Awaiting them are 12 games compressed into 22 days, including a pair of back-to-backs. It starts with a four-game, seven-day trip through Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Boston before Minnesota returns to the Xcel Energy Center for a Jan. 10 game against Winnipeg.
Plenty of points available as the struggling Wild try to climb back into wild-card position.
“That’s what you want is a lot of games in a short period of time,” coach Bruce Boudreau said before Monday’s home game against Pittsburgh. “That’s what how you make up distance in the standings.”
The three-day all-star break starts Jan. 24, followed by a five-day bye that flips the calendar to February.
“We’ve got a tough schedule, with some big games on this East Coast swing,” said winger Jason Zucker. “We’re going to have to figure out a way to keep playing a style of hockey we know we can win with.”
Boudreau has shown unwavering confidence in Devan Dubnyk, turning right back to the team’s No. 1 goaltender after tough outings or when he has been pulled from games.
Backup Alex Stalock (5-3) had only played in 10 games entering Monday’s match against the Penguins and shared a 2.60 goals-against average with Dubnyk. He was on pace for 21 appearances, which is a typical workload for a backup goalie.
Boudreau said Monday that the Wild plan to start Stalock more after the bye week to keep both goalies fresh and engaged.
“We talked about it, and I think especially come February and March, he’ll probably play games,” Boudreau said. “If you look at our schedules in February and March, they’re loaded, and Alex deserves to play some games.”
Defenseman Matt Bartkowski played his second straight game since being recalled from AHL Iowa as Nick Seeler moves closer to getting back into the lineup after missing the past two games with an upper-body injury.
Seeler skated again before Monday’s game and is expected to join Minnesota on its upcoming road trip.
“Anytime next week would be a legitimate timeline for him (to return),” Boudreau said.
ERICKSSON EK RESPONDS
Joel Eriksson Ek has responded to his demotion to Iowa with three goals in his first two games back in the minors. He scored Monday night against Chicago after potting a pair Saturday versus Milwaukee.
He only had one goal among four points in 27 games for the Wild this season. The team hopes more ice time with Iowa will help Eriksson Ek rebuild his confidence.
“Let’s keep him down there, and let’s let him do it again and again and again, so it’s not a one-time thing,” said Boudreau. “We don’t have a timetable.”