Goaltender Niklas Backstrom looked sharp in his first game since returning from a groin injury for the Minnesota Wild. That doesn’t bode well for the struggling Edmonton Oilers, who enter Monday’s game against their Northwest Division rivals having failed to score against him the last three times he’s been in net.
Backstrom, who turned aside 23 shots in Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Calgary, is 5-0-0 with a 0.40 goals-against average, three shutouts - all at home - and a .982 save percentage lifetime against the Oilers. He extended his scoreless streak versus Edmonton to 183 minutes and 57 seconds with a 21-save effort in a 2-0 victory Oct. 10, improving to 4-0 with a 0.25 GAA at home against the Oilers.
The Finnish goaltender has been a key reason the Northwest-leading Wild (8-4-2) have not lost in regulation in seven games to the last-place Oilers (5-9-0), going 6-0-1 in that span. Edmonton, though, snapped a six-game losing streak to Minnesota with a 5-4 shootout victory Oct. 25 in the most recent meeting.
Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, though, is understandably optimistic about a win in this game after Backstrom’s play Saturday.
“He was very solid,” Lemaire told the Wild’s official Web site. “There were a few shots that could have been goals and he came up with big saves.”
Saturday’s win ended a five-game winless streak for the Wild as they began a stretch of eight straight games against Northwest opponents. Marian Gaborik, who also returned from his own groin injury, scored twice and added an assist.
He has three goals and two assists since returning to the ice and leads the team with 13 points despite missing two games.
But both Gaborik and linemate Pavol Demitra will miss this game. Gaborik aggravated his groin injury in Saturday’s win while Demitra, who did not play in the third period of Saturday’s game, was placed on injured reserve.
Demitra’s absence may prove costly since he has three goals and seven points in his last five games against the Oilers, who have been decimated by injuries on defense. Edmonton is starting to resemble the injury-riddled team that lost 18 of its last 20 games last season.
Oilers defenseman Mathieu Roy went hard into the boards on a check by Nashville’s Jordin Tootoo three minutes into a 4-1 Edmonton loss on Friday night. He was able to leave the ice on his own, but did not return and was diagnosed with a shoulder injury.
In a preseason game against Vancouver, Roy was taken from the ice on a stretcher following a concussion-causing hit.
“Now we are getting into a situation we are familiar with,” Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. “We have gone from nine defensemen down to five. We’ll have to see what our options are.”
MacTavish utilized one of those options Sunday, recalling Bryan Young from Springfield of the AHL. The 21-year-old defenseman had one assist and 12 penalty minutes this season with the Falcons, and had no points in 15 games with the Oilers in 2006-07.
Recently recalled winger Robert Nilsson skated on a line with Dustin Penner and Jarret Stoll for Edmonton on Friday. Nilsson was acquired from the New York Islanders for Ryan Smyth in the offseason, and played the first five games with the Oilers before being sent to Springfield.
Edmonton has not defeated Minnesota in regulation since a 2-1 victory Jan. 16.