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The Deceptive Importance of Blowout Wins

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A win is a win unless it means something more.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Boston Bruins Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Last night I was only able to watch the first period of the Minnesota Wild road game against the Boston Bruins. When I turned the game off, the score was still 0 - 0. The Wild led in the shots on goal category by a slim margin and there hadn’t been much in the way of significant scoring chances. Most nights, that would be a fairly typical, albeit low-event, hockey game. Last night, however, was not a typical hockey game.

With all due respect to the Bruins, last night the Wild faced an opponent ripe to take a bad loss. Both the starting goaltender, Tuuka Rask, and the backup, Anton Khudobin were injured, so the Bruins were forced to call up Malcolm Subban who has had an abysmal start to his season. His NHL save percentage going into the game last night was .500. That was based on a single game in which he made three saves on six shots, sure, but his AHL performance so far this season wasn’t going to inspire high confidence either. The Bruins were also missing new acquisition David Backes, who has been playing pretty well with two goals and two assists in five games played. Defenseman Adam McQuaid, part of Boston’s second pairing, was returning from injury that night.

With all of that in mind, I watched in increasing frustration as the Wild failed to generate many shots on goal against a goalie in a tailspin. It’s not like the Bruins were outplaying the Wild, so there was no reason to start panicking, but the team wasn’t taking advantage of a prime opportunity to get two points on the road.

Fortunately, the next morning when I checked Hockey Wilderness to see how the game turned out, I was pleased to find the Wild lit up the Bruins to the tune of 5 - 0. In terms of the standings, it doesn’t make a difference if the Wild won the game 1 - 0 or 10 - 0. Nevertheless, it was important that the Wild won last night’s game in a dominant fashion.

The NHL enjoys a high level of parity. If you look at the past three playoffs, 24 of the 30 teams in the league have made at least one playoff appearance. Most nights, any team is capable of beating any other team. The level of play demonstrated by the players can fluctuate based on a host of factors and the overall quality of talent at this level means almost no game should be considered a sure thing. If any game can be called that, it would be when a team is forced to rely on bad goaltending. I don’t want to pick on Subban, who I hope recovers from this experience and continues to grow into a NHL-level netminder because I like that kid, but right now he is playing poorly at the AHL-level and would never have seen the ice if Boston wasn’t forced into a desperate situation due to injuries.

Games like last night do not come often. Putting them away and doing so in a convincing fashion should be expected of any team that has has designs on reaching the playoffs this season. It doesn’t matter if the team is learning a new system, its powerplay is a mess, or its lines are being juggled. Handily winning games when the ice starts out tilted that heavily in your favor is required, because if the Wild had lost, that would shake the confidence of the fans, the players, and the coaches.

In a way, games with an advantage like the one the Wild had last night can be a trap. A blowout victory is expected so when it happens, it doesn’t register as very important. A close win, or heaven forbid, a loss would be demoralizing and a major cause for concern. This team has enough causes for concern to deal with at the moment. Beating the Bruins last night may not have been any more important the any other game in terms of its effect on the standings, but for its importance to the locker room, it was critical to leave the game with a big win.