As the old saying goes, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. While Friday's game was not really a case of ignoring past mistakes, it was one where it felt as if last season never ended. For Wild fans, they cannot ignore the reminders of what early season injuries can do to a team's playoff hopes and chances.
I have to admit, I didn't get a chance to watch the game until this afternoon. A friend of mine back in the Twin Cities asked me via Facebook if I was watching what she called "this gawdawful Wild game." Since I had to rely on the NHL Network re-broadcast and I wasn't home when it started at 11:00pm, I had to wait until I had time to do so. Considering her comments about the game and a quick look at the boxscore showing a 5-0 loss to the Blues, I was expecting a train wreck of epic proportions.
Prior to the possible season ending injury (I'll get more into that in a bit) to Josh Harding I have to admit, I didn't think it was a terrible game. Were there elements of the game that needed to be still worked on? Most definitely. There were several moments during the course of sixty minutes, where the Wild were able to cycle the puck effectively as well as maintain possession of the puck, especially on the power play. Those two things in particular have not always been a strong suit of the Wild, and it's much appreciated to see it continue to make their respective appearances in Wild games. However, when you fail to score on not just one, but two, two-man advantages (and one of them was just over a minute in length), you are suddenly reminded how much further this team needs to improve.
I'm probably going to be lambasted for even uttering these words, but I have to say them anyway. Having watched the game, and reading Michael Russo's team report in the newest issue of The Hockey News, these words are on my mind. I feel like the Wild need to bring back a bit of Jacques Lemaire style hockey. Yes, we need an up-tempo, emphasis on scoring kind of hockey, however team defense cannot be sacrificed entirely. This is what many people either failed to realize or chose to ignore about Lemaire. If he was given a talent-laden roster to work with, the game would be more exciting, and offense wasn't stifled. However, he still required the stars to take responsibility at both ends of the ice. Last night, we pretty much saw five examples of what happens when the responsibility isn't there. Many have argued that Lemaire-style hockey simply makes goalies look better. To a degree that's true. However, that shouldn't be a slam against Lemaire, it should be a gleaming star. Goalies need protection and help in front of them. Once Matt Hackett came in to play, we saw this lack of overall team responsibility. Hackett had no one in front of him to clear the crease. For a younger goaltender, they generally need as much help as they can get. Part of me wonders if I would have noticed the failed team defense as much if Harding had been able to play the full sixty minutes, and more importantly would the result or score have been different.
And now we get the crux of the issue. According to the reports in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune, it appears that Harding has a torn right ACL and MCL. In an interview, Harding said he felt the pop and knew right away that something is wrong. That would explain why we saw him immediately throw off his blocker and glove to get the attention of the on-ice officials and stop play. He had to have the assistance of teammates to get off the ice, and it was clear to anyone watching that he put absolutely no weight on his right leg. The combination of injuries is not a good one, as doctors and surgeons prefer to wait and let the MCL heal a little bit before they attempt to repair the ACL. Harding has had a rough go in the past, as he's already had hip surgery. We all know how important the legs and their joints are to a goaltender.
In just an hour and a half, the Wild will be facing off against the Philadelphia Flyers back in St. Paul. It has already been reported that Anton Khudobin will start tonight. Khudobin is also making the cross-Atlantic trip to Finland. Now the question facing Wild head coach Todd Richards and Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher is who will be the third goaltender to make the trip. They have already decided to have Dennis Endras fly to Finland to play the role of backup for a couple of days. However, don't expect to see Endras in North America anytime soon, as Wild management prefer to keep him in Germany, as he's had his own success with Augsburg.
Hopefully the Wild will find a way to stem the tide of injuries. Better yet, I hope they find a way to make me (and many other Wild fans) completely forget about last season's dismal, injury prone start.