The Minnesota Wild looked like a team heading nowhere just seven games into the season. Four losses to begin the year and a 1-6 mark midway through October had Minnesota searching for answers.
The Wild since have found their stride and put themselves back into the playoff hunt as the calendar approaches 2020. Minnesota has gone 12-4-4 since Nov. 12 and headed into the break with a 3-0 win over Calgary, a rebound from a 6-0 thrashing at Winnipeg two days earlier.
“I think we’re in a pretty good spot looking back at where we were,” forward Luke Kunin said after the win over the Flames. “Obviously, we let a few slip away that we wish would’ve won. Just get a good break and come back rejuvenated and ready to go.”
The Wild’s first challenge is playing at Colorado on Friday night. The teams have split their first two games this season and while Minnesota has battled back from a bad start, the Avalanche have built on their strong beginning.
Colorado won its first five games, including one over the Wild, and has earned 49 points, which is one more than it had all of the 2016-17 season, Jared Bednar’s first year behind the bench. The Avalanche have gotten better each season and now look like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender nearly halfway through the season.
Colorado is led by center Nathan MacKinnon, who has 21 goals and 34 assists in 37 games and is on pace to break the 100-point mark for the first time in his career. MacKinnon has helped to carry an Avalanche team hit hard by injuries but is now getting back to health.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries and we’ve overcome quite a bit of adversity already in the first half of the season and we’re kind of getting through that injury bug now,” Bednar said. “The depth that (general manager) Joe (Sakic) brought in in the offseason and the guys have real defined roles and we like the depth that we have, and guys are buying into those roles and they’re coming to play every night.”
The Avalanche are hoping to get back rookie defenseman Cale Makar from an upper-body injury soon. He has missed the past eight games but has resumed practicing, and he is expected to play against Minnesota.
Both teams were off for the Dec. 24-26 break so there was no update from Colorado on Makar’s status.
Colorado is 4-3-1 without Makar and easily could have two more wins if not for a couple of third-period meltdowns at home last week. The Avalanche went into the break with a 7-3 win at Vegas on Monday night and now face four straight Central Division opponents.
The first one up is a much different team froom the one Colorado met in early October.
“If somebody asked us at that point if we could be two points out of a playoff spot before Christmas, I don’t even know if everybody would have believed that,” Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk said earlier this week. “This is a lot more like it, and we know if we continue this pace and continue to play like this, we’re going to be where we want to be at the end of the season.”
–Field Level Media
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