Minnesota Wild (3-3-2) 8pts 7th in the Central
3.50 Goals For Per Game (7th in the NHL)
3.25 Goals Against Per Game (21st in the NHL)
24% Power Play (7th in the NHL)
80% Penalty Kill (19th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #10 Chris Stewart ~ 6G 2A = 8pts
2. #12 Eric Staal ~ 4G 3A = 7pts
3. #16 Jason Zucker ~ 3G 4A = 7pts
4. #46 Jared Spurgeon ~ 1G 6A = 7pts
5. #20 Ryan Suter ~ 1G 5A = 6pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 10 PIM’s
2. #27 Kyle Quincey ~ 6 PIM’s
3. #26 Daniel Winnik ~ 6 PIM’s
1. #40 Devan Dubnyk (2-3-0-1) 3.38GAA .896%SP
2. #32 Alex Stalock (1-0-0-1) 2.90GAA .924%SP
Pittsburgh Penguins (7-3-1) 15pts 1st in the Metropolitan
3.09 Goals For Per Game (15th in the NHL)
3.73 Goals Against Per Game (29th in the NHL)
27.3% Power Play (5th in the NHL)
80.4% Penalty Kill (17th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #87 Sidney Crosby ~ 5G 6A = 11pts
2. #81 Phil Kessel ~ 4G 7A = 11pts
3. #71 Evgeni Malkin ~ 3G 8A = 11pts
4. #17 Bryan Rust ~ 1G 8A = 9pts
5. #3 Olli Maatta ~ 2G 6A = 8pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #75 Ryan Reaves ~ 47 PIM’s
2. #87 Sidney Crosby ~ 28 PIM’s
3. #81 Phil Kessel ~ 18 PIM’s
1. #30 Matt Murray (7-0-0-1) 2.81GAA .912%SP 1SO
2. #1 Casey DeSmith N/A
Statistics can help educate or they can help deceive. Our friends at 3 in the Box talk about Fox Sports Net‘s use of cherry picked stats to make just about any player sound like they’re on some kind of hot streak, all depending on how they wish to deliver the statistic. Their purpose is obvious, to try to create more of a buzz to hockey fans with the hope they’ll tune and watch. Yet as the Wild prepare themselves mentally and physically to take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion, it is kind of funny to think by some simple team stats the Wild appear to be better offensively (3.50 Goals For Per Game versus 3.09 Goals Per Game) and defensively (3.25 Goals Against Per Game versus 3.73 Goals Against Per Game) than the Penguins. Anyone that really believes the Wild are truly better than the Penguins offensively and defensively raise your hand.
I didn’t see anyone out there raising their hand. Why? Maybe despite the statistics that hint that we’d have some kind of an advantage there is that pesky reminder that the Penguins sit atop their respective division in the standings while we are still in the Central Division basement. Its all about small sample size, and the Penguins have had a few blow out games this season which have skewed the numbers to a point where it may appear we have some kind of edge. The Penguins sent Antti Niemi packing after some truly atrocious performances that had his goals against average balloon to 7.49, and a save percentage below 80%. The Wild can be assured they’ll see Matt Murray between the pipes tonight.
The Penguins are back-to-back Stanley Cup champions for a reason, chief among them is star power. Sidney Crosby is the most complete player in the league and I think its safe to say he’s lived up to the hype he had prior to being drafted back in 2005. Not far behind is Evgeni Malkin who combines size, speed and skill and really gives the Penguins the 1-2 superstar punch that most teams can only dream about. Former Minnesota Golden Gopher Phil Kessel has gotten the last laugh for all the detractors he’s had over the years and with 300 goals and 660 points in 843 games. But to just toss the Penguins success on these 3 players is really a disservice, because there are other elements that make Pittsburgh so difficult to play against.
Part of it is youth and speed. Conor Sheary went from relative unknown as a college scorer out of UMass-Amherst to scoring machine for the Penguins. Much was the same of Jake Guentzel, who after having an outstanding college career playing for Dean Blais at University of Nebraska-Omaha he’s been a complete natural on Crosby’s wing and led Pittsburgh in playoff goals last year. Toss in Bryan Rust, another college player (noticing a trend?!?!) who can fly and chip in offensively means Pittsburgh can roll 4 lines that can skate and score. Perhaps no team embraced the ‘all speed’ approach quite like Pittsburgh and the results speak for themselves.
Of course, the ability to skate also makes you pesky defensively. The team can skate and backcheck and help out their underheralded defensive corps. Kris Letang is the anchor when he’s healthy, but his absences for various severe ailments over the last few seasons have accelerated the development of other young defenseman and now the team has benefited from their experience. Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin and Ian Cole may not be big bruisers, they move the puck well enough and fit well with the Penguins’ desire to deny time and space. Matt Murray is just 23 years old and he’s one of the best goaltenders in the league. He is off to another hot start and does a great job of making up for any mistakes the blueline corps may make.
So let’s review. Star power, excellent team speed, sneaky secondary scoring and a young elite netminder usually is a decent recipe for success. So do the Minnesota Wild have a chance today?
Certainly they do. However, the Wild’s effort the last few weeks has fluctuated from blah to outstanding to diarrhea to outstanding in its last 4 games. Case in point, last week Friday the Wild played the Winnipeg Jets and even though they found some offense, defensive gaffes and sub-par goaltending had themselves at the wrong end of a 4-3 score. The next night the Wild traveled to Calgary and rebounded with a solid effort to beat Flames. On Tuesday the team returned home to play the Canucks in a snoozefest where the Wild really failed to show up emotionally / mentally and lost 1-0. Most recently, the team was more motivated and energetic in a 6-4 thrashing of the Islanders in a game that should’ve been more one-sided than the score indicated if it hadn’t been for some weak goals given up by Devan Dubnyk. So what should we expect? In our opinion, its a lot like an old episode of the 1980’s game show Press Your Luck.
The Wild are starting to get healthy again as Nino Niederreiter will be a game time decision and Mikael Granlund is back and seems to be back to himself playing along side Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker. Eric Staal has been playing well as of late and Chris Stewart seems to be taking full advantage of the fact he’s in a contract year. So there certainly are reasons to be hopeful that the Wild can earn a victory this evening.
Marcus Foligno will probably not drop the gloves with Ryan Reaves today, but he and Stewart will likely get the task of keeping him in check. Reaves terrorized the Wild when he was with the Blues and while he’s more of a one-man wrecking grew with the Penguins, he’ll no doubt try the same crap today against the Wild. Minnesota can’t get caught up in worrying about Reaves too much, as Pittsburgh has plenty of more important elements to keep in check (no pun intended).
Minnesota needs a bit of rebound effort from Tyler Ennis and Joel Eriksson Ek who have been very quiet the last few games. Luke Kunin netted his first NHL goal on Thursday and hopefully he can follow that up with at least another goal today, but his most important minutes might come on the penalty kill this evening where the Wild are going against one of the best power play units in the league. Daniel Winnik and Matt Cullen, who may be feeling a little emotional in his return to play against his former team whom he won back-to-back Stanley Cups with will have to help the Wild slow the Penguins down.
Defensively the Wild must be sharp in their own zone and to be blunt, Devan Dubnyk has to be a lot better. The Wild won on Thursday but Dubnyk’s lack of focus made the game closer than it should’ve been. In regards to theme above, Dubnyk is the difference between big bucks (and earning a victory) or a whammy (getting shellacked). Dubnyk is making big bucks to be our ace and its time he start performing like one and a solid effort tonight is a must if the Wild are to have a chance.
So what are the keys for a victory this evening?
1. No Whammies ~ Or put another way, Devan Dubnyk needs to be sharp enough to avoid giving up the soft goal(s). The Wild will be hard pressed to contain the Penguins offense as it is, a soft goal or two could easily tip the balance. The Wild need Dubnyk to bring his A-game tonight.
2. Transition Is Your Friend ~ the Wild had success off creating turnovers in the neutral zone and counter attacking against the Islanders. Minnesota is a decent team off the rush and while the Penguins have great team speed and skill they also like to carry the puck through the neutral zone with speed. Being solid through the neutral zone will be crucial this evening.
3. More player movement on the power play ~ the power play has had its share of chances the last few games, but at times its simply too static. The team needs to utilize more player movement and taking shots quickly to create rebound opportunities against Matt Murray.
So what are your thoughts about tonight’s Minnesota Wild game? Let us know in the comment section below or on Twitter @MNSOTA24 or @CreaseAndAssist!