ST. PAUL, Minn. – Marian Gaborik isn’t playing, and the Minnesota Wild are rolling along just fine without him.
Despite the absence of their star right-winger due to an unspecified injury to his lower body, the Wild are the only Western Conference team without a loss in regulation.
After staving off a late comeback by Columbus on Saturday night, they’re 5-0-1 headed into Monday’s home game against Chicago. Gaborik was placed on the injured list before missing his fourth straight game.
“We found a way to make it exciting again,” said Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who scored his first goal of the season in the 2-1 victory.
The win was preserved when officials disallowed a goal by Rick Nash with less than 12 seconds remaining because the Blue Jackets forward’s stick was too high.
“We have to be careful, but it’s good to get that win,” Bouchard said.
His goal might have been the most promising development. In the last 25 games in which Bouchard scores, the Wild are 23-1-1. He missed three games this month due to injury, as did Owen Nolan.
Nolan, who took Gaborik’s roster spot by coming off the injured list, scored his first goal since signing with Minnesota during the summer and assisted on Bouchard’s score. Defenceman Marek Zidlicky, who sat out the first four games with an injury, notched his first assist, too.
Add that up and the players the Wild brought in to replace departed scorers and upgrade the potency of the blue-line are producing like they need to. What’s especially noticeable, though only six games into the season, is the way this team has been able to succeed without the venerable Gaborik.
It could be good practice.
Negotiations on a new contract between the front office and Gaborik’s agent have stalled, and the possibility of the only remaining player from the franchise’s first season being traded has clearly increased. The Wild might have to really get good at winning without him.
Mikko Koivu is the best place to start. He earned his ninth assist in Saturday’s game.
“Mikko’s been solid. His game hasn’t changed since day one. Every night, it’s been the same type of game,” said coach Jacques Lemaire, whose team is the only one in the NHL not to give up a power-play goal. The Wild are 19-for-19 on the penalty kill.
Niklas Backstrom is shining in goal, so far. He’s played in every game and yielded just 12 goals.
“The less you think out there the better it is on the play,” Backstrom said. “You don’t want to start to think. I don’t mean I’m stupid or like that, you know? I just want to … go out there and have fun and rely on my body that I’m making the right plays.”
Lemaire gave no indication when backup Josh Harding would see some action.
“He’s playing good right now, and you know if he doesn’t feel any fatigue or he doesn’t come to me and say, ‘Well, I need the rest now,’ he’s going to be in the net I guess,” the coach said about Backstrom.
Still, the Wild have improvements to make. They nearly gave away Saturday’s win after carrying a 2-0 lead into the middle of the third period. On Thursday against Buffalo, they blew a 3-1 lead with four minutes left and lost in overtime.
“That’s what you’ve got to watch for,” Lemaire said. “We talked about this, and I guess we’ll have to talk again.”