Niklas Backstrom looks to continue his excellent early-season goaltending Saturday as his Minnesota Wild visit the Phoenix Coyotes in their first road game of 2007-08.
The 29-year-old netminder came into camp last season as a little-known rookie, but ended up going 23-8-6 with a an NHL-best 1.97 goals-against average in 41 games, including 36 starts, while splitting time with veteran Manny Fernandez.
Backstrom signed a two-year, $6.2 million contract to stay with Minnesota in June, then became the clear-cut starter in July after the Wild (3-0-0) traded Fernandez to Boston.
This season, Backstrom has started each of Minnesota's first three games and allowed just two total goals. He recorded a 1-0 shutout in the Wild's season-opener on Oct. 4, and notched another shutout Wednesday's 2-0 win over Edmonton.
Backup Josh Harding has yet to get into a game yet this season. He was 3-2-0 with a 1.16 goals-against average in seven games - four starts - last year.
Pavol Demitra got his first goal and first assist of the season and Marian Gaborik recorded his first two assists of 2006-07 against the Oilers on Wednesday.
Coach Jacques Lemaire has been switching around centers, trying to find a linemate to match up with Demitra and Gaborik. Demitra seemed pleased playing with center Mikko Koivu against Edmonton.
"I'm trying to find chemistry. I'm trying to find lines that can go against anyone. I just don't want the other team to take over," Lemaire said.
Brent Burns also scored for the Wild, who are opening a stretch of four straight games on the road this weekend.
They are 3-0 for the second straight season, but have opened a season with three straight regulation wins for the first time in their history. Minnesota started 2006-07 with six straight victories, but two of them came via the shootout.
The Wild have won five of their last six games against the Coyotes (2-2-0). Demitra had two goals and three assists in three games against Phoenix last season, while Gaborik had two goals and an assist in two contests.
The Coyotes defeated Nashville 6-3 on Thursday night. Right wing Fredrik Sjostrom, a healthy scratch for Phoenix's first three games of the season, had two goals to lead the offense.
"He was outstanding tonight," coach Wayne Gretzky said. "He came into the game with a vengeance and came with a lot of determination."
The Coyotes, who bounced back from a 3-0 loss at Columbus a night earlier, scored two power-play goals in five chances after failing to score in 15 opportunities with the man advantage over their first three games.
"The one good thing about back-to-back games is that always after a loss, you get a chance to get right back out there and play hard," said Phoenix defenseman Derek Morris, who had a goal and an assist for his first two points of the season. "They came at us hard, it could have gone the other way, but we came out on the right end tonight."