As the Wild come down the stretch for the final 11 games of the season, one thing is quite clear: Niklas Backstrom needs some rest.
Backstrom has started the last 16 games for the Wild, including a pair of back to back games, the most recent of which, he was pulled after 2 shots in a 3-0 loss to Los Angeles in game 2 of those back to backs. In those 16 games, he has posted an 11-5-0 record with a 2.82 goals against average and a .903 save percentage.
But in the last 6 games, Backstrom has shown signs of fatigue. He has a GAA of 3.90 and a save percentage of .860, in those 6 games, which saw the team lose their 7 game winning streak, and are now on a 3 game losing skid.
At 35 years old, Backstrom showed great poise for his age early on in the season. That great poise, was taken advantage of night after night by Mike Yeo, and who could blame him when Backstrom was playing so well. But now that poise has appeared to have worn off, as Backstrom plays night after night without a rest.
So the solution to the problem is plain and simple: Give Backstrom some games off. With Matt Hackett gone to Buffalo and Josh Harding still on IR, Darcy Kuemper will be the backup for the remainder of the season. Kuemper has done well so far on the year with the Wild, posting a 1.98 GAA and.923 save percentage in 5 games. So there should be no reason why Kuemper doesn't get a start in 3-4 games to finish the year.
With the playoffs on the horizon, the Wild will rely on Backstrom in every game they play, should they get into the big dance. So it makes a lot of sense to give the 35 year old some rest now, before they get there (Yes, I am aware that the Wild are in a extremely tight playoff race). Allowing Kuemper 3-4 starts in the last 11 games will: A) Give Backstrom the rest he needs and B) Keep Kuemper sharp enough to perform adequately in those 3-4 games (The Wild have allowed their backups to just sit on the bench and get rusty way too much this season).
You may remember a few weeks ago, I talked about how the Wild should bring Backstrom back next season. I still support that notion. But, I also believe that he is a bit old, and needs to be given adequate rest to perform at that high level he is capable of playing at.
Should Mike Yeo go with Backstrom for the last 11 games, he will run his #1 goalie into the ground, and will destroy any chance of the Wild making the postseason.
So please, let the man rest for a few games.
Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell