Minnesota Wild (35-27-7) 77pts 6th in the Central
3.16 Goals For Per Game (12th in the NHL)
3.14 Goals Against Per Game (24th in the NHL)
21.3% Power Play (11th in the NHL)
77.2% Penalty Kill (25th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #22 Kevin Fiala ~ 23G 31A = 54pts
2. #20 Ryan Suter ~ 8G 40A = 48pts
3. #12 Eric Staal ~ 19G 28A = 47pts
4. #11 Zach Parise ~ 25G 21A = 46pts
5. #36 Mats Zuccarello ~ 15G 22A = 37pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #38 Ryan Hartman ~ 69 PIM’s
2. #19 Luke Kunin ~ 55 PIM’s
3. #18 Jordan Greenway ~ 54 PIM’s
1. #32 Alex Stalock (20-11-4) 2.67GAA .910%SP 4SO
2. #40 Devan Dubnyk (12-15-2) 3.35GAA .890%SP 1SO
3. #31 Kaapo Kahkonen (3-1-0) 2.96GAA .913%SP
Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6) 78pts 4th in the Pacific
3.25 Goals For Per Game (8th in the NHL)
3.10 Goals Against Per Game (20th in the NHL)
24.1% Power Play (4th in the NHL)
80.5% Penalty Kill (16th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #9 J.T. Miller ~ 27G 45A = 72pts
2. #40 Elias Pettersson ~ 27G 39A = 66pts
3. #53 Bo Horvat ~ 22G 31A = 53pts
4. #43 Quinn Hughes ~ 8G 45A = 53pts
5. #70 Tanner Pearson ~ 21G 24A = 45pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #23 Alexander Edler ~ 62 PIM’s
2. #57 Tyler Myers ~ 49 PIM’s
3. #9 J.T. Miller ~ 47 PIM’s
1. #25 Jacob Markstrom (23-16-4) 2.75GAA .918%SP 2SO
2. #35 Thatcher Demko (13-10-2) 3.06GAA .905%SP
3. #30 Louis Domingue (3-9-2) 3.81GAA .882%SP
Q. Hughes~C. Tanev
Game Schedule: (best of 5 series)
Game #1: August 2nd, Wild at Canucks @ 9:30PM CST
Game #2: August 4th, Wild at Canucks @ 9:45PM CST
Game #3: August 6th, Canucks at Wild @ TBD
Game #4: (if necessary) August 7th, Canucks at Wild @ 9:30PM CST
Game #5: (if necessary) August 9th, Wild at Canucks @ 9:30PM CST
We know we won’t see any hockey being played until at least August 1st, and the Wild wil be heading to Edmonton to play their games. Since fans can’t attend these games it doesn’t really matter anyways. The Wild face its old (no longer rival) Vancouver in its play in series. After a few exhibition games the Wild will begin their play-in series. Training camp officially begins this Monday, July 13th. You can see the full training camp roster here.
In the team’s formative years, the two clubs were a part of the Northwest Division and the clashes the Wild and Canucks had were arguably some of the most spirited games it had during that era. It had the drama of 3-1 series deficit in the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals to rally back to a 4-3 series win, to thuggery of Mattias Ohlund two-handed lumberjack chop to the leg of Mikko Koivu and fracturing it in the process to the elation of watching Brian Rolston blister a slap shot on a penalty shot by Roberto Luongo.
Honestly this is one of my favorite moments in Wild history, because of just how bad ass and bold Rolston was for just tee’ing off like that on a future Hall of Fame goaltender like Luongo but because of the eccstatic reaction of the Xcel Energy Center crowd. Seriously, listen to the crowd’s reaction as you can tell what Rolston did surprised and delighted just about everyone there except Luongo and the Canucks’ bench. Great memories indeed, but at this point that’s all water under the bridge and that ‘history’ won’t matter one bit as soon as the puck drops in this series.
The teams played 3 times this season, with the Wild going 2-1 versus Vancouver but one of those wins was by a shootout which is tantamount to a coin toss. We are going to look at each club and its respective position groups and try to determine if any club has a distinctive advantage over one another. With NHL training camps set to open on July 10th, the hope is to be playing playoff hockey by the end of July or early August.
The one caveat among fans is the fact the NHL draft lottery on June 26th, indicated that one of the play in series teams will end up with the 1st overall pick. That is, providing that they lose in their respective play in series. Each of the 8 clubs that will lose that first round will have a 12.5% chance at netting the 1st overall pick. For a club that has never had a superstar, Wild fans seem to be more excited about a lottery chance than they are about the club’s chances in any post-season scenario. While I do not expect the club to tank, it might be interesting to see the mixed reactions from the Wild fanbase because of this possible outcome.
For Vancouver, they have a nice blend of skill, scoring and grit and virtually all of their forwards are fairly young which means the Wild will be hard-pressed to match the Canucks’ energy. Elias Pettersson put on a clinic in his rookie season against the Wild and Minnesota was fortunate he was out of the lineup during one of the team’s two victories over the Canucks this season. That won’t be the case this time, and playing on a line with leading scorer J.T. Miller gives Vancouer two fairly potent lines with Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli giving Vancouver a fair amount of scoring depth. Add in the grit from pests like Antoine Roussel who will be very familiar to the Wild from his days spent in Dallas as well as Brandon Sutter (who always seems to play well against the Wild), Zack MacEwen, Adam Gaudette, Jake Virtanen and veteran Jay Beagle as they attempt to get Minnesota off its game. One player the Canucks could have back for the play in series is Michael Ferland who gives the team another player with a dose of edge to his game and the ability to pop in the timely goal. This is a group that has a fair amount of speed and utility and I’d expect Travis Green‘s squad to be applying the forecheck rather heavily to start the series.
Meanwhile, the Wild were a team that was catching its stride the last 15 games before the season went hiatus with the outbreak of Covid-19. Kevin Fiala rose to become Minnesota’s leading scorer, using his speed and skill to light the lamp most nights for the Wild. Expect Vancouver to shadow him anytime he’s on the ice. The Wild was also getting more regular contributions from Zach Parise as well as youngsters Luke Kunin, Ryan Donato and Alex Galchenyuk. The team could certainly use a re-invigorated effort from veterans Eric Staal, Mats Zuccarello and team captain Mikko Koivu who might be at the end of his NHL career. Will Mikko play with more energy and ferocity knowing this might be his last games in the league? Will the team rally around their captain? While the Wild are not as fast as Vancouver’s forward group, where they lack in speed they also have more experience. To try to counteract the grit of the Canucks the Wild will look to Marcus Foligno who really has come into his own as a leader both on and off the ice and he will be relied upon as an effective penalty killer. Another player who will need to have a great series in order for the Wild to be successful is Joel Eriksson Ek. Eriksson Ek’s game isn’t sexy, but he drives opponent’s crazy with his constant hustle and willingness to battle for pucks in the corners and on the backcheck. Another player who might get a look if the Wild find themselves struggling in the grit department is Nico Sturm. Sturm is a center that can play the wing and plays a defensively responsible two-way game, and while I don’t think he will be looked on for any offense he woud give the team another shut down type of player if the team feels Donato or Victor Rask are too much of a defensive liability. Its tough to see why the Wild would go with either AHL scoring powerhouses in Sam Anas or AHL MVP Gerald Mayhew unless someone on the Wild’s top 6 couldn’t play.
However, if you are looking at it strictly in terms of production Vancouver seems to have more potential for explosiveness offensively. Also, I’d like to think that the youthfulness is an advantage in a ‘late-start’ series where I’d think older players might struggle to get up to game speed and by the time they do the series could be over.
Yet if the day-to-day chaos of life in a Covid-19 world wasn’t enough for you, there is the drama of Kirill Kaprizov. As Covid-19 caused the cancellation of his season in the Kontinental Hockey League, it has also opened a window for him to sign with the Minnesota Wild. Yet the league made the decision in April not to allow players like Kaprizov to join NHL teams like they have in year’s past citing an unfair competitive advantage (aka a ringer). This didn’t sit well with Wild fans who have clamored he be allowed to play with the team based on the longstanding practice of letting college and international free agents play with their teams in the post-season runs. But despite a roller coaster of reports where the league might relent on its earlier ruling the league ultimately shut the door and the promising winger has still yet to be signed. An already anxious Wild fanbase just got another reason to dry heave. Advantage: Vancouver
Vancouver’s defense is led by rookie phenom Quinn Hughes who is living up to the hype that followed him since he was drafted as a mobile offensive defenseman with great on-ice instincts. He quarterbacks the power play which has been a big reason Vancouver is one of the better scoring teams in the league. The veteran leaders on the blueline are Chris Tanev and Alexander Edler who is nearing the end of his career but he still logs big minutes for the Canucks. Troy Stecher is another puck mover who has a big shot and Tyler Myers is 6’7″ space eater tha helps keep opponents from getting to the middle of the ice. Oscar Fantenberg is a mobile shut down defender with not a lot of offense to his game. Another name to keep in mind is Brogan Rafferty who was an AHL All Star with Utica and he is more of an offensive defenseman that might get a shot if the Canucks feel they need another offensive boost from its blueline.
The Wild bring a more veteran laden defensive corps leds by alternate captain Ryan Suter. Suter is remarkably consistent and was having one of his best seasons with the team going into the Covid-19 hiatus, and no doubt he will again be leaned upon to log major minutes in this series. The only question is, who will be his defensive partner? Jared Spurgeon is probably the most likely candidate as he moves the puck well and has shown himself to be able to support offensively as well. Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba will likely man the 2nd pairing and will also play a crucial role into trying to shut the Canucks potent offense down. The 3rd pairing will probably be a combination of Carson Soucy who should be able to return from injury and brings some size and reach to the Wild’s defense and he will probably be paired with Brad Hunt. Greg Pateryn is appparently out with an upper body injury. I personally think Hunt will at least start as Soucy’s partner first because Hunt brings an offensive element to the blueline and Vancouver’s forward group is more fleet of foot and Pateryn is the slower of the two defenseman. AHL 1st team All Star defenseman Brennan Menell may also get a look as could Louie Belpedio and veteran Matt Bartkowski will be close by as ‘Black Aces’ in case the Wild want some other options. All of these players have performed well in limited stints with the big club.
While Hughes is an impressive offensive defenseman, I think the Minnesota Wild’s blueline is more well-rounded and has more experience which should serve them well in this kind of play-in series. Advantage: Minnesota
The Vancouver Canucks were supposed to be giving the control of the crease over to Thatcher Demko this season, but veteran Jacob Markstrom has said ‘not so fast.’ Markstrom was terrific in the Canucks’ lone win against Minnesota this season and statistically he is almost at his best when Vancouver is shorthanded. I have little doubt Green will give Markstrom the initial start to start this series. If he struggles, the leash might be pretty short as Demko is the Canucks’ ‘goalie of the future’ and he has provided at least average work in a backup role. Louis Domingue is their emergency option if they lose confidence in Markstrom and Demko.
Between the pipes for the Wild it would be a surprise if Alex Stalock isn’t the starter. Whether it was the personal struggles of his wife’s health or just a natural degradation of his game, Devan Dubnyk found himself supplanted by the South St. Paul-native and if you read this article in the Sports Daily he didn’t sound too excited about being involved in a summer play in. Oddly enough, Dubnyk is the team’s NHLPA team union representive and is a member of the executive board so the look, shape and feel of the players experience in this play in could be decided by the player who will probably at least start out as the backup goalie in this series. 2019-20 AHL goaltender of the year Kaapo Kahkonen will also be available and while it would be shock to see the team give Kahkonen a shot over Dubnyk if Stalock struggles, it might be a sign of the future of the team’s goaltending if it does.
Looking at the numbers, the goaltending for both clubs are extremely similar. The one place where the teams diverge a bit is the goaltending performance when down a man, and this is where Vancouver has had much better play between the pipes than Minnesota. The fact even the Wild coaching staff has said that any of the 3 goaltenders (Stalock, Dubnyk, Kahkonen) could be the starter at this point kind of speaks for itself. Advantage: Vancouver (slightly)
When you look at both team’s special teams, the Canucks are consistently a little btter than the Wild in every measure headlined by the Top 5 (4th) power play in the league at least prior to the Covid-19 hiatus. With weapons like Pettersson, Miller, Boeser and quarterbacked by Hughes the Canucks have a lot of scoring options to consider and that will make it imperative for the Wild to do what they can to stay out of the penalty box. The Wild’s power play was showing more signs of life in the games leading up to when the league stopped play and they will need to make Vancouver pay for taking penalties if the Wild are to have a chance in this series. Neither team’s penalty kill is overly stifling but it could become an x-factor as to which team prevails in this series. Advantage: Vancouver
I feel confident in saying that Vancouver Head Coach Travis Green‘s job is pretty safe no matter how this series turns out. Green has done a great job with the youthful Canucks’ squad and gets good reviews from his players for how well he communicates and leads the room. On the flipside is Dean Evason who has coached the Wild to a 8-4 record since replacing Bruce Boudreau as bench boss. Zach Parise gave Evason credit for helping the team play a faster more up tempo style of play which he felt was a big reason they started to play better just prior to the Covid 19 forced hiatus. On Monday, July 13th, the team removed his ‘interim’ label and is now under contract as head coach for the next two years presumably to take a little bit of pressure off as he goes into this play in series. Even prior to this announcement, Evason told NHL.com he won’t be worried about that. While I think that might help him focus a bit more on the job at hand, neither coach has any NHL head coaching experience in the playoffs. Advantage: Neither
The Wild looked pretty fatigued by the time the 3rd period rolled around against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday which resulted in a 3-2 loss. Kevin Fiala had 15 shots directed on goal in that exhibition game and he looked primed and ready to go. The rest of the team seemed two or more steps behind him. Minnesota went 1-for-8 on the power play and only registered 4 shots total with the man advantage which no doubt raises some concerns going into this series against the Vancouver Canucks.
Meanwhile the Canucks had to feel a bit unlucky after their 4-1 loss to Winnipeg on Wednesday. At times Vancouver dominated the play with a pesky forecheck and a quick transition game that led to odd-man rushes only to be foiled by some big saves by the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck. The Canucks certainly have a lot of team speed and good skill up front.
So the Crease And Assist ‘crew’ are going to provide their predictions for how they see this best-of-5 series playing out.
Aaron Lindgren (@AngryFinn) ~ With the start of the series potentially a few weeks away, how do I think the Wild will fare versus the Canucks? When I started typing this up, I said poorly. It seems all but certain that the Wild won’t get the Kaprizov boost they were hoping for, and the Wild have been a .500 team on the road (16-16-2). Overall the team is only slightly above .500, but that’s when I started to drink some Kool-Aid and think “hey, they got a shot!”. First off, they’ve gone 8-4-0 since Evason took over. They’re facing a Canucks team that is only slightly better than them from a W-L perspective. They’ve already beat the Canucks in 2 out of three games this season, and the Canucks road record is far worse than the Wild’s (14-18-2). Don’t get me wrong, I think it will be close, but I’m picking the Wild in five games
Theresa Ferries (@MNSOTA24) ~ I honestly have no idea how to feel about this series. A very small part of me (and I mean a very small part) is excited to see hockey making a comeback. Let’s face it, when the league shutdown for COVID-19, it was a relief. Minnesota was again clawing their way out of the pits of despair at the absolutely wrong time. This is a team that needs a rebuild, and doing so with quality draft picks is a way to do so. So here we are now, with a play-in chance for the playoffs. Depending on how far this team goes, can again effect that draft ranking. I almost feel like Minnesota’s opponent is the league’s attempt at pandering to the fans. Of all the play-in opponents the Wild could get, it would be Vancouver. It’s like they’re trying to get us excited with a ticket aboard the Wayback Express. Let’s face it though, this series doesn’t have anything close to the personalities that the 2002-03 series had. Heck, even the coaching personalities today are nowhere as interesting as they were back in that Cinderella season. With this being a best of five series, it almost feels like we’re back to the minor leagues. Why you ask? Because all it’s going to take is three games to end this series. This reminds me of how in the American Hockey League, teams frequently play three games in a row against the same team, in one location, in order to save money on transportation. Considering how long players have been off the ice, they may look like they’re all back in the minor leagues as well. Yes, I’m sure players have been working out during quarantine, but not skating for three months will be telling. As for how this series goes, I feel like it’s going to be a 3-1 Vancouver series. Between Vancouver’s forwards and goaltending, they definitely have the advantage. And every hockey expert out there will tell you that. Even the fact that Markstrom has been out since even before lockdown, I would trust him over both Dubnyk and Stalock. Of course knowing our luck, Minnesota’s goaltending will come out big. If somehow the Wild prevail in this play-in series, I don’t see them going much further. But then, that’s what we heard and believed back in 2003.
Derek Felska (@CreaseAndAssist) ~ As much as I think Minnesota got a fairly good draw for the play-in series, but I think it will be tougher for the older Wild squad to get its legs up to game speed and that will be an advantage for the Canucks. I think Vancouver edges out the Wild in 5 games but I think the games will all be close.
Here is how Canadian TV network Rogers‘ is previewing this series (Spoiler Alert: Wild fans will enjoy some of the 2003 jabs they give to the Canucks in this one).
Here’s how the fans see by this series will go from informal Twitter poll.
So how do you see this series going one way or the other? What players do you think will prove to be decisive for this series? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!