It appears as if the Minnesota Wild are in good shape, regardless of who they throw between the pipes.
With Niklas Backstrom (4-0-0, 1.00 GAA) getting a night off, Josh Harding took full advantage of a rare start. The 23-year-old stopped all 37 shots he faced, as the Wild remained unbeaten with a 2-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on Sunday night.
Minnesota has opened the 2007-08 campaign with five consecutive victories, allowing just four goals along the way. The Wild are one win away from matching last season’s impressive start, when they came out of the gate with six consecutive victories. They entered Sunday night with a goaltender in possession of just 10 games of National Hockey League experience. All Harding did, however, was send a message to the League that Minnesota has a tremendous 1-2 punch in net.
“I don’t want to make too much of this win, but they’re the Stanley Cup Champions,” said Wild forward Brian Rolston. “So we’ll keep that in mind and we’ll try to keep getting better. It was a chippy game and a hard-fought game. It was like a playoff hockey game.”
The story was supposed to center around the long-awaited return of Anaheim netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia on Aug. 6. Instead, Harding stole the show, picking up his third shutout in eight career starts as the Wild got an ounce of revenge after being ousted by the Ducks in the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Giguere, meanwhile, stopped 22 of 24 shots in his return.
"I felt pretty good," Giguere said. "I felt pretty strong, you know, pretty good shape. The timing was a little bit off every once in awhile, (and) that’s going to come as you play. I’m kind of a little bit behind the eight-ball right now with everybody else, but I think if you have good practice habits and you work hard, these things should resolve themselves."
Rolston opened the scoring with his first goal of the season 2:04 into the second period, which was Minnesota’s first shot on goal of the frame. The Michigan native got some space to work with on the right wing and fired a shot from the top of the faceoff circle past Giguere as the Wild grabbed a 1-0 lead.
"He’s got a good shot and it was a 2-on-1," Giguere said of Rolston. "I was a little bit pre-occupied with the guy that was coming backdoor, and you know it’s a good shot and sometimes a good shot will beat you. Even in today’s hockey, there’s not much I can do."
Mark Parrish put Minnesota up by two with his first goal of the campaign at the 11:50 mark of the second. It was the culmination of an odd-man rush, as Parrish one-timed Branko Radivojevic’s feed past Giguere to give the Wild a 2-0 lead.
Anaheim (2-4-1) was forced to play the final two periods without power forward Todd Bertuzzi, who left the game late in the first with an undisclosed injury. That’s not good news for the Ducks’ power play, which went 0-for-8 on Sunday and has converted once in 23 chances in the last four games. Harding certainly didn’t help Anaheim’s cause on Sunday night.
"Obviously, Josh played a great game over there and we got to tip our cap to him," Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf said. “We just got to do a better job of getting to that net and getting in front of him so he can’t see that puck. I think we’ve had some opportunities to score goals and they’re just not going in right now. This is one night where our goalie played well, and I think we have to leave it at that and move on and get ready for (Monday) night."
Wild coach Jacques Lemaire attributes Anaheim’s rough start to a championship hangover. In the end, Lemaire expects the Ducks to once again be a top team in the Western Conference.
''When you win the Cup, that's what happens,'' Lemaire said. ''They're having a slow start, which is normal because of all they went through last year -- and the short summer. But their guys will get their minds on the game and get back to where they should be, and they'll probably finish first in the conference this year.''
Red Wings 4, Kings 1
The Los Angeles Kings are going to need to do more than this for 19-year-old goalie Jonathan Bernier.
The rookie was the victim of a high-powered Detroit offense, as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg each had a goal and two assists as the Red Wings won at the Staples Center in the first of a four-game trip to the west coast.
The Kings have now lost five in a row, as they failed to generate much against Chris Osgood, who made 27 saves in his 600th NHL start. Michael Cammalleri scored the lone goal for Los
Angeles (1-5-0) with a power play goal 1:44 into the third period.
After a scoreless first period, Datsyuk got the Wings on the board with his first goal of the season just 40 seconds into the middle frame. It was the type of tally Bernier would like to have back, as Datsyuk’s shot found its way through the netminder’s legs and just got over the goal line. Bernier reached back with his glove in an attempt to pull it back, but he couldn’t get there in time.
Kris Draper put Detroit (4-1-1) up by a pair with a shorthanded goal at the 3:06 mark of the second. With Brian Rafalski serving a hooking penalty, Draper was able to deposit a backhand shot past Bernier to make it 2-0. The unassisted tally was Draper’s fourth of the season.
''To come into another team's building and your goalie makes some big saves, it gives you that calming influence,'' Draper said. ''The previous games, we kind of let a team get back into it.''
Cammalleri cut the deficit in half early in the third with his sixth goal of the campaign. With the Kings on a power play, Cammalleri took a pass from Lubomir Visnovsky and fired a one-timer from the faceoff circle past Osgood to make it 2-1.
But the Wings came roaring back with goals from Tomas Holmstrom and Zetterberg less than two minutes apart. Holmstrom regained Detroit’s two-goal cushion at the 5:39 mark of the third, when he took a pass from Zetterberg and beat Bernier with a shot from the left wing to make it 3-1. Zetterberg promptly put the game out of reach with his fourth goal of the season at 7:21, when he came out from behind the net with the puck before firing a gorgeous shot over Bernier.
“If you have good confidence, you make the right plays,” said Zetterberg, who has 12 points in six games this season. “We have a little more depth this year and special teams are better.”
Detroit visits Anaheim on Monday night. The Kings, meanwhile, are going to have to figure out a way to beat the scorching-hot Minnesota Wild at the Staples Center on Tuesday evening.
“I thought we were better tonight, but it felt like it was the same story,” Kings coach Marc Crawford said. “We made critical mistakes at critical times of the game.”
Material from wire services was used in this report.