Wild able to keep a good thing going

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 18, 2011 - 12:12 AM

In the team's return to St. Paul, Niklas Backstrom shut out Colorado and Devin Setoguchi scored the winner.

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The Wild's snake-bit top line bought itself more patience from coach Mike Yeo.

In what Devin Setoguchi called a "a pretty dead game up and down the ice," the Wild's 24-year-old winger salivated when a ricochet off a Dany Heatley shot touched down oh-so conveniently onto his blade Thursday night.

With an open net staring him in the face, Setoguchi sniped a bullet with 2 minutes, 31 seconds left as the surging Wild extended its Northwest Division lead to five points with a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at Xcel Energy Center.

"I don't even think I had a shot on net until that point in the game," Setoguchi said accurately. "I don't think anyone felt like they were generating a lot of chances out there."

The Wild won for the eighth time in 10 games in large part to Avalanche slayer Niklas Backstrom, who had 27 saves in his 24th career shutout. He improved to 18-4-2 all-time against the division rival with a 2.18 goals-against average.

The Wild got another impressive effort from its no-name blue line, led by Nick Schultz playing his 700th game. Without veterans Marek Zidlicky and Greg Zanon, Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, and, in his NHL debut, Kris Fredheim were rocks.

"It's fun to see those guys stepping in and playing huge. Look at Freddy," Backstrom said of Fredheim, the 24-year-old ex-Colorado College defenseman signed by the Wild on Wednesday from its farm team in Houston. "First NHL game, and he played huge. It's unreal."

It was a game the Wild predictably lacked execution.

The 11-5-3 Wild was opening a six-game homestand after returning from a five-game, nine-day road trip that spanned three time zones.

Teams often lay eggs in such games. Yeo warned his team how Dallas was blown out 6-zip by Florida in its first home game after coming back from a four-game trip this week.

The Wild didn't lay an egg, but it was flat at times, generated little offense and spent an exorbitant amount of time in its own zone.

"Our transition game wasn't sharp, coming out of the defensive zone, we weren't sharp, our wall play wasn't sharp, and we made a lot of soft plays," Yeo said. "But tonight we had to defend really well, and we did."

In an effort to jump-start the top line, Yeo has shuffled Setoguchi between the first and second lines lately. He admits he has considered splitting Mikko Koivu and Heatley.

But with Setoguchi's winner, which came after Heatley's shot deflected off defender Erik Johnson, Yeo said this is why the three deserve some more time to stay intact.

"Those guys have scored big goals for us this year," Yeo said. "Maybe they haven't scored the quantity, but you look at the quality of the goals those guys have scored, it's pretty impressive."

The Wild is 5-0 when Heatley scores. Koivu's lone goal sent a game to overtime that Setoguchi, who has six goals, won.

"Guys like that, you want the [puck] on their stick when the game's on the line," Yeo said.

The other reason sticks with the trio?

"We're winning," Yeo said, saying the three don't cheat at the expense of good defense and are playing against top lines and defensemen nightly. "We can't lose sight of that. Would we be happy if their line had seven more goals but we had five less wins?"

Well, if you put it that way ... no.

"It's a different feeling being up there in the standings and not being on the bottom looking up, saying, 'Oh, we've got to beat this team, we've got to jump ahead of this team,'" Schultz said.

"We've had a good start and if we can maintain that through the year and build confidence, it can go a long way."

  • related content

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    Thursday November 17, 2011

    Only 10 NHL defensemen have played more games since Schultz entered the league in 2001-02.

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    1. Niklas Backstrom, Wild: Made 27 saves for his 24th career shutout and second of the season.

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  • WILD 1, COLORADO 0 Up next: 7 p.m. Saturday vs. St. Louis • Xcel Energy Center • TV: FSN (100.3-FM)

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