first six road contests, they've been outscored 41-20 while going 0-8-1 outside of Colorado, also the franchise's longest such streak since the Quebec Nordiques relocated.

The drought includes a 1-0 defeat at Minnesota on Nov. 17, the Avs' third straight loss in St. Paul. Niklas Backstrom stopped 27 shots in that game, improving to 18-4-2 with a 2.18 goals-against average versus Colorado.

Giguere has started the Avs' last four games ahead of first-stringer Semyon Varlamov, going 4-0-0 with a 1.45 GAA. He lost to the Wild last month, stopping 17 shots but yielding the lone goal of the game to Setoguchi with 2:31 remaining to end up with his sixth straight defeat at Minnesota.

Varlamov, 1-3-0 with a 4.63 GAA in his last four starts overall, has never played in the Twin Cities.

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