The Minnesota Wild have only lost one game this year–but that’s just going back 14 days.
After a depressing six-game losing streak that had many around the league questioning Wild head coach Mike Yeo’s job security, the Wild have finally seemed to turn things around. Even without two top line players, a top-4 defenseman and No. 1 goalie, Minnesota has been able to string together some wins on the backs of impressive performances from what seems like a different player each night. With No. 1 goalie Josh Harding down and out with multiple sclerosis medication issues, Niklas Backstrom and hulking rookie Darcy Kuemper have been clutch in goal, and Elk River, Minn. native Nate Prosser has stepped up admirably in Jared Spurgeon’s place on the second defensive pairing.
It seems like everyone has been stepping up, especially the young guns. Nino Niederreiter has scored eight points (three goals and five assists) in the past eight games. Jason Zucker has three goals in his most recent call-up. Mikael Granlund has four assists in the past six games and has been dominant in the face-off circle. Charlie Coyle has been electrifyingly brilliant the past two games, scoring two goals and two assists for four points while playing with the (for now) newly resurrected Dany Heatley (one goal and three assists in the past two games). After a franchise hat trick dry spell of nearly four years, Ryan Suter became the first Wild defenseman to score three in a game and Justin Fontaine became the first Wild rookie to score three, giving the Wild two hat tricks within five days.
Most importantly, Kuemper has been a stone wall in net with two wins, a .988 save percentage, a 0.48 goals against average and a shutout since being called up back on January 2nd. Minnesota is going to need him to build upon his impressive performance, because Harding and Backstrom haven’t had the best of health this year. Fortunately, it appears Josh Harding has taken another step closer to returning to game action. Having not started since a 2-1 loss to St. Louis, Minnesota’s No. 1 goalie has resumed practicing with the club.
“I wasn’t feeling good,” said Harding. “If I felt even a little bit like I could play, I would have. But there are some things that are out of my control and I thought we did everything that is in our control to get back to where we are right now.
“Like I said, it was out of my control.”
Tonight, Harding will miss his seventh straight game and 11th in the past 13. The 2002 second round pick emerged as the club’s clear No. 1 goaltender early this season, notching an 18-7-3 record, a league-leading 1.65 goals against average, a second-best .933 save percentage and three shutouts. There’s no question his latest ailment couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“When you’re playing good, when you’ve got that rhythm, when you’re getting in there and finally getting the chance, you want to run with it,” said Harding. “Again, there are some things that are out of my control and I’m just happy with how we all dealt with it and figured out what we could control and did it.”
Harding was placed on Injured Reserve on January 6th along with Wild captain Mikko Koivu, it’s unknown what the current timetable is for his return. In the meantime, Darcy Kuemper doesn’t mind the extra playing time.