Saturday, November 16, 2013

3-on-3: Wild After 20 Games

Josh Harding has played a huge part in the Wild's hot start. Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images 

Essentially, we are a quarter into this season. Pretty crazy considering we have only been playing hockey for a month and a half now, but when you think about the compressed schedule due to the Olympic break, it makes sense.

So now that the Wild have completed roughly a quarter of their season, lets do a little three-on-three for the team as a whole.

  • At 12-4-4, the Wild are enjoying their best start in team history. They are dominating at home (9-1-2 record), and have points now in seven straight (also part of a points in 11 out of the past 12 games streak). Entering play today, the team sits tied with Colorado for second best point total in the division and are two behind leader Chicago (30). To compare, the Wild did not reach 28 points last year until their 24th game and held a 13-9-2 record.
  • What was just thought to be a nice hot streak, has turned into just consistent stellar play from Josh Harding. Harding holds the third most wins in the league (11), and is the leader in GAA (1.26) and Save Percentage (.945). He also holds a perfect 9-0-0 record at home, and his last regulation loss was October 17th at Tampa Bay. Harding's greatly improved play has helped the team mightily as their regular number one goalie Niklas Backstrom has battled a couple of injuries this year. Can we talk about Harding's chances for the Vezina Trophy? Sure. Should we pencil him in for a spot on Team Canada in Sochi? Absolutely not.
  • Youngsters Mikael Granlund (2 G, 10 A), Charlie Coyle (2 G, 2 A, 8 games), Nino Niederreiter (3 G ,8 A), and Justin Fontaine (6 G) all are having stellar starts to the season. At the beginning of the year, Coyle was the only one who didn't have a page full of question marks next to his name, and all of them have proven they belong on the team this year. Even more impressively, they are all contributing in copious amounts, which has given the team a secondary scoring threat they have not had since 07-08. 

  • Niklas Backstrom is not having the season he would certainly hope for. He battled a leg injury and now is out with a concussion, and has just played in seven games because of it (and the fact Josh Harding has yet to cool off). Backstrom certainly wasn't that effective when he was in the nets (3/30 GAA, .870 SV%), and you now have to wonder what the 36 year old has left in the tank with two more years left on his contract. 
  • It did not seem possible that Dany Heatley could play like this. But somehow, he has. The former 50 goal scorer only has four points on the season. To show how little he has scored, three defenseman on the team have outscored him (Suter, Spurgeon, Brodin). His beginning of the year was by far much worse, and he has made improvements since being put on a line with Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell, but he is still not finding the scoresheet like the team would hope. Also not exactly the way you want to audition for a job next year, when you hit the free agent market.
  • With the great play at home, you would think the Wild would be able to take that play on the road with them. More times than none, they haven't. They have won two out of their past three on the road, and they have played much better in those games compared to the beginning of the year, but the team is still just .500 on the road (3-3-2). They have far more road games than home games so far this year, so that will catch up to them on the schedule (after the Winnipeg game tomorrow, the Wild play five of seven on the road to finish November). If the Wild want to keep pace with Chicago, St. Louis, and Colorado in the Central Division, they will have to start coming away with two points on the road more often. 

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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