Wild closes out first half of season vs. Sabres

Inconsistency and injury headlined the first half of the Wild’s season, a chapter that will end Thursday when it hosts the Sabres for Game No.41 with the team at full health for the first time.

“Most teams haven’t had a full lineup for long periods of times,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “So we’re no special team, and this is what hockey is. You go through injuries, and you’re supposed to overcome them. We’ve done an OK job but not as good as we’d like. But we’re fresh now. Let’s see what we can do.”

Winger Nino Niederreiter will be back in the lineup after missing five games with a left ankle injury. It’s the second straight game the Wild has had a key player make a return, as winger Zach Parise made his season debut Tuesday in the 5-1 win over the Panthers.

“It’s exciting,” Boudreau said of having a complete roster. “But sometimes you look at that and you tread lightly because sometimes you get your full lineup [and] everyone thinks, ‘OK, that guy’s going to do it,’ and you don’t play anywhere near as well as when you’re shorthanded.

“It’s something we’re guarding against hopefully and we’ll be ready to go.”

Success on home ice has also been a trend through the first 40 games, as the Wild is 13-4-2 at Xcel Energy Center while outscoring opponents 54-39.

“I know we always like playing in this building,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “The atmosphere is great. We’ve always been a good home team. That’s important. We talk about that every single year at the start of the year that we have to be a dominant team at home, and we’ve been able to do that. For us now it’s just being able to take that game on the road.”

Projected lineup:

Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund

Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Tyler Ennis

Zach Parise-Charlie Coyle-Joel Eriksson Ek

Marcus Foligno-Matt Cullen-Daniel Winnik

Ryan Suter- Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba

Gustav Olofsson-Nate Prosser

Devan Dubnyk

Key numbers:

11: Home games in the past 12 in which the Wild has snagged at least a point.

94: Man games lost to injury for the Wild.

59: Multi-goal games for center Eric Staal in his career.

3-6-1: The Sabres’ record in their last 10 games against the Wild.

11: Points for center Jack Eichel in his last seven games.

About the Sabres:

Buffalo is at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with 29 points. The team’s 10 wins is second-fewest in the league, but the Sabres have picked up at least a point in each of their last three games (1-0-2). Offense has been hard to come by for Buffalo, as it’s scored a league-worst 86 goals. At the other end of the rink, the team is averaging 3.28 goals-against per game – fourth-worst in the NHL. Eichel has a team-best 35 points, while tying for the most goals with winger Evander Kane (15). “There’s no easy team in in the NHL at any point in time,” Boudreau said. “And if you look, they got some pretty good players over there and if they’re ready to play like they were in the Winter Classic, it’s going to be a tough out.”

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