Minnesota Wild (32-14-4) 68pts 3rd in Honda West
3.22 Goals For Per Game (9th in the NHL)
2.68 Goals Against Per Game (11th in the NHL)
18.2% Power Play (23rd in the NHL)
82.6% Penalty Kill (9th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #97 Kirill Kaprizov ~ 23G 20A = 43pts
2. #22 Kevin Fiala ~ 19G 18A = 37pts
3. #36 Mats Zuccarello ~ 11G 20A = 31pts
4. #18 Jordan Greenway ~ 6G 24A = 30pts
5. #14 Joel Eriksson Ek ~ 17G 10A = 27pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #21 Carson Soucy ~ 49 PIM’s
2. #18 Jordan Greenway ~ 49 PIM’s
3. #24 Matt Dumba ~ 44 PIM’s
1. #33 Cam Talbot (17-7-4) 2.48GAA .920%SP 2SO
2. #34 Kaapo Kahkonen (15-7-0) 2.69GAA .909%SP 2SO
Vegas Golden Knights (36-12-2) 74pts 1st in Honda West
3.34 Goals For Per Game (5th in the NHL)
2.16 Goals Against Per Game (1st in the NHL)
18.2% Power Play (24th in the NHL)
86.4% Penalty Kill (2nd in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #61 Mark Stone ~ 20G 37A = 57pts
2. #67 Max Pacioretty ~ 24G 27A = 51pts
3. #27 Shea Theodore ~ 7G 34A = 41pts
4. #81 Jonathan Marchessault ~ 15G 24A = 39pts
5. #71 William Karlsson ~ 14G 20A = 34pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #81 Jonathan Marchessault ~ 39 PIM’s
2. #55 Keegan Kolesar ~ 30 PIM’s
3. #75 Ryan Reaves ~ 27 PIM’s
1. #29 Marc-Andre Fleury (23-10-0) 2.08GAA .926% 5SO
2. #90 Robin Lehner (12-1-2) 2.04GAA .922%SP 1SO
Vegas Golden Knights
As some of you may know, I coach two high school sports that probably do not appear to be all that related to one another in football and tennis. To get a bit more specific, as a football coach I mostly coach defensive line and in tennis my specialty is doubles. While the two sports are vastly different, there are some common skills that will help one be effective as a defensive lineman or a doubles player. First step quickness is important as its to your advantage to be fast off the snap to engage an opposing offensive lineman before he can get close and ‘hold’ you. Yes, all offensive lineman hold. Having a quick first step is very helpful if you’re going to poach shots when you’re up at the net and having lateral quickness helps considerably.
Next, anticipation is key because whether its in the trenches or playing up at the net the pace of play gets faster as your distance to the ball is shorter. So your mind has to process quickly and then you must move to where you need to be before you need to be there.
Lastly, I constantly try to get my players to pay attention to the small details of their technique. Whether its hand placement or how you toss a ball for your serve its the little things that make all the difference between success and failure. Yes its a cliche, but to get quality practice an athlete pays attention to those details so they can self correct their game.
So where am I going with this?
The Minnesota Wild got a real taste of what playoff hockey will be like in the Honda West division as they had their share of struggles against the St. Louis Blues. They are going to get another good test against the Vegas Golden Knights who are also looking to elevate their game as they hope to keep the top spot in the division. While Minnesota has had some success against the Golden Knights, the playoffs are a different animals.
The little things, from shift to shift can make be the difference between advancing in the playoffs and being bounced in the 1st round. Minnesota had moments where they dominated the St. Louis Blues physically and they peppered Jordan Binnington with shots. Unfortunately, the team had lapses in effort and attention to detail defensively and those resulted in costly goals. On Saturday, it was the Blues who discovered this painful lesson as Minnesota took advantage to rally for a 3rd period comeback before winning the game in overtime.
One player who has really been raising his game lately has been winger Kevin Fiala who is looking more like Minnesota’s shoot-first sniper that finished the 2020 season as the club’s top player. That is also not to say that Kirill Kaprizov has slowed down either, he’s playing very well and demonstrating that no matter how much attention he gets defensively he’ll still find opportunities to contribute which a signature trait of all great players. On Saturday, Kaprizov was setting up line mates most of the night and if Ryan Hartman would’ve been able to get his stick on some of those passes he would’ve ended up with more than the one assist he had.
Defensively, Jonas Brodin is really coming into his own at both ends of the ice as he’s showing an offensive side to his game he only ever teased us about before this season. He’s unleashing his slap shot with greater frequency and has rewarded the Wild with some big goals lately. Matt Dumba normally gets credit for being the Wild blueline’s best trigger man but this year Brodin has that mantle. Both will have to be rock solid against a Vegas team that likes to force turnovers in the neutral zone and then attack in transition. This pairing got caught a few times against the Blues and if Minnesota expects to win that has to be cleaned up.
I would expect Wild Head Coach Dean Evason will start the series with Cam Talbot between the pipes, but I hope at least considers putting in Kaapo Kahkonen for game 2 regardless of tonight’s outcome. If Talbot is going to be the workhorse in the post-season, the Wild would be well-served in giving him some breaks before we get to the playoffs. Plus, we want to keep Kahkonen sharp too.
The Golden Knights are led by captain Mark Stone who can really do a little bit of everything. Playing on a line with Max Pacioretty this is Vegas’ 1-2 punch. Vegas has a lot of speed in their lineup, but injuries have eroded some of the secondary scoring more recently. What must the Minnesota Wild do to secure a victory?
1. Play Playoff Hockey ~ I know its a bit of a cliche, but as both clubs jockey for position in the Honda West playoff picture you can bet this will be a very spirited two-game series. The Wild must have a ‘junkyard dog’ mentality around the Vegas crease and crash the net with a purpose. No flybys. Whether its Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes or Robin Lehner, the Wild need to get near the crease to either deny either of these goalies their view of the puck or to be waiting for rebounds. I think this series will be won by the team who battles the hardest near the blue paint.
2. Shut Down the Top Line ~ The line of Stone, Pacioretty and Chandler Stephenson is the one that does most of the heavy lifting offensively for the Golden Knights. The Wild will no doubt be matching up Dumba and Brodin against this line as much as they can. As I stated above, injuries have depleted at least some of the Golden Knights depth in scoring so shutting down this line or even limiting it to one goal will boost Minnesota’s chances of winning considerably. Staying out of the box and limiting how much time Vegas spends on the power play would be a good idea too.
3. Attack in waves ~ No other team in the NHL is as much of a scoring by committee club than the Minnesota Wild. This depth is a strength as it means offense can be generated all throughout their lineup. I like how Minnesota’s superior scoring depth matches up against a stingy defensive team like Vegas. While the team need their best players to play well, the rest of the lines shouldn’t wait for them to do something before they get involved. A different hero every night. Ian Cole is just 3 points away from giving the Wild 19 players with at least 10 or more points to their credit this season.
One last thing. Why isn’t the team taking the opportunity to wear the NHL Reverse Retro jerseys? It makes zero sense to me the Wild wore those sweaters in games with no fans in attendance and now that at least some fans are in the building they’re not wearing those beautiful green and gold sweaters. C’mon NHL, let the Wild wear those beauties. Give the people what they want!
What do you think will be key in order for the Minnesota Wild to be successful against the Golden Knights? Let us know on Twitter at @CreaseAndAssist!