Wild-Oilers Preview


While no team has scored fewer goals than the Minnesota Wild, a big win their last time out could help get them going.

After three days off, the visiting Wild try to continue their recent dominance of the slumping Edmonton Oilers as these Northwest Division rivals meet for the first time Thursday night.

Minnesota (7-6-2) is still last in the NHL with 31 goals, but it improved to 3-1-1 over its last five games after erasing a two-goal deficit in Sunday's 3-2 win over Detroit.

"It's big. I'm not going to sit here and say this makes our season," said coach Mike Yeo, whose team is 5-1-2 when scoring at least twice. "We've still got a lot of work to do and we're focused on continuing to get better as a group. But this is huge."

Dany Heatley snapped a nine-game goal drought, Torrey Mitchell added his first goal and 21-year-old Jason Zucker notched his first NHL tally in a memorable season debut. Zucker, who was called up Saturday, could give the Wild a boost after compiling a team-leading 41 points for Houston of the AHL.

"That's what he does," Yeo told the league's official website. "He finds ways to get opportunities, and that wasn't the only one he had tonight. He can bury it."

Fellow youngster Darcy Kuemper also came up big with 29 saves to earn his first NHL win. The 22-year-old rookie, who got the last-minute start after Niklas Backstrom was scratched due to an illness, stopped the last 17 shots he faced.

"We threw out Kuemps in a very difficult situation and he responded," Yeo said. "I thought he got better as the game went on."

Backstrom has gone 22-3-1 versus Edmonton - his most wins against any team - with a 1.81 goals-against average, but his status for Thursday is unclear. Right wing Pierre-Marc Bouchard and defenseman Justin Falk also missed Sunday's game due to flu-like symptoms.

"I think it's going around the league," Falk said. "Hopefully the rest of the boys here can get healthy."

The Wild have compiled a 27-8-2 record against the Oilers over the last six years, including a 10-2-0 mark the past two seasons. Minnesota had posted five consecutive wins at Rexall Place before falling 4-1 in its last visit Dec. 22, 2011.

Edmonton (6-6-3) is mired in a 2-4-3 stretch after falling 3-1 to Los Angeles on Tuesday. The game appeared headed for overtime before an Oilers turnover at the Kings' blue line led to the go-ahead goal with 49.6 seconds left.

"We just couldn't generate the type of offense we would have liked to down the stretch," coach Ralph Krueger said. "The bounce at the end was, of course, painful. ... But we have to take it. We missed an opportunity to play our game the whole way. It's a bounce we have to swallow."

Sam Gagner, tied for the team lead with 16 points, provided all the offense with a power-play goal and Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 35 of 37 shots, dropping to 1-2-0 despite a 1.91 GAA.

Devan Dubnyk, who's gone 2-2-2 with a 3.63 GAA at home, could be back in goal Thursday. He is 1-1-0 with a 1.30 GAA over three appearances - two starts - against the Wild.

Taylor Hall has six points over his last four games overall, but he's notched just four in nine career matchups with Minnesota. Edmonton is 6-2-1 when he records at least one assist compared to 0-4-2 when he doesn't.

The Oilers are 1-2-2 over their last five on home ice, while the Wild have been outscored 18-11 in going 1-4-1 on the road.