The Wednesday Wake-Up Call is where we pick a struggling player and kindly ask him to SNAP OUT OF IT ALREADY. COME ON. YOU’RE BETTER THAN THIS!
Niklas Backstrom, G, Minnesota Wild
Key stats: 1-6-2 in last eight games played.
Cap hit: $6 million annually
Most have pinned Minnesota’s recent slide — the Wild have lost 11 of their last 13 — on a lack of scoring. The 29th-ranked offense in the NHL is averaging just over two goals per game and has gone in the tank of late…but that’s not the only reason Minnesota has dropped from first in the Western Conference into a dogfight for eighth.
The other reason: Niklas Backstrom hasn’t been very good.
After dropping a 2-1 shootout decision to the Islanders back on Dec. 17, the Finnish netminder has struggled to keep pucks out of the net. After the loss to New York, Backstrom allowed four goals in three consecutive contests — against Vancouver, Edmonton and Colorado — before allowing three in each of his next three against Edmonton, Phoenix and Calgary. Five of those six games ended up in defeat with the last one, a 3-1 loss in Calgary, being especially troublesome as Backstrom allowed three goals in a 9:13 span in the final period.
The Wild need Backstrom to be at his best for a variety of reasons. One, they’ve sunk $6 million bucks into his services this season, a fair chunk of change for a team that’s not spending to the cap. Two, the health of backup Josh Harding has been dicey — he missed all of last year with a knee injury and part of this season with a head injury — and he’s yet to prove capable of handling the starting load.
Bottom line: To avoid an embarrassing collapse, Minnesota needs its No. 1 netminder to show the form that made him a former Vezina nominee.
So wake up, Niklas Backstrom. Your team needs you.