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Wild off to great start but offence and power play still haven't clicked

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The Minnesota Wild have roared out of the gates, grabbing 11 out of a possible 12 points, but their own GM doesn't think they've really hit their full stride yet.

"I actually don't think we've played as well as we can - our goaltending has been very good," Doug Risebrough said in an interview. "We've had good, timely offence. But our power play hasn't really got going yet."

Somehow, the Wild is 5-0-1 - the only team in the NHL without a regulation loss - despite only scoring 14 goals in six games. The power play is ranked 29th in the NHL at 4.6 per cent - one goal on 25 chances.

"I don't want to make it sound like we're not happy but at the end of the day goaltending has been a big reason why we've had the stretch we've had," Risebrough said.

But what it shows is that when you combine the brilliant defensive system of head coach Jacques Lemaire with the great goaltending they've had from Nicklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, it's enough to squeeze out some wins.

"Our goaltending has been terrific for us this year," said Wild forward Brian Rolston.

The fast start by the Wild will no doubt re-ignite the criticism of the way they play - some feel it's boring, stifling, defensive hockey. It's a charge that riles up Risebrough.

"I would say what is the greatest form of flattery when people do the same thing as you?" Risebrough said. "The teams that made the biggest jumps last year on our side were teams that got better defensively."

He's right. Seven of the top 10 NHL teams in goals against per game were from the Western Conference last year.

"So you know that's how you have to play on this side," said the Wild GM. "And you know it's an exciting brand of hockey because it's not taking away from the offence. I think right now our offence hasn't really clicked - our power play hasn't really clicked. But I'm pretty comfortable at some point they'll get it in gear. And then it has the right balance."

When asked whether it was unfair that his team was labelled boring and defensive, Rolston didn't flinch.

"No, I don't think it's unjust," he said. "We play a more defensive style. But anybody who has won the Stanley Cup in the past few years - they played a defensive-style game. Was Anaheim boring last year? I don't know, they won the Stanley Cup. Vancouver plays a defensive style now. I think everybody realizes if you play good, defensive hockey that it does win championships and it does win you hockey games.

"As long as we continue winning, that's the most important thing."

The Wild's quick start is key in their bid to compete for the title in the Northwest - a very competitive division with Calgary, Vancouver, Colorado and Edmonton.

"You know what, our division is one of the toughest, I really do believe that," said Rolston. "Every team is a defensive-minded team with the exception of maybe Colorado. This start is big for us, no question, we want to establish ourselves as one of the top teams in the conference and in the division."

Backstrom, meanwhile, is quickly proving the Wild's decision to hand him the keys to the starting goalie penthouse was not a mistake after only one year in the NHL. The Finnish netminder is 4-0-1 on the season with a microscopic 1.38 goals-against average and superb .945 save percentage.

"He's had two shutouts so far. He's just been tremendous for us," said Rolston. "How fortunate we are to have a guy like that in net for us, out of the blue really. And obviously Josh Harding on Sunday night (37-save shutout at Anaheim) was just tremendous for us.

"We all know you've got to have a good goaltender in there if you want to be competitive and we definitely have that in those two guys."

The Wild won't be shy to use the 23-year-old Harding anywhere from 20 to 30 times this season.

"I think Backstrom is a No. 1 goalie but I think he's also one of those guys that'll share the load, too - happy that the other guy is in net," said Risebrough. "There's going to be that comfortable competitiveness."

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