I have a quick, informal poll for you. What’s more surprising: the fact that the Edmonton Oilers just beat the Chicago Blackhawks by a ridiculous score of 9-2 or that the Minnesota Wild are now slightly ahead* of the Blackhawks for the best record in the NHL?
Oilers burn Chicago
No doubt about it, both situations are stunning. Ray Emery was pulled from the game against the Oilers only to find himself back in after Corey Crawford also got shelled by Edmonton. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins compiled a ludicrous five assists while Taylor Hall avenged a questionable hit by Duncan Keith (stay tuned for video of that check from behind) by notching a hat trick. Overall, the Blackhawks were outscored 14-4 in their trip through Western Canada, with their other loss coming to the struggling Calgary Flames.
Minnesota’s stealth surge
Again, that’s bewildering stuff. But few would have predicted that the Wild would find themselves in first place overall more than a month into the season. Minnesota, which defeated St. Louis in a shootout, earned wins in nine of their last 11 games as Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding have been trading off victories.
They’re doing it with that aforementioned goaltending, timely scoring (they’ve only scored five goals once and four goals in one other game during that 11-game stretch) and an outstanding penalty kill that stopped 39 of 43 chances.
Yeo deserves praise
Quite a few coaches have received praise for greatly exceeding expectations in 2011-12 already, so let’s give rookie bench boss Mike Yeo some credit. He’s making it work so far in his first season with the big club, even if those efforts are going largely unnoticed by the mainstream. If Minnesota keeps it up, it won’t be easy for the Wild to slip under the radar much longer.
Forgive the Blackhawks if they feel a little more worried about themselves instead, though.
* Both teams have 27 points but Minnesota is 12-5-3 while Chicago is 12-6-3, so they get the “tie-breaker” at the moment.