Sunday, September 29, 2013

The 2013-14 Minnesota Wild: Goaltending

“Goaltending beats top notch scoring anytime!” – Eddie Giacomin

This will be the sixth season that the Wild will open the season with Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding tag teaming in between the pipes. Together, they have been solid and have continuously given the Wild every chance possible to win games. But entering this season, both have question marks and appear to look not as strong to the casual fan as they used to. And now it seems both are not at 100 percent entering the season.

Niklas Backstrom, 35, is coming off a season in which he played in 42 out of 48 games. He fared well (2.48 GAA, .909 SV%) but injured himself during warmups of Game 1 of the playoffs and was never seen again. It marked the third consecutive season in which Backstrom suffered an injury that kept him out for a significant period of time.

The Wild decided to bring back Backstrom on a three year deal  after losing out on the Jonathan Bernier sweepstakes. Given his age, the deal is a bit long but since Backstrom was willing to take a pay cut to stay the Wild gave him a bit more in length to sign a deal.

If this deal is to succeed, the Wild need their backup Josh Harding to play a more crucial role by getting a few more starts. But Harding is coming off a season in which he only played five games during the regular season, after missing a significant amount of time between early February and late April.

Harding, as we all know by now, was diagnosed with MS last summer and has not let that interfere with his hockey career. He was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy because of his desire to continue on playing. But that's last year.

This season, the Wild need Harding to pick up more starts than in previous years. The logic behind this is pretty simple.
  • Harding is a good enough goaltender to get more starts (career: 2.67 GAA, .915 SV%)
  • More starts for him gives Backstrom a few more days off and keeps him healthy.
  • The Wild have had a successful history with goaltenders sharing the load.
  • Harding has red pads and that is just wonderful to look at when watching a game (seriously, they are awesome).
Now more than ever the Wild need the pair to succeed. Their defense looks to be improved, but still is not the greatest. They are moving into a new Central Division where teams are loaded with scorers. And if they want to win come playoff time, they need a solid net presence to win, and winning in the playoffs is now the cries of Wild fans (just getting there is no longer good enough).

"Just good enough" is no longer acceptable when it comes to the Wild's goaltenders. They need to be stellar. Plain and simple.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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