Wild-Canucks Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 18, 2011
In a season filled with positives, the first-place Minnesota Wild are now experiencing some big-time adversity. Getting back on track won't be easy against the surging Vancouver Canucks - their closest pursuer in the Northwest Division. The Wild look to end a season-high three-game skid with their first win at Vancouver in nearly three years Monday night. Among the league's biggest surprises after a third straight non-playoff season, Minnesota (20-8-5) has spent a good portion of 2011-12 atop the NHL's overall standings behind a stingy defense and exceptional goaltending. That combination - along with some timely scoring - helped the Wild put together a recent season-best seven-game win streak. That run ended with a loss at Winnipeg on Tuesday before the team returned home and absorbed a pair of shootout losses while playing with a makeshift lineup. Missing from Saturday's 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders were captain and leading scorer Mikko Koivu (lower body) and forwards Devin Setoguchi (lower body), Guillaume Latendresse (concussion) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (broken nose). "There should be more urgency and desperation in our game,'' coach Mike Yeo said. "I'm understanding of the fact that we have guys out ... but right now I'm a little edgy just because I expected something different.'' The Wild called up forwards Jed Ortmeyer and Chad Rau from AHL Houston on Sunday, and they would be the 34th and 35th players - most in the NHL - used by the team this season. Rau would also be the 11th rookie to play for Minnesota this year, which also would lead the league. Niklas Backstrom had another outstanding performance Saturday with 35 saves. He is 7-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average in his last 11 starts, and ranks among the NHL leaders with a 2.06 GAA. He is, however, 0-2-1 with a 3.97 GAA in his past three games against the Canucks - all on the road. Backstrom isn't the only member of the Wild to struggle in Vancouver. Minnesota is 0-6-2 in its last eight visits since a 4-3 victory on Jan. 31, 2009. The Canucks (19-11-2) continued their strong play with a 5-3 victory at Toronto on Saturday in the finale of a five-game trip. Alexandre Burrows and Chris Higgins each had a goal and an assist for Vancouver, which has points in 11 of 13 games (10-2-1). "Our guys really wanted to have this game tonight,'' coach Alain Vigneault said. "I thought we did a real good job." Roberto Luongo stopped 26 shots and improved to 5-0-1 in his last six starts. He'll likely get an opportunity to win his third straight against the Wild after making 29 saves in his last matchup, a 5-0 win on April 7. "Minnesota has been playing really well this year, it's going to be great for our team," Luongo told the Canucks' official website. "Our first game off a road trip we want to make sure we've got good legs going and we've got a good tempo to the game because they're a team that's not going to give up much." Ryan Kesler has been a big part of Vancouver's success against the Wild, collecting six goals and two assists in the last five meetings.
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