SAINT PAUL, Minn. — With the Avalanche visiting the Minnesota Wild for an afternoon affair on Friday, Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson — a Minnesota kid — got to come home for the holidays, in a manner of speaking.
Although the way Johnson has played lately, the Wild probably aren’t too excited to welcome him home.
The Avalanche entered the Thanksgiving break on a high note, blanking Dallas 3-0 and Johnson scored for the second time in as many games, making him a key for the Wild defense to slow down. True to Johnson’s humble nature, he was quick to credit teammate Nathan MacKinnon for the set-up.
“It was a good play by Nate,” Johnson said, after the assist gave MacKinnon 17 points in November, which is tied for best in the NHL. “I had a little bit more speed than he did ahead of him on the play. I was calling for it and he kicked it out. I didn’t have a great angle so I just tried to put it five-hole and luckily it just snuck over the line so that felt good.”
Nothing snuck over the line behind Avs goalie Jonathan Bernier, who got his first shutout of the season in the win, after playing well in his previous start versus the Red Wings.
“I felt pretty good,” Bernier said. “You know, I think it just carried from Detroit and obviously it’s nice to get back-to-back games in, just starting to feel pretty good. I’ve just been practicing hard and it paid off.”
The Wild came home for Thanksgiving after a 5-4 win in Buffalo on Wednesday night and are generally playing well, garnering at least a point in six of their past seven games. The forward combo of Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund has accounted for eight of the team’s past nine goals, which sounds like a good news/bad news situation for a team that is winning games, but lacking offensive diversity.
“If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have any scoring,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said after the win over the Sabres. “(Jason) Zucker scored the previous six or seven, so I’m just glad someone is scoring.”
Niederreiter, who missed much of October due to injury, has bounced back nicely since returning to the lineup and admits things are just clicking for him after scoring in a career-best five consecutive games.
“I’ve been going to the net, trying to get greasy goals, and I’m fortunate they’re going in right now,” he said, after scoring twice from close range versus Buffalo. “I think that’s my bread and butter, around (the crease) and for me it’s important to find a way to get there, beat my D to the inside.”
It is the first meeting of the season between these Central Division rivals. The Avalanche and Wild have shared a division since Minnesota entered the NHL as an expansion team in 2000. They were both in the Northwest Division previously with Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton prior to the league’s division realignment in 2013.
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