ST. PAUL, Minn. – Josh Harding wasn’t considered the Minnesota Wild’s top goaltender entering the season. He’s currently the league’s best at making saves.
Harding stopped 19 shots for his second shutout of the season and the Wild beat the New Jersey Devils 4-0 Sunday night.
Mikael Granlund, Torrey Mitchell, Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville scored for the Wild, who have won five of six. Nino Niederreiter had three assists.
Harding improved to 7-2-1 while lowering his goals-against average to 1.11 and increasing his save percentage to .950.
“The guys are making it easy. It’s never about one player. We win as a team and we lose as a team like we always say. This was another team win. Everybody contributed and pulled their weight,” he said.
Niklas Backstrom was expected to see the bulk of the action this season for the Wild. However, he went down with a leg injury in the team’s third game and hasn’t seen much action since, in large part because of Harding’s stellar start.
“It’s unbelievable,” Niederreiter said. “Every game he’s played he’s kept us in the game. He’s been playing phenomenal for us.”
Cory Schneider, back after missing three games with a sore groin, finished with 16 saves for New Jersey. The Devils, 28th in league scoring at 1.86 goals per game, were blanked for the second straight night and fourth time in 14 games.
“It’s frustrating to a point, but you’ve just got to keep plugging away. Everything’s not going to go your way and you have to just keep fighting through it,” centre Stephen Gionta said.
Looking to forget about Saturday’s 1-0 home loss to Philadelphia when it managed just 14 shots, New Jersey dominated early with six shots on goal in the opening 5 minutes. However, the Devils went nearly 8 minutes before their next shot, including two power-play opportunities.
“Hards made some good saves. It kept us in the game,” said Granlund, who gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead with 6:40 left in the first period.
Pominville’s shot from the left circle was saved by Schneider, and a bad-angle rebound attempt by Niederreiter trickled out to the slot where Granlund was alone for his first goal of the year to go along with a team-leading 10 assists.
“I’m glad he got that goal tonight,” said coach Mike Yeo. “He’s had a lot of chances and he’s been setting up a lot of plays, but it’s good for him to get that off his back.
Mitchell’s first goal of the season put Minnesota up 2-0 at 7:35 of the second.
Schneider got a piece of Zach Parise’s shot from below the right circle, but the puck fluttered to the crease where four players were crashing the net and Mitchell deflected the puck across the line.
Parise, who had 194 goals and 410 points with the Devils, signed a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild on July 4, 2012, and was playing against his former team for the first time. The teams did not meet last year because of the NHL lockout-shortened schedule.
“As a player you always hate practicing and scrimmaging against your own team. That’s what it felt like for me tonight the whole game,” Parise said.
Heatley scored his first non-empty-net goal of the season early in the third, redirecting Keith Ballard’s shot behind Schneider. Pominville added an empty-netter with 2:25 to play, his sixth goal in the past four games.
New Jersey defenceman Jon Merrill left his first NHL game after sliding hard into the boards in the first period.
Merrill was skating into the corner to the right of Schneider when he was tripped up by Mitchell. He went into the boards face-first, and it looked as if he sustained at least one cut on his face.
With blood on the ice, Merrill looked wobbly as he was helped to the locker room. Coach Peter DeBoer said he had lacerations on his face and the team was conducting some tests.
“That’s tough,” DeBoer said. “We were looking forward to seeing him play. He’s earned the opportunity to get up here. So you never like to see an injury like that at any point, but particularly on his second or third shift in the NHL.”
NOTES: Minnesota C Charlie Coyle missed the game after aggravating a sprained knee Friday. He had missed the previous 11 games with the injury, and is considered day-to-day. To replace Coyle, the Wild recalled F Carson McMillan from AHL Iowa. … New Jersey forwards Patrik Elias (upper body) and Travis Zajac (right ankle) missed their second straight games. … Ballard has three assists in his last two games.