Alexander Shun | @alexpshun
Digital Content Manager | KFAN.com
The NHL All-Star break has come and gone and while in season's past the Minnesota Wild have been chasing the top teams in the Western Conference, this season, they are the team being chased.
"We've won nothing," Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said Monday after the team's practice. "I've gotten a lot of praise in January and December before and a lot of, 'Boy, you stink,' in May and June.
"There's a lot to work for here," Boudreau continued. "We haven't gotten anything. We're just a team trying to end up as high in the standings as we can."
Currently the Wild sit atop the Central Division and the Western Conference with 69 points, four points ahead of the rival Chicago Blackhawks for both the division and conference lead. Tonight, they will take on the Edmonton Oilers in what will be the first game of a four-game Canadian road trip for the team.
The Wild have been on a Canadian road trip once before this season and the team went 2-1-1. They'll look to replicate such success on their current travels through Canada. Wild players know that doing so won't be easy given the recent success that Edmonton has seen, but hope that some heavy practices leading up to the game will help them find their rhythm again quickly.
"The first couple minutes are always a little weird, but as soon as you get warmed up and get the feeling, it's fine. " Mikko Koivu said Monday, speaking about the team's first practice since the All-Star break. "As soon as you get the first one out of the way, the second day is a lot easier already."
The Oilers enter Tuesday night's contest having won three-straight games and sit just five points behind Minnesota for the top spot in the West. Edmonton players know that if they want to be the best, they'll have to beat the best and that means Minnesota.
"They're a premier team in this league right now," Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said, speaking about the challenges of facing the Wild. "They're productive from all positions, goaltender, [defensemen], forwards. Their depth shows up night in and night out. Based on that description, they're a deep playoff team and they'll be a big challenge for us."
Edmonton is led by young superstar Connor McDavid who currently leads the NHL with 59 points (17 goals, 42 assists) and has made waves throughout the league, particularly over the All-Star break as players from all over heaped praise upon the Oilers' forward.
McDavid's size and speed - among many other incredible skills and attributes - make him a match-up nightmare and Jared Spurgeon knows the Wild will have to be at their best to stop the likes of McDavid.
"I think with the speed he has and how shifty he is," Spurgeon said, speaking about the challenges a player like McDavid poses. "It's not only that he has speed, but that he can do it with the puck as well. There are some guys that are fast but they get the puck and it slows their game down a bit but with him he always seems to be full stride when he gets it.
"You just have to be aware of where he's at on the ice and keep your gaps well and not get caught flat-footed," Spurgeon continued.
Darcy Kuemper (5-3-2, 3.28 goals allowed per game) will get the start in goal for Minnesota tonight to give All-Star Devan Dubnyk another night of rest and hopefully build some confidence for the Wild's back-up goaltender.
The puck drops tonight from Edmonton at 8:00 p.m. CST and can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM.