But seasons are long, slumps are common, and Fernandez appears to have righted himself this week after a miserable stretch. Over a 16-game period from Oct. 29 through last Saturday, Fernandez earned only one victory against eight defeats. Niklas Backstrom started five times in his place and replaced him during the game twice more. But Fernandez was in the net this week for shootout wins over Chicago and Calgary, and both he and the Wild are bringing more confidence into Saturday night’s rematch with Chicago.
He was especially stout Thursday night in a victory over the Flames with a season-high 38 saves, including 14 in the third period. Plus, he stopped two of three shots in the shootout to lift Minnesota to a league-high seventh victory in that category.
“I definitely have worked really hard in practice. I’ve tried to get my focus back, so we’ll see what that will lead to,” said Fernandez, who currently ranks in the middle of NHL goalie rankings with an 11-9 record, a 2.63 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage – numbers boosted by his strong October.
Though a slew of injuries to Wild forwards have played a part, too, it’s no secret that Fernandez’s struggles were a significant factor in the team’s post-Halloween slide. But his teammates have not lost faith in him.
“I think he’s one of the best in the league, so it’s no surprise,” centre Brian Rolston said during a round of compliments following the Calgary game.
When Fernandez has had trouble in the past, his problems were mental. More mature now, he has tried not to overthink certain situations – even if he shows up and coach Jacques Lemaire has Backstrom slated to start instead of him.
“If he makes the decision that I’m not going, I’m not,” Fernandez said. “I try to relax and shut off my mind, and I definitely feel like Niklas can take the ropes – but every night I’m going to come here ready to play . . . as much as I can and as good as I can.”
The only knock against Fernandez’s performance on Thursday was the two penalties he picked up, his first multi-infraction game in nearly four years. That prompted Lemaire, when asked if his nephew was back on track, to quip: “He just has to stay out of the box, and we’ll be fine.”
Notes: The Wild placed winger Mattias Weinhandl on waivers Friday. Centre Pavol Demitra (concussion), who has missed eight straight games, practised with the team. But right wing Marian Gaborik (groin) and centre Wes Walz (hip) continued to skate on their own and have not yet been cleared to return.