It should be noted that I’m a fan of defense-first hockey. I don’t think the trap was detrimental to the health of the sport, I don’t find the style pioneered by New Jersey to be upsetting in any way, and I would certainly prefer to see a 1-0 game than a 5-4 game any night of the week.
That said, there isn’t a team as eye-bleedingly boring, as rage-inducing or as generally unpleasant to watch as the Minnesota Wild have been for pretty much the entire month of December.
Their 2-1 loss to Calgary tonight wasn’t so much a defensive struggle as it was a study in attacking ineptitude by Minnesota and a spectacular goaltending performance from Wild backup Josh Harding. While Calgary only put 29 shots on net (not the most jaw-dropping of shot totals, admittedly), Harding made several point-blank saves including one flurry on a late Calgary power play when it was still 1-1 where he stopped four or five shots right on the doorstep while the Minnesota defense simply stood around, seemingly asking, “Oh should we have picked that guy up? And him too?” while Harding sprawled from one side of the crease to the other.
The problem, though, started as a symptomless affliction in October after Minnesota opened at 7-2-1 in their first 10 despite winning by two or more just twice and averaging just 2.5 goals in those games. In their next 10, a slight sniffled appeared; they were 5-5-0 with a pair of shootout wins and scored three goals or more just four times.
And now whatever problem the Wild have is settling into the lungs. In Games 21-30, the Wild went 3-6-1 and, while they scored four, six, five and four in the first four games of that stretch, they netted a total of seven in the following six. In Games 31-35 (No. 35 being tonight’s loss), the Wild are 2-3-0 and just playing dreadfully unwatchable hockey. No attacking flair whatsoever, even by Minnesotan standards, and it wasn’t as though Calgary played especially good shutdown hockey. The Wild simply have no one that can put the puck in the net. In fact, aside from the Islanders, no one in the NHL has a worse record than Minnesota’s since Dec. 1.
They’re playing so badly that even though they’re a team for which I have no great dislike, I firmly believe they deserve to be right where they are: dead last in the Northwest. I no longer even feel bad that they’re going to trade Gaborik for peanuts. Their defensive style is just that offensive.
New York Rangers 5, New York Islanders 4
Sign the Rangers are bad: They gave up four goals to the Islanders. Sign the Islanders are worse: They gave up four goals to the Rangers in the third period. Petr Prucha had a goal for the Rangers in his first game in a while, which will surely lead to Ranger fans bitching that he’s not in the lineup more often. Then when he finally gets back in and scores two goals in his next 15 games, the Ranger fans will bitch that he needs to get parked in the press box for a few weeks. In reality, Petr Prucha is a dime-a-dozen handsy Eastern European that doesn’t do anything but float and occasionally score.
Montreal 5, Florida 2
Maxim Lapierre had a hat trick including a shorthanded empty netter, and that’s the second hatty in as many games for a Habs forward. Pretty neat, right? What makes it even better is that, as it does every year, that little rink in Sunrise, Fla. became “Centre Bell sud” as thousands of Montreal fans packed the rink and even serenaded the “home” Panthers with a chorus of “Hey hey hey, good bye.” That hurts, man.
San Jose 3, Dallas 1
After San Jose lost to St. Louis in a shootout the other day, they needed to show up against a surprisingly hot Stars team that was 4-1-1 in its last six. Evgeni Nabokov showed up, making 28 saves and almost got a shutout. So too did Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek, who both scored before Ryane Clowe scored San Jose’s first empty-net goal of the season (yeah, really) to ice the game.
Colorado 5, Nashville 1
Pekka Rinne gave up five goals on 21 shots. You ain’t gonna win too many like that, kid. Four Avs had two-point nights and Petr Budaj made 25 saves. Man I hate it when the Avalanche win.
Columbus 2, Los Angeles 0
Steve Mason is awesome. With his 24-save shutout of the year, he dropped his GAA, which was already leading the league, to a mere 1.78 and bumped his save percentage up to .935, tied with Tim Thomas for second-best in the NHL and .001 behind Craig Anderson. The shutout was his fourth of the year, a number bettered only by Roberto Luongo, who has five. …’Course, we were saying all this last year about Pascal Leclaire and look how that worked out.