LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Matt Hackett has played in only two NHL games, and already he’s showing the poise and confidence of a veteran.
Hackett made 42 saves in his first career start and the Minnesota Wild set a franchise record with their sixth straight road victory, beating the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 on Thursday night.
“I can’t explain it. It’s been crazy,” said Hackett, the 21-year-old nephew of former NHL goalie Jeff Hackett. “It’s the best 72 hours of my life so far. I’m just living the dream right now, and I just want to keep it going. Usually, I have a pre-game nap, but I was so excited to play that I really didn’t get to sleep. I was just focusing on what I was supposed to do, and I felt like I did it pretty well.”
Hackett made his debut Tuesday night at San Jose and stopped all 34 shots he faced in a relief role. He replaced Josh Harding 71 seconds into the game with a 1-0 deficit and enabled the Wild to pull out a 2-1 win.
Hackett stretched his string of consecutive saves to 65 on Thursday before Dustin Penner converted a rebound of Jack Johnson’s shot from a sharp angle to the right of the net at 3:59 of the third period to cut Minnesota’s lead to 3-1.
“I played with Hack in the minors with Houston, and he brought us all the way to the Calder Cup finals. So I have a lot of confidence in the guy,” Minnesota defenceman Marco Scandella said. “He works hard in practice and he’s a gamer, so I had no doubt that he was going to perform well tonight and also in the last game. He’s really good with his positioning, and that’s really important—especially for a young goalie.”
Scandella, Mikko Koivu, Darroll Powe and recent call-up Cody Almond scored for Minnesota, which leads the NHL standings with 41 points and is off to the best start in the franchise’s 11-year history at 19-7-3. The Wild have won 11 of their last 13 games, a stretch that began immediately following a 5-2 loss to the Kings on Nov. 12 at Los Angeles.
“We’ve got a lot of talent in this room, so I don’t know why it would be a surprise,” Scandella said. “Yeozie (Mike Yeo) is a great coach. He was in the minors with some of us last year and a lot of the young guys in here know the system, so that helped. Everyone had confidence in him coming into the season and everyone’s bought in here. He’s hungry, just like everyone in this room. It starts in practice, and in the games we just have to follow the system and we’re going to have success.”
Trent Hunter also scored for the Kings, who are averaging a league-worst 2.3 goals per game. They were coming off a tough-luck 3-2 loss at Anaheim in which they outshot the Ducks 23-8 in the third period and gave up the winning goal to Bobby Ryan with 11 seconds remaining.
Minnesota was leading 2-0 when centre Kyle Brodziak received a five-minute boarding major and an automatic game misconduct for shoving Kings leading scorer Anze Kopitar into the boards in the right corner of the Los Angeles zone at 4:48 of the second period during a Minnesota power play.
“I was worried about that one. That’s a very dangerous play,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “I’ve seen too many players blow out their knees or break their legs in those situations.”
In the previous meeting between the teams, Kings defenceman Alec Martinez drew a five-minute boarding major from Warren Peters and ended up missing 10 games with an upper-body injury before returning to the lineup for the rematch.
“I watch games around the league, and it’s a concern that it happens as often as it does,” Murray said. “The hits that come when you’re five or six feet from the boards—I mean, I saw one in a game on television tonight before ours even started. I don’t get it. I don’t get the attitude and the mentality of the players in the game today—the lack of respect, and the danger they’re putting their fellow (NHL)PA member in with that kind of an attitude. It makes no sense to me.”
The Wild, who began the game at San Jose with a 16-0 lead in shots on net, outshot Los Angeles 7-0 through the first five minutes. Their first official shot resulted in a goal by Koivu, who swooped in behind the net to get the puck and jammed a wraparound past Jonathan Quick’s left leg just 24 seconds in after Jared Spurgeon’s 45-foot one-timer went wide of the right post.
Powe made it 2-0 during a goal-mouth scramble at 1:25 of the second period. A delayed penalty was about tobe called against the Kings when Scandella scored at 16:02 of the period, finishing off a nice passing play with Dany Heatley and Matt Cullen and beating Quick to the glove side from 25 feet in the slot.
Minnesota right wing Devin Setoguchi missed his first game of the season with an injured right leg. Cal Clutterbuck, who was scheduled to move into Setoguchi’s spot on a line with Koivu and Heatley, also sat out due to a leg injury. So ninth-year veteran Jeff Taffe made his Wild debut on that line and got an assist on Koivu’s goal. Taffe signed with Minnesota as a free agent in June.
Notes: The Kings outshot Minnesota 44-24. … Niklas Backstrom served as Hackett’s backup after missing the previous two games due to a groin injury. … The Kings, still playing without the injured Mike Richards, Justin Williams, Willie Mitchell and Scott Parse, have scored fewer than three goals in 20 of their first 28 games and each of the last seven. … Quick stopped Pierre-Marc Bouchard on a breakaway at 13:22 of the first with the Kings down a goal. … The Wild have started 4-0 in December for the first time. … The Kings have lost three straight games in regulation for the first time since January 17-20 last season. … Thursday was Kings D Drew Doughty’s 22nd birthday. … Minnesota is Taffe’s fourth team in four seasons, including Pittsburgh, Florida and Chicago. … Hunter’s goal was his first with the Kings and his 100th in the NHL.