CHICAGO – Nine wins and 23 points separated the Wild's proficiency at home vs. on the road in 2017-18, a discrepancy that set a lofty standard for when the team was in familiar territory this season while also calling for progress as the visitor.
But after wrapping up a three-game homestand Saturday with a 3-2 letdown to the Sabres, the Wild returned to the road Sunday to face the Blackhawks at United Center following a ho-hum 1-2 showing at Xcel Energy Center. A 3-1 loss left the team with as many home victories as road triumphs (six) this season.
"November's the month we have to be consistently winning — not that we won't in December and beyond," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "But it gets a little more tasking as the season goes on."
The Wild's improved play on the road is encouraging for the team, especially since its 18-20-3 showing last season likely contributed to the photo finish that was its push to the playoffs.
Remaining a near lock at Xcel Energy Center, on the heels of a 27-6-8 record in 2017-18, appears to be a work in progress, though.
The 5-2 setback to the Capitals on Tuesday wasn't entirely unexpected because the first home game back from a lengthy road trip tends to be a challenge. But the Wild missed an opportunity in a loss to the Sabres when it surrendered three unanswered goals, leaving it with one home win last week (6-2 over the Canucks on Thursday).
Although the turnaround was quick, with the Wild getting back on the ice in Chicago less than 24 hours after it was upended by Buffalo, the team did spend time dissecting how it blew a two-goal lead to the Sabres. That's proof that there are still lessons to be gleaned, especially with another opportunity to bank points at home on deck since the Wild starts a three-game set in St. Paul on Wednesday.
"Even the older guys can learn every day and teach," Boudreau said. "That's what we want to do."
After sitting as a healthy scratch for the first time this season Saturday, center Joel Eriksson Ek was back in the lineup Sunday.
Matt Hendricks was the odd forward out.
Eriksson Ek entered the game with just two points, a goal and an assist. He started the game alongside wingers Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle.
"He's got to be able to make plays more," Boudreau said. "Defensively, he's good. Effort-wise, he's awesome. Penalty killing, really good. We just need to see a little more offensive pizazz."
Since scoring Nov. 11 to tie the record, winger Zach Parise sat just a goal away from becoming the all-time leading scorer in the NHL among Minnesota-born players — a distinction that wasn't weighing on his mind, even if he was getting reminded about the impending milestone.
"Friends had been telling me about it," he said. "But I hadn't been thinking about it."
Parise secured the honor Saturday with his first-period tally, the 341st goal of his career, surpassing Dave Christian (340). Phil Housley (338), Neal Broten (289) and Matt Cullen (260) are next on the list.
"I've gotten to know a few of those guys and some nice people, good company to be with," Parise said. "Cully's still playing, so who knows when he retires. He's still chasing, so we'll see."
Parise's goal against the Blackhawks was the fifth on the power play by the Wild in the past four games.
It also marked the ninth game over the previous 12 in which the unit converted, with the team going 12-for-43 since Oct. 27 — a span in which it ranked second in the NHL in power-play goals.
"I think it's just consistency and [being] comfortable within our units and what's going to make us successful," center Eric Staal said. "I thought a couple games prior, we moved the puck around really well; just sometimes it doesn't hit the back of the net. If you're continually getting looks and putting pucks at the net and give yourself a chance, they're going to go in at some point. They have here."