Put away those suitcases. Forget those late-night flights across western Canada. And shelve those late-morning breakfasts at hotel restaurants.
The Minnesota Wild are back home, and not a minute too soon after finishing a successful 5-2-0 road trip that lasted two weeks. Tuesday night’s visit from the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals is their first game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. since October 27. It also starts a stretch of six home games in seven contests.
“We showed a lot this trip and we’re looking forward to being home for a little bit,” defenseman Nick Seeler said Sunday after a 3-2 win in St. Louis.
How long was Minnesota’s journey? It started before Halloween and ended 15 days after they left. It stopped twice in St. Louis for wins over the struggling Blues, including the finale, which saw the Wild (11-4-2) overcome a sluggish start and ride the great work of goalie Devan Dubnyk to two more points.
Dubnyk came up with 29 saves, including a highlight video stop in the last minute on Alexander Steen’s wrist shot that seemed ticketed for the upper right corner and a 3-3 tie. He helped bring Minnesota within two points of Nashville for first place in the Central Division and for the NHL’s best record.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau isn’t discounting this trip’s potential impact on the season’s remaining 65 games.
“It’s still November, but the farther you can get above .500, because everybody goes through something whether it’s injuries, whether it’s a downward part of the schedule that makes it tough for you, it happens,” Boudreau said.
“To get that little cushion is really important. It’s something we never had last year because we started out very mediocre, so we grinded and grinded. And the year before, we had a good cushion when we had a bad month of March and it worked out for us. That’s what you want to do.”
One of Boudreau’s old teams hasn’t been able to do that just yet. Washington (7-6-3) has played at times as though it’s still celebrating June’s Stanley Cup Finals win in Las Vegas, its first in franchise history. The Capitals are sixth in the Metropolitan Division after a brutal 4-1 loss Sunday to visiting Arizona.
Washington’s penalty killing is killing it. After allowing the Coyotes two man-advantage markers, the Capitals are 29th in the league on the PK. Goalie Braden Holtby has logged an uncharacteristic .901 save percentage and 3.24 goals-against average through 13 games, numbers that would be the worst of his career if they hold up.
“Sometimes, you just try a little bit too hard,” Holtby said of the PK. “We’re just struggling with that. The biggest thing is not get frustrated, expect more out of ourselves.”
The usual suspects are holding up their end of the bargain offensively under first-year coach Todd Reirden. Alex Ovechkin is on a 60-goal pace and Evgeny Kuznetsov would finish with more than 100 points if he keeps scoring at his present clip.
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