The NHL is, and always has been, a league of copycats.
When the Sabres cut a ruthless swath through the circuit in 2005-06, their core of small, speedy forwards became the model of hope for the downtrodden. After the Ducks captured the Stanley Cup last season with their modernized take on the Broad Street Bullies, team toughness became the flavor of the summer.
In the quest to mimic success, some teams assume, and shake off, identities faster than
But not the Minnesota Wild, a team whose strict adherence to the disciplined rule of
Every team talks that line of course (hello, Toronto), but none walk it as resolutely as the Wild. And it's clearly working. Going into last night's contest against the Kings, goaltenders
Despite what those numbers may suggest, these Wild men aren't the trappists of old. Lemaire's no more ready to embrace the run-and-gun any more than he is the Ice Girls, but he's smart enough to take advantage of his team's strengths. And blessed with a roster loaded with high-end skaters adept at the transition game, Lemaire has crafted an approach that's far more dynamic, and more aggressive, than the Wild teams of old.
"They're one of the fastest teams in the league," Coyotes coach
Grabbing 11 of 12 possible points has put the typically low-key Wild squarely in the national spotlight. Our own
But it isn't the Wild's record that sets them up as a contender in the West. It's that they've found a way to rack up the wins without playing their best hockey.
The truth is that their devotion to defense covers up a lot of blemishes. A team with just 14 goals through its first six games, one with just a single lit lamp to show for its first 22 power play opportunities, really has no right running up the best start in the NHL.
They're still brutal on faceoffs -- only
But thanks to the genius of Lemaire -- a man Gretzky called one of the greatest ever to coach the game -- the Wild have found a way. In a league where the power play is supposed to be the great decider, Minnesota has succeeded by being the ultimate five-on-five squad. It has given up just two even-strength goals against through six games, while scoring 12 of its own.
And as bad as their power play has been, their superb penalty kill, led by
Despite the flaws, there's a lot to like about this team, and reason to believe that it has the potential to build on last season's franchise-record 104 points. The goal-scoring and the power play seem likely to find a groove sooner rather than later. The offense boasts a true game-breaker in
Games like Tuesday night's loss will happen. But even on an uncharacteristically loose night, the Wild still managed to steal a point. That's what good teams do. They find a way. And even with the 82-0 dream gone, the Wild look like a very, very good team.
Maybe even one worth copying.