Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Wild 1, Backstrom 0

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild game coverage Updated: November 3, 2010 - 8:34 AM

 (fixed typos this morning)

Good evening from high above an empty ice surface inside an empty arena and press box. This is exactly like I spent my entire day. There's something therapeutic about being in an arena all by your lonesome.

Although, 14 hours in the rink is a little too much for the day. So I'll make 'er quick.

Wild won Game 4 of its season-long five-game homestand by a 1-0 score over the offensive powerhouse San Jose Sharks. The Sharks came in with 20 goals in its past four victories, but Niklas Backstrom's 36 saves and a workmanlike effort in the D-ZONE by the rest of the gang lifted Minnesota to its first regulation win over San Jose in four years and first regulation home win over San Jose in five years.

It was also the Wild's first 1-0 home win in three years, the Wild's first-ever home shutout over San Jose (19 meetings) and Backstrom's first home shutout since the Jacques Lemaire era.

The Wild again pitched a tent in its own end tonight. Not a lot going on in the offensive zone, other than the nine power plays and 3:19 5-on-3 in the second period. But the Wild was happy with the effort and definitely took the half glass-full opinion after the game.

I will say this, if you've got to spend the entire night in the defensive end, you better be good there, and the Wild was good there and competed there. Yes, Backstrom had to make some outstanding saves, which he did, but the Wild let him see pucks and had outstanding back pressure from the forwards, which allowed the defensemen to step up and as coach Todd Richards said, "bodying up with their guys."

Attention to details, the little things, whatever you want to call it, the one thing this team does really well is back pressure. Even in the neutral zone against Washington, how many times did Wild back pressure push Washington's forwards right into the waiting defenseman?

As for tonight, Richards said, "The guys in front of [Backstrom] really competed hard and helped him out in certain situations."

Andrew Brunette's 5-on-3 goal in the second held up -- I guaranteed on Twitter that at the very least, no way the Wild wins 1-0 (in other words, they better score again). Marty Havlat got a lot of shifts with Brunette and Mikko Koivu, including on the first PP unit. He set up Brunette's goal and teed up two more chances for Brunette and Koivu, but they swung and missed. It was Havlat's drawn minor that set up the extended 5-on-3 after John McCarthy's four-minute high-sticking double minor on Chuck Kobasew.

Koivu extended his point streak to seven games -- one point in each of the games and he's got at least a point in every game but one. But I didn't think he was at his best tonight in the offensive zone. I saw three or four plays die in the offensive zone simply because he didn't put a body into the defender and check his man along the wall. He was real good in his own end, as were many of the Wild players, like Eric Nystrom, who had a huge block in the first period with Backstrom out of position, John Madden and many of the Wild's defensemen.

Brent Burns was awesome and got heavy praise from Richards for his final two periods.

Like I said, the Wild had to be good in its own end because it spent the majority of the night there. Power play went 1 for 9, but as Havlat said, "it won us the game," although he definitely added, "the difference was Bax."

Now, can the Wild finally win two in a row on home ice? The five-game homestand's about to end against a very fragile Calgary team, and 3-1-1 would be a nice way to go into the next string of games. Remember, the Wild's about to hit the uphill climb of its schedule. 38 of the final 70 are on the road.

I'll talk to you after practice Wednesday, but first, here's a couple notes I think had to be trimmed from the notebook. Check out the notebook, by the way, because there's some entertaining stuff in there on Movember and a Brad Staubitz-Cal Clutterbuck fight from juniors.

Defenseman Cam Barker, who missed three games with a groin injury and was scratched from a fourth, returned to the lineup Tuesday.

Asked what he was looking for from Barker, coach Todd Richards said, “Just like our team, more consistency and him wanting to take a bigger piece of the game, of the minutes.”  I thought he was mostly good tonight

Richards said he’s not expecting Antti Miettinen (concussion) to be out long, but as for Guillaume Latendresse, “we
still aren’t sure what’s going on with his groin.” …
 
Richards said Pierre-Marc Bouchard, coming back from post-concussion syndrome, is “real close.” Richards said it’d be easier to manage Bouchard’s ice time “here” rather than Houston, but the team will sit down with Bouchard to “work out the best route.”
 
Tidbits:
 
-- Defeated San Jose in regulation for the first time in 16 meetings (Oct. 21, 2006).
-- 20 career shutouts for Backstrom -- 14 at home and first since April 3, 2009
-- Snapped a five-game losing streak to San Jose
-- Brunette has 49 power-play goals with the Wild -- 10 off Marian Gaborik's team record
-- Havlat is tied for second on the team with seven assists
-- Wild's 10th 1-0 win and first at home since Oct. 4, 2007 (Patrick Kane's first-ever game; Havlat separated shoulder game, incidentally)
-- The Wild is 5-2-1 when scoring a power-play goal.

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