Wild-Sharks Preview

The Minnesota Wild acquired Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi

from the San Jose Sharks during the offseason in hopes of improving

one of the worst offenses in the NHL.

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 and forward Martin Havlat

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 and Niklas Backstrom, 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 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, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau each scored and

combined for four assists. Logan Couture recorded his sixth goal in

eight games while Joe Pavelski, who leads the team with 17 points,

recorded his eighth multi-point effort of the season with two

assists.

Two nights after blowing a two-goal lead in the third period of

a 4-3 overtime loss to Nashville, Antti Niemi, who went 0-1-1 with

a 4.40 GAA over his first three home starts, made 29 saves.

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.