Is the Wild simply riding the hot hand with Josh Harding, giving him a third consecutive start in tonight's big (for early November) home game against Vancouver? Yes.
A quick check of Wild history reveals two distinct goaltending eras. From its first year as a franchise in 2000-01 through 2006-07, the Wild was primarily a two-goalie team. In five of the six years in there (not counting the year wiped out by labor woes), two different Wild goalies played at least 35 games in a season -- and that spanned several different netminders: Manny Fernandez, Jamie McLennan, Dwayne Roloson and Niklas Backstrom (though it was primarily Manny and Rolo splitting time for many of those seasons; the outlier was 2005-06, when Fernandez played 58 games and Roloson got 24).
Starting in 2007-08, the backup started getting less work. Keep in mind, these are games played, not starts. Here are the numbers for the top two netminders from that year forward:
2007-08 -- Backstrom 58, Josh Harding 29
2008-09 -- Backstrom 71, Harding 19
2009-10 -- Backstrom 60, Harding 25
2010-11 -- Backstrom 51, Jose Theodore 32
So the Wild has generally made good use of its backup, but there has been a clear No. 1 goalie in Backstrom.
What's particularly interesting about Harding getting a third start in a row is that -- aside from times when Backstrom has been injured -- from what we can tell, Backstrom hasn't sat three consecutive games since Harding started (and won) four in a row in December of 2007. Once last year and twice in 2009-10 Backstrom missed at least three games consecutively, but those were all due to injury and/or illness.
That said, we all know Backstrom is the franchise goalie with the big contract and the no-trade clause. And we should all agree that when a goalie allows one combined goal in two victories over Detroit, a third start is warranted. That said still, if the Wild and coach Mike Yeo are really taking things one day at a time, it will get mighty interesting -- and perhaps will trend back to more of a two-goalie system -- if Harding stays hot.