San Jose Sharks-Minnesota Wild: Sharks Head North Looking for Third Straight Win

John PhenAnalyst IIINovember 2, 2010

Niittymaki has a record of excellence versus the Wild
Niittymaki has a record of excellence versus the WildHarry How/Getty Images

Things are starting to gel for the San Jose Sharks as their top line continues to roll out points in impressive fashion. Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau lead the charge into the Xcel Energy Center tonight looking for their third win in a row and fifth consecutive victory over the Wild.

After a rocky and slow start to the season returning from Sweden where they earned a split vs the Blue Jackets, the Sharks have some wind in their sails, posting a 4-1 record in the last five games.

Joe Thornton continues his strong play matching a season best three assists in a wild 5-2 victory over the Ducks. The goaltending has been up and down at best for the Sharks this season, but Antero Niittymaki has been very solid in nets with a 1.87 GAA.

Don't look now, but the Sharks are beginning to find their groove.

"When we came back from Europe we didn't have any rhythm in our game ... now we're starting to find that," said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan.

While Antero has taken the lionshare of starts recently, many expect Antti Niemi to get the call and try to improve on his inflated 4.50 GAA. Head coach Todd McLellan has repeatedly stated that he is not operating on a schedule for starts and that goalies would be a "game-to-game" decision.

Niitymaki has a strong history of performance against the Wild, with a 3-0 record against Minnesota and a 1.96 GAA.

The Wild have dropped three of the last four contests and fell to 1-1-1 after dropping a close game against Chicago. Minnesota has never been a high scoring team, and this year's version proves no different, as the Wild were limited to a pair of goals or less for the fifth straight game.

Standout goaltender Niklas Backstrom had a season to forget last year, struggling at times to stop the puck behind a weak defense. He has rebounded quite nicely this year and stopped 29 of 31 shots against Chicago, who added an empty netter for good measure.

When asked about his turnaround from a year ago, Backstrom would ponder the question momentarily before answering. "It's hard to say," he said. "You try to play your best every night, keep improving. Somehow it feels a little easier,"

The Wild are giving Backstrom an excellent chance to continue his steady play, as he is sixth in the league with a 2.08 GAA, and a superb save percentage of .929 is good for fifth in the league.

Backstrom had an excellent year for the Wild in 2008-2009 where he set numerous franchise records for wins (37) and shutouts (8). Despite the dip in production a year ago (2.72 GAA, and .903 save percentage ), Backstrom is still an excellent goaltender, and with the additional focus on the defensive end, the Wild look to be stingy at home.

Niklas Backstrom has lost each of his last four starts against the San Jose Sharks and has a 2-7-3 record with a 3.19 GAA.