By Brian Hall
PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (Ticker) — Niklas Backstrom says there is
no explanation, but the Phoenix Coyotes just cannot seem to get
pucks past him.
The Finnish goaltender stopped all 24 shots he faced and
defenseman Marek Zidlicky scored his first two goals of the
season as the Minnesota Wild recorded a 4-0 triumph over the
Coyotes on Thursday.
Minnesota’s struggling power play came alive, going 4-for-7 as
the Wild extended their winning streak against the Coyotes to
nine games. Andrew Brunette and Eric Belanger also tallied for
Backstrom stopped five shots in the first period, 10 in the
second and nine in the third to post his second shutout of the
season and 11th career.
He also improved to 8-0-0 lifetime with three shutouts and a
.962 save percentage against the Coyotes.
“It’s hard to explain,” Backstrom said. “I don’t know if there
is a reason for that. For me, every game is big. I don’t try
to focus too much on the other team, just on my game.”
Ilya Bryzgalov made 28 saves for Phoenix, which saw its
three-game winning streak come to an end.
“You know what, it’s disappointing because we take three or four
good steps forward, but we got outclassed tonight,” Coyotes
coach Wayne Gretzky said. “They beat us all over the ice. They
beat us to loose pucks, and they were physically stronger. They
outskated us, and they deserved to win. The score should have
been 7- or 8-0.”
The Wild dominated early against the Coyotes, who were playing
for the second time in as many nights. Minnesota outshot
Phoenix, 13-5, in the first period and had several good scoring
chances, but Bryzgalov was up to the challenge.
However, the Wild used a pair of second-period power plays to
gain control on the contest. Minnesota finally cashed in after
going 1-for-21 with the man advantage over its previous five
“It’s hard to score 5-on-5, it’s hard to get chances close to
the net, the goaltenders are great,” Belanger said. “Your power
play has to get you a lot of goals. Hopefully, we got ours
going tonight. We made some great plays.”
The shot in the arm might have come from a return to health.
Veteran Owen Nolan and defenseman Brent Burns returned to the
lineup, and Zidlicky had his finest game after coming over in
the offseason to supply offensive punch from the blue line.
Zidlicky had missed five games earlier this season with an
All-Star Marian Gaborik missed his 12th game with a “lower body”
injury, but Burns played for the first time in five games and
Nolan returned after missing eight of the past 11 contests.
“It’s the first time that I feel good behind the bench having
pretty much all the guys back, and still a top guy’s not there,”
Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. “You know these guys will
start to score and it will be good for our offense.”
With a two-man advantage early in the second, Zidlicky’s slap
shot from the slot beat Bryzgalov just 3:28 into the session.
Brunette doubled the lead with 4:17 remaining in the period,
when he received a pass from Zidlicky and fired the puck past
Bryzgalov for his sixth goal of the season.
In the third, Belanger added his fourth of the campaign, scoring
from a tough angle on the left side of Bryzgalov. Zidlicky
again used the slap shot on another 5-on-3 with 67 seconds
remaining in the session to cap the scoring.
“It’s difficult for me to come to a new team,” Zidlicky said.
“You learn from your players and teammates. It’s not easy, but
every game is good for me.”
Phoenix finished 0-for-6 on the power-play.
“Pretty handily, it was an NHL group against a junior team,”
Gretzky said. “We didn’t play the way we have to play against a
team like that. They’re a good team, and they play as a team.”
Minnesota has only allowed four power-play goals this season,
posting a 92.4 percent success rate on the penalty kill – first
in the league.
“I think it was probably one of the best games for us this
season,” Backstrom said. “The whole 60 minutes, we played good
hockey. We didn’t give them anything. Our (penalty kill) was
really strong today. We got a lot of penalties, but we killed
“I think that’s a sign of a good team. We lost (our) last game
on Saturday, and now we bounced back.”