I was able to trade emails with Mike Doyle of Wild.com to help figure out why in the hell the Minnesota Wild are actually atop the NHL standings. Here’s what he had to say:

Bartl: The Wild seem to be surprising everyone but themselves this season, leading the Western Conference despite a host of new players and a first-year coach. What has been the main reason for the turnaround, and how different of a team is this from last year’s squad?

Doyle: Well, I wasn’t working for the Wild last season and some people have tried to make that connection, but I have to give credit to the other Mike in the Wild organization.

Coach Mike Yeo has this team focused and there is a belief from top to bottom that if the Wild sticks to its game plan, the team can beat anyone. Other teams say that they are tough to play against because they don’t breakdown or give up a lot of opportunities.

To start the season, there was a lot of excitement with the off-season acquisitions and a new coach, and that enthusiasm has continued into the season. Yeo was able to get the veterans to buy into the system immediately. This team truly doesn’t seem to care who gets the credit, just as long as the team wins, and that might be the thing that has propelled the turnaround from last season.

Bartl: With the trade of All-Star defenseman Brent Burns to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, it was quite obvious the Wild attempted to boost their scoring after finishing 26th in the NHL in goals in 2010-11. Though the blue-liners’ names don’t carry much history behind them, Minnesota has given up the fifth-fewest goals in the league to date. Is that a credit to the defense stepping up, or has it been the goaltending that has been the main reason for that?

Doyle: Many of the young defensemen (Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon and Justin Falk) spent some time in Houston last season under Yeo. They were acclimated to his style and systems, which made it easier for them to transition to the NHL and contribute immediately. Of the remaining blueliners (Nick Schultz, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon and newcomer Mike Lundin) only Marek Zidlicky is considered an offensive-minded defensemen, so there is a penchant for D-first play.

As well as the Wild D-men have played Minnesota’s goaltenders have been lights out.  Niklas Backstrom has been amazing and Josh Harding has played more like Goalie 1B than a backup. Recent call-up Matt Hackett was just named the NHL’s Second Star, so it seems like whoever wears a Wild sweater in net plays like George Vezina.

Bartl: Overall, who has impressed you most?

There have been so many impressive things about the Wild this season; I’m going to change the question to ‘Who has surprised me the most?’ And again I’m going to cheat: the Wild’s third line of Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe and Nick Johnson (although they didn’t skate together much last night because of all the team’s injuries) has been outstanding.

Doyle: After 30 games, no one would have guessed Brodziak would be leading the team in goals. Johnson is a rookie, claimed off of waivers earlier this year, and plays with energy every night. Powe was the least hyped off-season acquisition, but he is one of the big reasons the Wild’s penalty kill is among the best in the league. They battle, forecheck ferociously, often play against the opponent’s top line and chip in timely goals. They are a microcosm of this entire Wild team.

Bartl: Does this team have the personnel and resolve to sustain this success under first-year coach Mike Yeo? Or is there anything in the team’s play that must improve in order to be in this same position come season’s end?

Doyle: There is no doubt it has the resolve. The Wild has allowed the first goal in 18 games this season, but has a 12-6-0 record when giving up the first goal. Minnesota has also suffered through so many injuries, losing 113 man games to this point, that it is hard to believe that it has maintained such a high level of play. The locker room is such a tight knit unit at this point; I doubt it wants to mess with any chemistry.

Early this year, I would have said the team needs to improve the power play, but it has been on a tear of late, going 4-for-8 and improving the PP to 17.2 percent. Not a great number overall, but the PP was threatening single digits earlier this year.

Bartl: Tonight’s game may be one of the toughest challenges for the Wild so far, hosting the surging Blackhawks. What are the similarities/differences in the teams, and what do you feel each needs to do in order to come out with a victory?

Doyle: On paper, these two teams are probably as similar as Michelle Bachmann and Barack Obama. However, both seem to be able to win the close ones.

With the Wild playing in an intense, tough game last night in Winnipeg, the Hawks strategy will likely be to jump on Minnesota early. The Wild’s game is predicated around not giving up many odd-man opportunities and will want to play a close and tight-checking game. If it turns into a run-and-gun game, the Blackhawks will have the advantage, but the Wild has the ability to bottle up Chicago’s big scorers. No matter which team you root for, this game will be an interesting battle of contrasting styles.

Mike Doyle writes for Wild.com