THE STORY: There may be 14 points between them in the Western Conference standings, but the Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers are going through similar mid-season pains as they meet Thursday night at Rexall Place. The Wild have dropped a season-high five consecutive games, scoring just six goals over that span as they their grasp is slipping on the Northwest Division lead. Edmonton is at the bottom of the division ledger thanks to a 20-game stretch that ranks among the worst of any team in the league so far the season. The two teams have already seen plenty of each other in 2011; this marks the fifth meeting between the clubs. Minnesota has won three of the first four – all of those victories coming via shutout – and has beaten Edmonton in nine of the last 10 encounters. Edmonton comes in having lost four in a row and nine of its last 11.
TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports North, Fox Sports Wisconsin, Rogers Sportsnet Edmonton
ABOUT THE WILD (20-10-5): Minnesota head coach Mike Yeo isn’t overly worried about his team’s recent funk. “You go around the league and there’s some pretty good teams that have had some (stretches) like this,” he said. “Detroit’s had it, San Jose had it. Boston had it. We’re having it, too, now.” The Wild should receive a major boost up front with the expected return of forward Mikko Koivu, who missed the club’s previous three games with a leg injury.
ABOUT THE OILERS (14-16-3): Edmonton has won just six of its last 20 games – equaling the number of victories it racked up during its longest winning streak of the year – and the road to recovery isn’t going to get any easier. With the World Junior Hockey Championship set to begin Monday in Edmonton, the Oilers will embark on a grueling seven-game road trip that could determine whether the club remains in playoff contention or begins looking toward next season.
1. The teams meet for the final time Tuesday night in Minnesota, becoming the first division rivals to finish off their six-game head-to-head series this season.
2. Minnesota is a perfect 3-0 in extra-time games against Edmonton this season – and just 2-5 against the rest of the league.
PREDICTION: Oilers 3, Wild 1.