The story behind the story

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 31, 2011 - 12:00 PM

Josh Harding's shutout Saturday night was made possible by the play of the Wild's young defensemen.

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Wild defenseman Justin Falk mixed it up with Detroit veteran Todd Bertuzzi in the first period Saturday night.

The most obvious story to come out of the Wild's 1-0 victory over Detroit at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday was the performance of goaltender Josh Harding. Playing on his surgically mended knee, Harding won a game for the first time since March 21, 2010.

It was hard not to feel good for Harding, who has started both his games this season against the Red Wings, helping the Wild to three points. He will start Tuesday in Detroit as well.

But Wild coach Mike Yeo saw something else -- a very young group of defensemen who held their own against one of the most talented teams in the NHL.

"For me that is the biggest story here," Yeo said after the game. "And I don't want to take anything away from [veteran pairing Nick Schultz and Marek Zidlicky], they battled and they were unbelievable, too. I felt the way we defended tonight was great."

Showing great faith in his young players, Yeo paired Jared Spurgeon with Marco Scandella, and Nate Prosser -- called up from Houston with Greg Zanon and Clayton Stoner hurt -- with Justin Falk.

Youth? Before Saturday Prosser had played in five NHL games. Entering the season Scandella had played in 20 NHL games and Falk 25. Spurgeon, one of the surprises of last year, is in his first full season.

As Saturday's game progressed, Yeo put the youngsters in at critical times. Not counting power-play time, the four young defensemen got more ice time than Zidlicky and Schultz.

Scandella and Spurgeon both were plus-1 for the game. Spurgeon had three blocked shots, Prosser two. Falk was second on the team with four hits. But what Yeo liked most was that nobody panicked when the Red Wings starting upping the pressure as the game progressed. Yeo thought it was one of the team's best games this young season in terms of execution under pressure in the defensive zone.

"Earlier in the year when we played these guys we defended well, but the next thing you know, we'd be slapping it around the boards, and it would continue on," he said. "[Saturday], coming out of defensive zone coverage, guys were moving their feet, they were moving their feet without the puck. There was more talk, much more support."

Clearly, all four young defensemen benefited from playing extensively for Yeo in Houston, which reached the AHL finals last season. They know Yeo's system, they know what he expects of them, and they are perhaps more relaxed because of their familiarity with the coach. But it's more than that.

"When you're under pressure, you have to prevent the panic from setting in," Yeo said. "You have to find a way to execute. For me, to see four young kids in there? You expect that from a Schultie, you expect that from a Zids. ... But to see four kids doing that against the Detroit Red Wings? For me that's a huge story because of where we are as a team."

At the very least, the bar has been raised for playing time once all the team's defensemen are healthy. Zanon is close to returning to practice and Stoner is day-to-day. Yeo will have some interesting decisions to make.

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