Monday, October 22, 2007

"Undefeated" Team

The NHL standings claim that the Minnesota Wild have yet to be defeated in 8 games (at least they have a zero in their losses column). They did lose to the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in a shootout on October 16th, but due to the ridiculous way the NHL keeps the standings, that is not actually a loss, it's a regulation tie. This makes Minnesota a team in the running for any records for the longest undefeated streak at the start of the year (a record that is cheapened because you can in fact be defeated and still be officially undefeated).

Minnesota has won with a very good commitment to Jacques Lemaire's defensive system. I have long picked Jacques Lemaire as the best coach in the NHL, despite the fact he was not a coach of the year nominee last year, and I feel he should have won. Though it is too early to assess coaching performance in any meaningful way, I think there is a good chance this could be Lemaire's year to win the coach of the year. This is not because people will finally realize his importance to the Wild team; it is because he could be coach of the most improved team.

This successful defence (Minnesota's 11 goals against is lowest in the league) has led to some very good numbers for goalie Niklas Backstrom. He has put up very good numbers in his short NHL career so far. The question is as he gets more exposure in the NHL and teams learn his habits, will they learn how to beat him? And how good is he anyway? How much of his success is low shot quality against?

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