How (Not) to Win a Hockey Game

by | Oct 19, 2014

The Minnesota Wild are frustrated. They have to be. They went to Anaheim Friday night having had a five-day layoff and lost a close 2-1 game, a game in which only a turnover in the late going gave the Ducks, in the body of Corey Perry, the chance to beat them.

So they rolled north on I-5 for Sunday, a noon start, and found themselves facing a Kings team which is back to its old tricks of not being able to generate offense. And still they lost. This despite being significantly ahead of the LA team in all measurable offensive categories. Focusing just on the obvious—by the end of period one, they were up on the Kings in shots, 12-7. By the end of period two, it was 24-12. By the end of the game, 41-16. But the score was 1-0 after one, the same after two, and 2-1 after three. Guess who had the pair? That’s right LA.

What happened? The Wild ran into Jonathan Quick at his best, and anyone who’s watched hockey since the Kings’ first Cup year of 2012 knows that that means big trouble.

The result also puts the lie to the Corsi/Fenwick crowd, who insist that measuring things like shots and shot attempt will show who’s playing better. That kind of logic can’t take into account the human element, which is why someone like Sutter thinks that so-called “advanced stats” (there’s nothing advanced about them; they’re just more stats than what have been taken into account in the part) are bunko.

If you are hoping that I next say that the Kings somehow dominated the offensive zone or puck possession despite the contradictory evidence that the above-cited events and scores suggested, you’re going to be disappointed. (So maybe the “advanced stats” do reveal something, just not who wins.) The Wild did the dominating, and they had the quality chances. Not to say that LA had none, but they didn’t play big the way that they did the other night with St. Louis in town or last weekend against the Jets, which it looked distinctly like a pro team was taking on the local college squad.

No, Minnesota is a skilled and interesting team. And despite their lack of incredible scoring thus far in the season (coming in, they had nine goals tied for second to last in the West, though note that they had played just three games, where half the teams had five games or more), they are not the boring Wild of old, a message which will take fans and followers of the game a while to cotton on to.

They also have decent goaltending, though they didn’t have to show it all that much given that the Kings produced next to zero offense on the day.

But the story was Quick, Quick, Quick. Even Zach Parise said so at the end of the game. First he paused, as if there were no words for what he needed to express. Oh. Quick played great. There’s no doubt about that,” he said, almost as if it hurt. “Especially when it’s such an early game and you come out with the jump we had. From start to finish, I don’t remember being stuck in our zone. I thought we controlled a lot of the play. Quick played a fantastic game, and that’s kind of . . . I think everyone’s grown accustomed to.” Not that they have to like it.

He was commenting in the shadow of a chance to tie which in 95% of cases would have gone in. It went down like this: with .53 seconds left, Minnesota took their timeout. They had pulled their goalie with 1:10 remaining. They then got the puck in on the right side of the Kings zone. It went to the center for Parise, who redirected it without the puck even touching the ice. It was headed long side, a sure goal, when Quick stuck out a leg and saved it.

You just can’t stat that.

Earlier, one observer noted that he was tracking the puck extremely well. There were a couple of redirects that he shouldn’t have had time to get an arm or leg on that he did. Call it in the zone or whatever, but the Kings won a game they probably should not have. Funny enough, it was the second in a row. On Thursday, Sutter had said after the game that there would be contests during the year when they would play well and lose, implying that that night, against St. Louis, was the opposite. Well, now they’re 2-0 in that kind of game, so watch as the year goes on for the hockey gods to even things up.

One further example on Quick: Jason Zucker took the puck one-on-one into the LA zone in period three. He fired a wrister high, but not too high that it wouldn’t have gone right under the crossbar. Quick shrugged up a shoulder just in time to deflect it over the cage.

OK, a couple more in this excellent performance. In the third with the Kings ahead 2-1, Koivu threw one to the net low and it was redirected. Quick got it. The puck rolled through people just prior to that and Quick got his paddle down on it. And finally Granlund took a slapper which got deflected coming through the crowd. Quick was there.

He did it again with about 1:10 left and the opposite goalie pulled. It came to the net through a crowd, but he sprawled on the ice, chest first, and stopped it.

Parise said a couple more things to sum up: “I like how we’re playing. We’ve played well in both road games” in California. Unfortunately, they lost both of them against teams that probably shouldn’t have beaten them. The Ducks also took a 2-1 victory versus the Minnesota team.

And this is not to say that the Kings didn’t do some interesting things with the puck. They developed a dangerous shorthanded chance when Richards and Brown went down together near the end of period one. They had a three-on-one in the second period early when Brown, Stoll, and King charged in. The puck went to Brown in the slot, and he slid a backhand just wide.

Almost the whole way along, though, the Wild had twice the number of shots that LA had. It was 22-9, then 25-13. When they scored their goal, it was 28-14. Later 29-15, 38-16, and so on.

What did Coach Sutter say after this one? Nothing. He was at his surly best, and nobody got anything meaningful out of him. He was, it must be noted, drinking from a Gatorade cup. The other night it was Tim Horton’s. Perhaps that’s the difference.


From the Wild’s point of view, all of the grammar in this article is wrong, since they insist on being referred to in the singular. “The Wild is on a hot streak,” for example, rather than “are.” Nonsense.


My new book might amuse you. It’s about the 1972 Summit Series. It’s “Coming Down the Mountain.”

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