Once again, the Wild struggled to score. Once again, it didn’t matter. Finally, the top line of center Mikko Koivu and wingers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi did enough to warrant all the patience coach Mike Yeo has had in them so far.
A rather dull game without a lot of scoring opportunities for either team turned on Devin Setoguchi’s goal with 2:34 left in the third period. It came when Setoguchi pounced on the ricochet of a Dany Heatley shot and scored into a mainly empty net. “I don’t even think I had a shot on net until that point in the game,” Setoguchi said. “I don’t think anyone felt like they were generating a lot of chances out there.”
Still, it was enough. The Wild won for the eighth time in 10 games. Minnesota is 11-5-3 after 19 games, with its 25 points tied for its most ever in that span. The Wild last reached 25 points in 19 games back in 2008.
After a tired team gutted out two wins to end the recently-concluded five-game road swing, it was not surprising there was a bit of a let-down for a team starting a season-long six game homestand. But goaltender Niklas Backstromwas perfect, a young defensive group was solid, and the top line — which has been the subject of most of the criticism surrounding this team — did enough to warrant more patience from coach Mike Yeo. “Those guys have scored big goals for us this year,” Yeo said. “Maybe they haven’t scored the quantity, but you look at the quality of the goals these guys have scored. It’s pretty impressive.”
True. The Wild is 5-0 when Heatley scores. Setoguchi’s goal Thursday was his second game-winner. Koivu? Well, he only has one goal. Still, Yeo is seeing enough.
“We’re winning,” said Yeo, who noted that the top line — particularly Koivu — doesn’t cheat at the expense of good defense. They are also playing against the other team’s top lines night in and night out. “We can’t lose sight of that,” Yeo said. “Would we be happy if their line had seven more goals but we have five less wins?”
NHL Team Report – Minnesota Wild – NOTES, QUOTES
–It’s hard to believe, but Nick Schultz, not yet 30, is the old man of the Wild’s defensive group. That stood out Thursday on a night when the Wild shut out Colorado with a group of defensemen that included three rookies — Nate Prosser, Justin Falk and recently-signed and promoted Kris Fredheim. On Thursday, Schultz played in his 700th NHL game, all with the Wild. He is the team’s all-time leader in games played. League-wide, only 10 defensemen have played in more games since Schultz entered the league in 2001-02. His mother, Carol, attended the game. Hours before it began, Schultz reflected on his career: His first game in Edmonton on Nov. 29, 2001, the box score of which is framed, hangs in his house. His first goal, which came on Nov. 29, 2001, in a game his late father, Robert, attended. “You look around, to be in one spot your whole career, I’m pretty blessed,” he said. “Couple years left — hopefully — on my contract. I’ve been fortunate. I enjoy it here, my family enjoys it here.” With veterans Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky and Mike Lundin hurt, Schultz has become a go-to guy in key situations for coach Mike Yeo. Yeo said it’s no coincidence the Wild started playing better when Schultz rebounded from a slow start to the season. Schultz missed much of training camp still coming back from a concussion that ended his season last year.
–It wasn’t a tough negotiation. Kris Fredheim was playing with the Houston Aeros just a day before. The 24-year-old was playing on a minor-league contract when the Wild suddenly needed help at the blueline. So the Wild turned to Fredheim, who had to sign a one-year NHL deal before playing in his first career game Thursday against Colorado. He was so eager he probably would have signed anything. As it was, there were some familiar faces at Xcel Energy Center. His teammate Nate Prosser was his teammate in college at Colorado College. Fredheim’s parents, Mark and Trish, attended from Vancouver Island. “They would have walked here if they had to,” he joked.
–What makes the Wild’s recent hot streak even more impressive is the fact that they’re doing it without the benefit of many power-play goals. The Wild has failed to score on the power play in its last four home games — going 0-for-11 in the process. But get this: The Wild has won all four of those games. That means if the Wild start doing better — which should happen at some point — and the Wild’s defense and goaltending holds up, the Wild could get even better as the season progresses. “It’s a different feeling being up there in the standings and not being on the bottom looking up, saying, ‘Oh, we’ve got to beat this team, we’ve got to jump ahead of this team,’” veteran defensemanNick Schultz said. “We’ve had a good start, and if we can maintain that through the year and build confidence, it can go a long way.”
QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s fun to see those guys stepping in and playing huge. Look at (Kris Fredheim, who made his NHL debut). First NHL game and he played huge. It’s unreal.” — Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who picked up his second shutout of the season in Thursday’s 1-0 victory over Colorado.
NHL Team Report – Minnesota Wild – ROSTER REPORT
–G Niklas Backstrom made 27 saves for his 24th career shutout and second of the season. He is 18-4-2 all-time versus Colorado, 11-2-1 at home.
–RW Devin Setoguchi scored his sixth goal since joining the Wild. His goal Thursday — the only goal of the game, scored with minutes left in regulation — marked his second game-winner.
–D Mike Lundin is close to playing hockey again. The veteran defenseman and native of Minnesota has been out since early in camp with back spasms. After practicing with the team for the last week and a half he is set to be activated from injured reserve Friday. He will head to Houston for a rehab assignment with the Aeros that will last two games.
–LW Dany Heatley’s assist on Devin Setoguchi’s goal gave him 12 points on the season (5-7–12). That gave him the Wild team lead in scoring.
–D Marek Zidlicky sustained a concussion when he was hit by a Derek Dorsett check in Tuesday’s game in Columbus.
–D Marco Scandella sustained a concussion early in the Saturday game at Los Angeles and is out indefinitely. Scandella missed 14 games due to a concussion last season. He did work out for the first time on Wednesday, but has yet to return to the ice.
–W Guillaume Latendresse is out indefinitely with a concussion.
–D Greg Zanon aggravated a groin injury in the third period Oct. 20 at Edmonton and is day to day. He has yet to fully practice with the team. He has skated in full gear the past two days.
–D Mike Lundin (back spasms) has been practicing with the team, and he’s close to returning. He will be activated from injured reserve Friday and then head to Houston for a rehab assignment.
–Nick Schultz, Nate Prosser
–Clayton Stoner, Kris Fredheim
–Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon
–LW Dany Heatley, C Mikko Koivu, RW Devin Setoguchi
–LW Cal Clutterbuck, C Matt Cullen, RW Pierre-Marc Bouchard
–LW Darroll Powe, C Kyle Brodziak, RW Nick Johnson
–LW Colton Gillies, C Warren Peters, RW Brad Staubitz