SAN JOSE The Minnesota Wild have won five games in a row, and its due in no small part to their penalty kill. Theyre a perfect 21-for-21 over that span, and are thriving in an area the Sharks are not.
Overall, Minnesota is allowing just 1.79 goals-per game, second in the NHL.
Obviously, it starts with the goalies, said Dany Heatley. Theyve been unbelievable.
Nicklas Backstrom will be the latest of the hot goalies to face the Sharks, who lost to Nashvilles Pekka Rinne on Saturday but defeated the Kings Jonathan Quick on Monday. Backstrom is coming off a 41-save shutout of Calgary in a 3-0 Wild win on Tuesday.
Overall, the Wild have allowed just three goals in the last five games.
Its definitely going to be a challenge for us to get our offense going, said Patrick Marleau. Theres not going to be too many opportunities out there, so you have to take advantage of it.
They look like theyre a group thats playing together on the same page and same system, and they obviously believe in it, said Todd McLellan.
Reunion night at the Tank: The Sharks and Wild had one another on speed dial in the offseason, completing no less than three trades. Marty Havlat and Brent Burns will face their former club for the first time, while Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi return to HP Pavilion.
Just as they do in Boston whenever Joe Thornton returns to his old building, McLellan hopes the Sharks get some energy from playing for their new comrades.
I think you want to play for those players in that situation, he said. Thats human nature. When youre that tight as a team and youre around each other, you reach out and pull each other along.
McLellan wont spend any extra time with Burns and Havlat, though. They are, after all, pros.
Thats their responsibility. They played a lot of games between the two of them, he said. Theyve been in the league for a lot of years. The last thing I have to do is fool with their heads before the game.
Changes on D: The Sharks look like they will dress the same six defensemen as they have the past two games, but there could be a tweak in the pairs. Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray remain together, but look for Burns to play with Colin White and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to skate with Justin Braun.
Theyre both real smart and able to read off of what Im doing, said Burns of Vlasic and Braun.
On the Minnesota side, the Wild have been able to successfully integrate some fresh faces on their blue line, as evidenced by their goals-against numbers. Marco Scandella, just 21, is third on the team in ice time (21:05) while fellow 21-year-old Jared Spurgeon is also getting valuable minutes. It has allowed the Wild to pick up some signature wins early, including two against Detroit and one against Vancouver during their winning streak.
Against those teams, one thing I was really happy about is we just played our game, said first year Wild head coach Mike Yeo. Thats one thing weve been getting better at. Maybe its confidence, maybe were starting to get a little bit of a swagger that were going to need to have.
In our more recent games against some of the top teams I feel like weve gone out and initiated the play and took the game to them. I think that breeds confidence.
Odds and ends: The home teams won each of the four games in the season series last year. The Sharks are 8-0-1 in their last nine home games against Minnesota. The first four games of the Wilds winning streak were backstopped by Josh Harding. Joe Pavelski has eight multiple-point games this season, including Monday against the Kings (2a). Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck will play after missing the last game with an upper body injury. Backstrom is just 1-5-1 with a 3.39 goals-against average against the Sharks in his career. Antti Niemi will start for the Sharks.