ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Buffalo Sabres are in the midst of a rugged stretch of road games and no team they will be facing has been hotter at home lately than the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild are 10-1-1 in their last 12 games at XCel Energy Center, where they host the Sabres Thursday night. They're coming off a 5-1 bludgeoning of the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, a game that saw them outshoot Florida, 19-2, in the second period and 41-26 overall.
On the season, the Wild are 13-4-2 at home and that's third in the Western Conference in points percentage entering Wednesday. Only Vegas (17-2-1) and Winnipeg (14-3-1) are ahead of them, and the Sabres head to Manitoba to meet the Jets Friday.
The Wild, however, are just 8-12-1 on the road and that has them fifth in the Central Division and a point behind Anaheim in the wild-card race.
Minnesota's 12-game run of dominance at home began with a 3-0 win over Philadelphia on Nov. 14, the last of a streak of three straight shutouts by the Wild. The only regulation loss in that stretch was a 3-2 defeat to Edmonton on Dec. 16, the lone loss in overtime was a 4-3 decision Nov. 20 against New Jersey. The Wild won five straight here after that game and are 8-1 in the last nine at home.
"Minnesota is going to be tough to play against," Sabres coach Phil Housley said after practice here Wednesday. "Reading a lot of things their players said and the coaches from Florida said about how they forecheck, hang on to pucks down low and force other teams to defend, we're going to have to have a game plan to avoid that and spend less time in our zone."
The Wild have outscored opponents at home this year, 54-39, and have killed off 91.9 percent of the penalties against them. Opponents have just five power-play goals in XCel Energy Center, the fewest allowed by a home team in the NHL this season.
While the Wild have thrived of late in their building, the Sabres have a very unusual history against Minnesota since it re-entered the NHL as an expansion team in 2000. Buffalo is 7-3 against the Wild here in that span but just 2-9 in KeyBank Center, including a 5-4 loss on Nov. 22.
The Wild returned from Christmas with a stretch that will see 15 of 22 games at home through mid-February. That includes seven of their 11 January games, giving them a big chance to make up ground in the tight Central Division.
Especially since they're getting healthier. Zach Parise -- who averaged 25 goals and 50 points the last five years for Minnesota -- made his season debut Tuesday after back surgery and winger Nino Niederreiter will return Thursday after missing five games with a lower-body injury. Assuming Niederreiter plays, the Wild will have a full lineup for the first time this season.
"If it works I’ll be real excited,” coach Bruce Boudreau said after practice Wednesday. “We’ll see how we play. That’s what gets me excited when we’re playing well. I thought the second period was our best period of the year last night. That stuff gets me excited.”
Thursday's game will be the first here for Buffalo defenseman Marco Scandella and winger Jason Pominville since the July trade between the Wild and Sabres. Scandella, the Wild's second-round pick in 2008, played 373 games for them from 2010-17. Pominville played 327 games for Minnesota from the time he was acquired from the Sabres in 2013 through the end of last season.
On the other side of that trade, former Sabres Tyler Ennis has six goals and six assists in 39 games for the Wild while Marcus Foligno has three goals and seven assists in 37 games.
All hands were on deck for the Sabres at practice Wednesday except defenseman Victor Antipin. Housley said Sunday in New York that Antipin is being dogged by the flu and there was no update on his status Wednesday.
It was an unusually busy day for an NHL arena here Wednesday with three teams practicing. Florida opted to stay in Minnesota and work out here before trying to make their flight to Boston, which is expected to be crushed with snow on Thursday. The Panthers are supposed to play there Thursday night and then move on to Detroit for a game Friday.
The Wild followed Florida to the ice and the Sabres then got their chance at 2 p.m. local time after taking a delayed morning flight from Buffalo. The Sabres were off on Tuesday in the aftermath of Monday's overtime loss to the Rangers at the Winter Classic in New York.