DENVER – The more grey Owen Nolan accumulates in his beard, the less he concerns himself with grudges.
The Minnesota Wild forward no longer worries about settling scores with the Colorado Avalanche, an organization that drafted him and then traded him away.
“Played too many games to worry about that now,” the 17-year veteran said.
Still, Nolan took a little satisfaction lifting the Wild to a 2-0 win over the Avalanche on Sunday night, scoring two goals in the first period and hitting countless posts.
“It’s always fun to play against old teams,” Nolan said, smiling. “Most of the faces are gone from when I played here.”
Nolan was nifty on the ice for the Wild all night, while Niklas Backstrom was brilliant in goal, stopping 33 shots for his fourth shutout of the season.
It’s the first time in 61 regular-season and playoff games the Wild have held Colorado scoreless.
A staggering stat?
Not to Nolan.
“They’ve got a lot of talented guys over there. They can score goals,” said Nolan, whose team snapped a six-game road losing streak.
Lately, the Avalanche have struggled to score. They juggled their lineup Sunday, moving Wojtek Wolski from left wing to centre in an attempt to ignite a sluggish scoring attack.
The switch didn’t immediately pay off. Colorado has been outscored 11-2 over its last three games.
The team has been searching for solutions at centre since Joe Sakic (back/hand) and Paul Stastny (fractured forearm) went down with injuries.
“We should be winning these games,” Wolski said after his team dropped their third straight. “We can’t let points slip away like that. If we don’t, we’ll find ourselves chasing a playoff spot.”
Wolski had the best chance to score on Backstrom, finding himself on a breakaway late in the second period.
But Backstrom smothered his shot, gobbling up his low liner.
“Just tried to read what’s going on,” explained Backstrom, who now has 13 career shutouts.
Wolski thought maybe a penalty should’ve been called on the Wild defender charging hard on his right.
“Any stick in the hands we were told was going to be a penalty shot or a penalty,” he said. “There was a clear slash and there wasn’t a penalty shot or a penalty.”
Nolan has four goals in three games since his return from a leg injury that sidelined him for nearly a month.
He credits his recent success to simply following a forward’s age-old axiom – go hard to the net.
“Pucks got to go there at some point,” said Nolan, who was drafted by the then-Quebec Nordiques in 1990, before being traded away to San Jose during the 1995-96 season.
Nolan could’ve had a couple more goals if only the post had been more kind to him.
“I had about 50 tonight (off the post),” Nolan said. “I seem to be in the right place at the right time right now.”
Backstrom was in the right place as well, moving to 5-1 lifetime at the Pepsi Center, his most wins in any road arena.
“I felt pretty good,” he said. “The guys helped me out there. It’s always tough to play against this team, it’s a good team.”
More to the point, it’s a team in a funk.
“Everyone goes through phases,” Ryan Smyth said. “It’s a matter of fighting through it.”
Notes: Minnesota star winger Marian Gaborik is schedule to have surgery on his left hip Monday in Vail, Colo. He’ll be out for a minimum of 10 weeks. … The Wild lost in a shootout to Detroit on Saturday night, but showed no sign of fatigue against Colorado, improving to 2-5 this season in the second leg of back-to-back contests. … Colorado D Adam Foote played briefly in the second period before leaving because of an arm injury. Avalanche coach Tony Granato said the team will know more Monday on the severity of the injury. … The Wild are 3-0-1 in their last four regular-season trips to the Mile High City.