Rhythm of schedule to challenge NHL goalies

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 18, 2013 - 6:59 AM

An effective two-man rotation could mean everything in the NHL's truncated season.

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Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom stopped Zenon Konopka's shot during practice.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Niklas Backstrom typically gets off to fast starts, but even the Wild veteran goalie wonders how that will translate in such an odd, truncated season.

"That's in October and November. I don't know how I do in January," Backstrom said jokingly.

For the record, Backstrom is 54-33-10 in Octobers and Novembers with a 2.33 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. In January, he is 19-12-3 with a. 2.63 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.

In a 48-game season in 99 days, it will be interesting to see how the Wild handles Backstrom and Josh Harding. Neither played anywhere during the lockout and must jump right back into game action.

Do you ride the hot hand? Or, do you need to rely on both because of so many games in a compressed period?

In 1994-95, with a 48-game NHL season caused by another lockout, seven goalies started 40 or more games. Only four had winning records.

"It'll be interesting," said John Vanbiesbrouck, who played 37 games (started 35) for the Florida Panthers in 1994-95. "If you struggle, there can be no 'Let's go back to him and get him back on the horse.' You don't have time to be patient with your goaltending position.

"Some teams, I'm sure, will try to ride one. But on the other hand, I think the guys that have the travel schedule out east will have a major advantage in a sprint-type season. In the West, you're going to have back-to-back weeks where you play four games. That's going to take a toll where you need to use two."

Wild coach Mike Yeo and goalie coach Bob Mason tried to map out a plan. But it's clearly written in pencil.

The Wild will log more miles than any NHL team this season. There are nine back-to-backs, so it's hard to predict how Backstrom and Harding will operate under such a workload.

"You've got to have a bit of an open mind this year," said Yeo, saying he'll evaluate after every game. "For some goalies, playing too much can hurt them. For other goalies, the more they play, the more into a rhythm they feel. Those will be the things that we will be considering."

Back in his days playing in Finland, Backstrom typically played in 54- to 56-game seasons.

"But that's over like an eight-month stretch," Backstrom said, "so this will be different."

Backstrom turns 35 next month and has been struck by nagging injuries the past few years. Harding is dealing with the uncertainty of multiple sclerosis.

Harding's treatment right now is trial by error, although it is going well. He knows he will face lots of questions from out-of-town media about his condition when the Wild travels but is willing to handle that head-on.

He says he had no setbacks in training camp.

"There are areas where I can sharpen but, but the scrimmage [Wednesday] was a big test for myself, just mentally, to know that I can go play a game and do good," Harding said. "With [MS], you can't predict the future. But so far, no setbacks, no nothing. I feel good."

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