Programming note: Sharks-Wild coverage starts today at 4:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
ST. PAUL – Just like the Sharks, the Minnesota Wild have had some drastic ups and downs to their season so far.
Take the last two games, in which the Wild blew a three-goal third period lead in New York on Monday, and then responded to fight back from a 3-1 third period deficit one night later in Boston in a 4-3 win.
The Wild (5-3-0) will open a three-game homestand against the 6-4-1 Sharks on Thursday, where they are a perfect 3-0, including two shutouts. They’ve outscored the competition 14-2 in wins over the Avalanche, Coyotes and Lightning.
They’ve also beaten the Sharks six straight times at Xcel Energy Center.
[IN THE CREASE: Sharks aim for perfect road trip in Minnesota]
“We’re playing against perhaps one of the top teams in the league right now, especially here at home,” Todd McLellan said. “They don’t give up much. Four lines rolling. We’ll be tested tonight. A big test for us.”
The Sharks held an optional skate on Thursday morning, so it was difficult to gauge whether San Jose will make any lineup changes for the game. Rookie Barclay Goodrow has been cleared to return, and on Wednesday McLellan called him "an option" to play against the Wild.
Still, the coach may not want to tinker with a winning lineup. The Sharks are looking to extend their winning streak to three games tonight after impressive victories in Anaheim and Colorado.
That includes the third line of Matt Nieto, Chris Tierney and James Sheppard. Goodrow and Tierney had some chemistry in the preseason together, so that would be the likeliest place for Goodrow to make his NHL debut.
“We’re not going to dismantle things if certain groups are having success just for an individual, but they did have some chemistry and they were successful in the preseason,” McLellan said of the two rookies.
Nieto has been particularly good lately, despite only having one goal and three assists through 11 games. He had several good chances against the Ducks and Avalanche, but is still searching for his first goal since the season opener in Los Angeles on Oct. 8.
“I’ve been really happy with the way I’ve been playing,” Nieto said. “I’ve been getting chances. They haven’t been going in but, I'm staying positive, and I think once it does go in they’ll come in bunches.”
McLellan was very complimentary of the sophomore winger.
“He’s all over the ice. He’s playing a full 200-foot game. You have to watch it that way to really appreciate it,” McLellan said. “He’s getting chances, he’s on the power play, he’s become a good penalty killer for us. He’s been able to move around from line to line and be effective. I just think he’s been one of our most consistent players from the beginning of training camp to this point.”
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Minnesota coach Mike Yeo was asked about the challenges of defending former Wild defenseman Brent Burns, who is leading all NHL blueliners with 12 points.
“He’s a threat wherever he is. On the back end, you see what he’s been able to do this year,” Yeo said.
“His skating ability – a lot of things that we’re stressing is he’s a huge factor on the rush in the offensive zone. Tremendous shot, and he’s been doing a great job getting that through. You have to be aware of that. Whenever you have a guy like that, that means you have to be aware of the guys behind you, too. It’s certainly a good test.”
Yeo said that Matt Cooke will miss the game with a lower body injury. Stephane Veilleux will take Cooke's place in the lineup.
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Antti Niemi will face Darcy Kuemper in net, their respective head coaches confirmed on Thursday morning.
Niemi is 8-3-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in 12 career games vs. Minnesota.