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Goaltending, special teams fuel Wild

By Josh Newman
I will not go so far as to say that our beloved Wild are back, but I must admit I was encouraged by what I saw last week from The Team of 18,000.

Naturally, I also saw some areas on which the team must improve if it wants to be a postseason contender.

Let’s start with the reasons why Minnesota went a perfect 3-0 last week with wins over San Jose, Calgary, and Columbus.

1) Special teams.

Ironically, the Wild’s power play took a step back last week as far as percent goes. The team still has one of the most lethal power plays on the NHL, but did you really think they would be able to keep scoring on 25 percent of their power play attempts?

Minnesota converted on three of their 16 power play opportunities during the three-game stretch. This includes a 2-of-4 showing against the Blue Jackets in the third and final game of the week, which the Wild won 3-2.

On the other side of the equation, Minnesota shut out their opponents in 12 of their 13 shorthanded situations. The only team to score against the Wild’s penalty-killing units was Calgary in the second game of the week, a game that the Minnesota won 2-1 at the Xcel Energy Center.

2) Goaltending.

A lot of fans may look at the results of the three games and notice that the team only gave up three goals during the three games. Their immediate reaction may be to praise the defense for limiting their opposition to as few chances as possible.

Not so fast. Please take note that, no matter who suited up for the Wild in goal, they did not get one easy night. A good defense limits the number of chances and shots on goal for a full game and is able to keep the puck out of its own end.

Sorry, my friends, but I did not see any of that during the week.

What I did see was both Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore come up big every time they had to do so. Whether it was slamming the door on odd-man situations or making smart decisions with the puck, both netminders rose to the occasion all week. They had to. The defense did almost nothing for relief.

Take the team’s 1-0 victory over the Sharks for instance. Backstrom had to stop 36 shots to earn just his third career win over San Jose. Besides a power play goal by Andrew Brunette, the Wild could muster almost no offense the entire game. They were outshot 36-16, including 18-4 midway through the second period.

Theodore turned in a much-needed strong effort against Columbus Saturday night at Nationwide Arena in just his second start of the season. After giving up five goals in his first start of the season, the veteran made 35 saves against a team that had won three in a row and seven of its previous nine to gain revenge for a home loss against the Blue Jackets October 16.

Brent Burns fueled the offense with a pair of power play goals for the Wild, and Cal Clutterbuck scored his fourth goal of the season – just the team’s third even-strength goal all week - to round out the offense.

This week, the Wild finish a four-game road trip with games against Atlanta, Florida and Tampa Bay.