While they’re still having difficulty scoring, the Wild find themselves on the verge of their longest winning streak in more than four years thanks to a tremendous effort from their goaltenders.
Facing their former team for the first time, Heatley and Setoguchi look to help visiting Minnesota record a sixth consecutive victory in Thursday night’s matchup with the Sharks, who haven’t lost in regulation at home to the Wild in nine games.
After finishing 26th in the league with 203 goals last season, the Wild (8-3-3) acquired some much-needed offensive firepower, sending All-Star defenseman Brent Burns(notes) and forward Martin Havlat(notes) to the Sharks in separate deals for Setoguchi and Heatley - a four-time 40-goal scorer.
Heatley leads the team in scoring, but he has only 10 points in 14 games while Setoguchi has eight. The Wild again rank near the bottom of the league with an average of 2.2 goals.
While the new acquisitions have yet to boost the team offensively, Minnesota has again excelled by relying on keeping the puck out of its own net. That effort has been led by goalies Josh Harding(notes) and Niklas Backstrom(notes), who have sparked the Wild to five straight wins with their dominant play.
Harding surrendered three goals over the first four victories, and Backstrom made 41 saves in a 3-0 win at Calgary on Tuesday as the Flames were held scoreless on seven power-play chances.
The Wild, who haven’t won six in a row since a franchise-best nine-game run March 8-24, 2007, have killed off all 21 power-play opportunities during the winning streak.
Guillaume Latendresse(notes) scored for the third time in as many games and Heatley notched a goal and an assist. While Heatley’s surely looking forward to taking the ice Thursday, it’s uncertain if Backstrom or Harding will start.
“I don’t know that we could really make a bad decision as a coaching staff … as far as who we’re going to put in net,” coach Mike Yeo said. “When you get goaltending like that you have a chance to win every hockey game.”
Backstrom is 1-5-1 with a 3.39 goals-against average at HP Pavilion. Harding struggled in his only career appearance versus the Sharks (8-4-1), making 31 saves in a 5-2 road loss Jan. 30, 2010.
The Sharks, 8-0-1 in their last nine home meetings with the Wild, are coming off their seventh win in nine games, 4-2 over Los Angeles on Monday.
Dan Boyle(notes), Joe Thornton(notes) and Patrick Marleau(notes) each scored and combined for four assists. Logan Couture(notes) recorded his sixth goal in eight games while Joe Pavelski(notes), who leads the team with 17 points, recorded his eighth multi-point effort of the season with two assists.
Niemi missed some time at the beginning of the season after having a cyst removed from his knee but seems to be rounding into form.
“Nemo, he’s looking sharper every night, isn’t he?” coach Todd McLellan said. “He’s looking good, he’s starting to get comfortable in there, he’s starting to feel good. His timing and his reads of rushes and plays is getting better all the time so I think we’re getting there.”
Niemi is 3-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA and one shutout against Minnesota.
Havlat has eight points in nine games with San Jose while Burns has five in 13.