Minnesota Wild Start Strong, But Struggle With Injuries

Nick HunterContributor INovember 11, 2008

After a promising 6-0-1 start to the 2008-09 NHL season, the Minnesota Wild have begun to slip thanks—mainly to injuries to two key players.

The Wild finished a four-game road trip 2-2, but have lost four of their six games. All-Star forward Marian Gaborik has only seen two games this season because of a lower leg injury—an injury which has hampered him in the past.

Gaborik is also in the final year of his contract, and extension talks have stalled in the last month, leading many to believe that he won't see the end of the season in a Wild sweater.

Gaborik is coming off his most productive season in the NHL, tallying 83 points in 77 games last season.

Defenseman Brent Burns has played only nine games this season because of an upper-body injury. The offensive-minded, gritty blue-liner is quickly becoming a key factor, and played a career-high 29 minutes at Atlanta earlier in the year.

Burns is only in his third NHL season, and played in all 82 regular-season games last year for the Wild, scoring 43 points.

Veteran Owen Nolan, 36, was brought in to bring some experience to a young roster, but he too has found himself with a lower-body injury.

The Wild need to find scoring from the younger players in the absence of Gaborik and Burns. Mikko Koivu leads the team with 15 points in 13 games. Newcomer Antti Miettinen has been a pleasant surprise with 12 points.  Andrew Brunette, who is in his second stint with the Wild, has tallied nine points this season.

The Wild have only scored 33 goals this season, third fewest in the NHL. With the loss of Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra to free agency, and Mark Parrish to a contract buyout, the roster has some major offensive holes to fill. Rolston, Demitra, and Parrish combined for 143 points last season.

But not all is bad right now in St. Paul. Netminder Niklas Backstrom is off to another strong start in just his third season in the league, posting a 8-3-1 record with a 2.19 GAA and .931 save percentage.

Head coach Jacques Lemaire's defensive minded system has been successful yet again so far, as the Wild have only allowed 28 goals--lowest in the NHL. And let's not forget about the Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild have played in front of sold-out crowds every regular-season game since the inaugural season in 2000-01.

The Wild are one point behind Vancouver in the Northwest Division and 3-1-1 this season at home.  They will play 10 of their next 12 games at home, starting Thursday against Phoenix.

Even better news for the Wild is that Burns is a possibility to play.