Hey everyone! As you know, the Wild are in the midst of a 5 game winning streak, thanks in large part to their goaltenders, 1st star of the week Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom, fresh off a 41 save shutout. The Wild are 2nd in the NHL in goals allowed, which has me thinking: Are Backstrom and Harding the best tandem in the NHL right now?
I'll be using my good old ''comic book'' format, like last year. On the first two panels, we'll be looking at both goalies' stats so far and the third panel, we'll be comparing them to other good tandems in the NHL.
Who's the best tandem? Let's discuss it, after the jump.
First panel: Josh Harding
Hard to believe this guy didn't even play last season because of a knee injury, huh? In his first regular season game back, he gave the Wild a fighting chance against the Detroit Red Wings, but they ended up losing 3-2 in overtime. Harding still managed 38 saves out of the 41 shots he faced. Very good for someone who hadn't been in net for that long, against an offensive juggernaut at that. His second game was against the same Red Wings, but this time, he got the better of them: a 38 save 1-0 shutout to be exact. Coming off a shutout and considering he pretty much gets all the starts against Detroit, he was back in net the very next game against the Red Wings and he stole another one from them, 2-1 in OT, 36 saves. At that point, it was hard for coach Mike Yeo to sit this guy out after having allowed 1 goal in two games against the Red Wings, so he was back in net for a 3rd straight start. This time, he allowed 1 goal on 25 shots against the Canucks, who got whipped 5-1 by the Wild. 2 goals in 3 games? Seems pretty crazy to sit him out, right? Harding had earned a 4th consecutive start and he made the most of it again, giving the Wild yet another 2-1 win, with the career backup making 30 saves. That four game stretch earned him the NHL's first star of the week, and he currently sports a microscopic 1.18GAA, with a staggering league-leading 0.965 SV%.
Second panel: Niklas Backstrom
Let's not overlook the Wild's #1 goalie, Backstrom, who showed what he's capable of last night, stopping all 41 shots he saw, which constitutes a personal record for saves in a shutout. While his 4-3-2 record may seem pedestrian, it doesn't tell the whole story. It's quite possible for a goalie to perform admirably well, but to not have enough offensive support to win, just like a goalie can constantly win on his team's offensive prowess alone. The important numbers are GAA, saves and SV%. Backs currently has a 2.05 GAA, good for 10th in the league, and a very respectable 0.926SV%, which puts him 17th, but would give him a better rank in the end of the season, seeing as many of the percentages are too ridiculous to maintain over a full season. His season highlights include that 41 save shutout of Calgary, a 41 save performance in which the Wild failed to dispose of Ottawa, having lost 4-3 in the shootout, but 41 saves means the Wild were lost without him and a 30 save performance that paved the way for Dany Heatley to tie the Northwest-leading Oilers with 1.2 seconds to go, which then turned into a shootout win for the Wild, 2-1. Backstrom has been every bit as instrumental as Harding in the 10 points he helped the Wild accumulate in the standings.
Third panel: Rival tandems
The easiest way to find out if there have been better tandems in to look at the Wild's closest competitors in terms of goals against. The Wild are second in the league, having allowed 26 goals in 14 games, which gives them a team GAA of 1.79. Only Edmonton's 1.50GAA for 21 goals in 14 games is better than the Wild. Other close competitors are the New York Rangers, sporting a team GAA of 2.08, the Pittsburgh Penguins with 2.13 and the Los Angeles Kings with 2.20. Now, let's look at the goalies' numbers.
Here are the records for all goalies, for comparison's sake.
Niklas Backstrom: 4-3-2, 2.05GAA, 0.926 SV%, 1 SO
Josh Harding: 4-0-1, 1.18GAA, 0.965 SV%, 1 SO
Nikolai Khabibulin: 7-0-2, 0.98GAA, 0.964 SV%, 2 SO
Devan Dubnyk: 2-3-0, 2.19GAA, 0.930 SV%, 0 SO
Henrik Lundqvist: 4-3-3, 2.27GAA, 0.929 SV%, 1 SO
Martin Biron: 3-0-0, 0.95GAA, 0.963 SV%, 1 SO
Marc-André Fleury: 8-2-1, 1.95GAA, 0.931 SV%, 1 SO
Brent Johnson: 1-1-2, 2.44GAA, 0.908 SV%, 0 SO
Jonathan Quick: 6-3-3, 1.87GAA, 0.936 SV%, 3 SO
Jonathan Bernier: 1-2-0, 3.37GAA, 0.873 SV%, 0 SO
Amazingly, Khabibulin has yet to fall in regulation. Los Angeles' goalie stats were aided by a fantastic 3-game shutout streak by Jonathan Quick, but he has since fallen to back to Earth, losing a few games in a row. Bernier is currently the worst backup of the 5 teams analyzed. When will this guy show his potential? Out of the mentionned teams, only Pittsburgh hasn't had at least 2 shutouts. All starters have had at least one shutout. Also, only Harding and Biron have winning records among the backups. Dubnyk's 2-3-0 record must be explained by a lack of scoring, because his personal stats look too good to have a losing record.
By looking at these early stats and records, it's important to remember that these will drastically change as early as next week, especially SV%, which tend to regress towards 0.920 for top goalies. It's also hard to prove everyone's worth to their team without actually seeing all of their performances. However, if we're talking about the current best tandem, I'd say it's a close battle between Edmonton and Minnesota, as strange as that sounds. I'd still give the nod to Minnesota, because what other team has had to make the tough decision of who to start for the last 3-4 games for a positive reason? That choice is usually necessary when things are going wrong, not when your backup has rattled 4 wins in a row and your number 1 has been pretty much just as good. I don't think Edmonton puts the same amount of trust in Dubnyk, as good as his numbers have been this season, than the Wild puts on Harding. Plus, Harding has been historically better than Dubnyk. Also, while Martin Biron has posted some gaudy numbers, he has done so in just 3 starts, which is too small of a sample. The leaderboard takes goalies with at least 4 starts in consideration.
Punchline: To follow my comic book theme, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding are the best superhero-sidekick duo in the NHL right now. It might change very quickly, but right now, let's enjoy the ride.