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Low Scores: Why Good Defense is Good Policy

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Why defensively solid sports are exciting, and why a low score doesn't mean low excitement.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

There are two kinds of exciting in most sports. The obvious kind, where someone on a team, or the team itself goes offensively crazy, and scores like there's no one else on the ice:

And then there's the play where someone puts down their foot and says "not in MY house," and denies a great scoring opportunity:

Americans, and a group and a society, have fallen in love with the former, and who can blame us? High scoring games are fun, they're fast, and usually there's a lot of really obvious "HOW DID HE DO THAT?!" moments. However, defensive excellence is equally impressive, and often rarer. Think Ryan Suter laying down on the puck in game 7 to bale out Bryz before the Knightrider's spectacular game-winner. Think John Curry making about 5,000 saves against the Blues at the end of the season.

Here's the dirty secret about all this offensive excellence everyone is in love with: the constant focus on offense is making decent defenses few and far between. The NBA Already has offense OCD. It's rarer that I see a game where at least one team wasn't over 100 points, usually both (or close. Granted, I don't keep track of basketball). The NFL is on its way: the league is passing rules that favor offenses, and teams are obsessing over scoring more points rather than stopping the other guy. Don't get me wrong- there are still some elite defenses out there- Seattle...umm... Seattle... the Seahawks.... Seattle... Even the "Black and Blue" Division that were defensive ninjas have abandoned their ways to some extent.

The Wild's system of play is based upon a solid defense. That's what has saved them all season long: no matter how many goals they score, they keep the game close by not letting pucks into their net. Many have asserted that the steady play by their defensemen is what allowed the Wild to make a playoff run, despite season-ending injuries to their top 2 goaltenders.

Russo stated in his blog on Thursday that it was primarily Chicago that was responsible for the slow play, and while that might be true, I submit that the slower pace only aided the Wild. Going into round 1, it was said time and time again- by Russo and many others- that if the Wild were going to win, they had to slow down the pace of the game. With Chicago (whom Paul Allen refers to as the "speedy Hawks"), the same is true.

A slower paced game does multiple good things for the Wild. It allows them more time for the defense to get into position. It gives them more time to make good passes. Maybe most importantly, it helps lower the score of the game, taking pressure of their offense. No one has ever accused the Wild of being a goal-producing machine, and they're not about to start now. The Wild should be more than happy to play hockey which some would call "boring."

Personally, I'll call it "responsible," "smart," and "playing to win." I don't need a million goals. I just need wins. The way for the Wild to give me those is to play to their strengths: defensively sound, responsible, tight hockey.

Maybe what is even more important about great defenses is that as they become rarer, great offenses will not know what to do about them. When a team is used to scoring at whim, they don't know how to handle someone stopping them. If the Wild can become that team, they have a leg up on teams who have forfeited their defense for an exciting offense (ie: one that lost in round one this year and wears red and blue).

When a game is low scoring, don't fall into the trap of thinking it's boring. Understand that it is a strategy with thought and intention behind it, and is one which works wonderfully when executed properly.