Wild, losers of past two, head to New York to face Rangers

Dropping two games in a row barely qualifies as a losing streak, but consecutive swing and misses are a little more eye-catching when they don't happen very often.

That's the standard the Wild have ascended to after shedding their shaky start, a two-game stall over the weekend the first of its kind in a month. What happened after those previous defeats at Calgary and Edmonton was the Wild's best stretch, a season-high 6-0 tear that launched a 9-3-1 run since Dec. 10.

Another opportunity to reset awaits the team on Tuesday against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and the health issues that have pestered the Wild during their current dip might not have made the trip.

"Of course, we want to get right back to winning," center Joel Eriksson Ek said. "That's why we're playing: We want to win. It's big for us to get back on that track."

The Wild still haven't been at full strength this season, and they dealt with new absences last week.

Goaltender Filip Gustavsson was sick and missed the 6-5 overtime loss at Buffalo on Saturday, and top-line winger and second-leading scorer Mats Zuccarello (upper-body injury) was also sidelined that game. Same on Sunday when the Wild were blanked 3-0 by St. Louis at Xcel Energy Center.

Gustavsson returned for that matchup, but goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was gone after facing the Sabres; Fleury went to Montreal for personal reasons.

Winger Jordan Greenway also didn't suit up vs. the Blues, with the team announcing before puck drop that he would be out with an illness that wasn't COVID-19.

Despite the turnover, the Wild had everyone travel to New York and the team sent netminder Zane McIntyre back to the minors while not making any call-ups.

Coach Dean Evason said ahead of the game Sunday that Zuccarello would go on the road and that Fleury would fly with the team after coming back to Minnesota on Sunday evening.

Whether the Wild debuts an all-hands-on-deck lineup remains to be seen, but if so, it would be quite the turnaround from what transpired on Sunday when an already understaffed offense became depleted even more.

During the second period and with the scoreboard displaying only a 1-0 deficit, the Wild lost winger Ryan Hartman after he was hit up high, and then Eriksson Ek left following a collision — this after the team had only 11 forwards in action to begin with.

Both players eventually returned and the Wild rebounded from a three-shot second period to put a franchise-record 23 pucks on net in the third period, but none of that pressure culminated in production. Winger Kirill Kaprizov's point streak at home ended at 14 games, one shy of passing Marian Gaborik's 2007-08 blitz for a new franchise record.

"You gotta grind through that, right?" Evason said. "We have to find ways to when we don't have our perfect setup for us as the Minnesota Wild. We have to find ways to win hockey games."

Not only was this the first time in 27 games the Wild were shut out, but the outcome ended a streak of five goals in three consecutive games.

Actually, robust scoring has been the trend for weeks now.

Since Nov. 23, the Wild are top 10 in the NHL in goals (75) and goals per game (3.57). Eighteen different players have a goal in that span, and eight boast double digits in points.

They almost outscored Buffalo, which ices one of the most dynamic offenses in the league, but defensive lapses ultimately hamstrung the Wild on Saturday. Then the following night, they were better in front of their crease yet couldn't capitalize at the other end.

Perhaps next time the best of both efforts will sync up; maybe that's when the puzzle that's been the Wild's lineup will also get reassembled.

"Tough back-to-back," defenseman and alternate captain Matt Dumba said. "But just got to forget about these ones. The race is too close to dwell on anything. Make the necessary changes. Make sure everyone is geared up and just ready to go for this road trip."