2022 NHL Playoffs Preview: Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues

Series is at 0-0

Minnesota Wild (53-22-7)  113pts  2nd in the Central

3.72 Goals For Per Game (5th in the NHL)

3.04 Goals Against Per Game (16th in the NHL)

20.5% Power Play (18th in the NHL)

76.1% Penalty Kill (25th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #97 Kirill Kaprizov ~ 47G 61A = 108pts

2. #22 Kevin Fiala ~ 33G 52A = 85pts

3. #36 Mats Zuccarello ~ 24G 55A = 79pts

4. #38 Ryan Hartman ~ 34G 31A = 65pts

5. #14 Joel Eriksson Ek ~ 26G 23A = 49pts

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #21 Brandon Duhaime ~ 122 PIM’s

2. #44 Nic Deslauriers ~ 113 PIM’s*

3. #38 Ryan Hartman ~ 95 PIM’s

Top Goaltenders:

1. #33 Cam Talbot (32-12-4)  2.76GAA  .911%  3SO

2. #29 Marc-Andre Fleury (28-23-5)  2.90GAA  .908%  4SO*

 

Vs.

 

St. Louis Blues (49-22-11)  109pts  3rd in the Central

3.77 Goals For Per Game (3rd in the NHL)

2.91 Goals Against Per Game (11th in the NHL)

27% Power Play (2nd in the NHL)

84.1% Penalty Kill (5th in the NHL)

Top 5 Scorers:

1. #91 Vladimir Tarasenko ~ 34G 48A = 82pts

2. #18 Robert Thomas ~ 20G 57A = 77pts

3. #89 Pavel Buchnevich ~ 30G 46A = 76pts

4. #25 Jordan Kyrou ~ 27G 48A = 75ts

5. #49 Ivan Barbashev ~ 26G 34A = 60pts

Top 3 PIM’s:

1. #77 Niko Mikkola ~ 55 PIM’s

2. #57 David Perron ~ 48 PIM’s

3. #47 Torey Krug ~ 48 PIM’s

Top Goaltenders:

1. #35 Ville Husso (25-7-6)  2.56GAA  .919%  2SO

2. #50 Jordan Binnington (18-14-4)  3.13GAA  .901%  2SO

*- Denotes statistics from multiple teams

Lines:

St. Louis Blues

Buchnevich~Thomas~Tarasenko

Saad~R. O’Reilly~Perron

Barbashev~Bozak~Kyrou

Toropchenko~L. Brown~Walker

Krug~Parayko

Leddy~Faulk

Mikkola~Bortuzzo

Husso

Binnington

Minnesota Wild

Kaprizov~Hartman~Zuccarello

Fiala~F. Gaudreau~Boldy

Greenway~Eriksson Ek~Deslauriers?

Bjugstad~Jost~Duhaime

Brodin~Dumba

Middleton~Spurgeon

Merrill~Kulikov

Talbot

M-A. Fleury

Game & TV Schedule

Game #1: May 2nd, (Home) 8:30PM CST Bally North, ESPN

Game #2: May 4th, (Home) 8:30PM CST Bally North, ESPN

Game #3: May 6th, (Away) 8:30PM CST Bally North, TNT

Game #4: May 8th, (Away) 3:30PM CST Bally North, TBS

Game #5: May 10th, (Home) TBD**

Game #6: May 12th, (Away) TBD**

Game #7: May 14th, (Home) TBD**

** – If necessary

Raise your hand if you thought Minnesota would have home-ice advantage through the first round of the NHL playoffs back when the season started?  Yea, I didn’t think so.

Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin made the tough choice to part ways with veterans Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the team’s culture was transformed and the Minnesota Wild had its best regular season ever.  More victories, more goals and arguably more fun and excitement than Wild fans have experienced in a long time.

Up front, Minnesota has the best scoring depth its ever had.  With superstar Kirill Kaprizov and his 47 goals and 108 points along with former Wild GM Paul Fenton‘s ‘gamebreaker’ Kevin Fiala‘s 33 goals, 85 points leading the way the team finally has two dangerous scoring lines.  Kaprizov and Fiala both use their skill and creativity to set up teammates or to light the lamp in dramatic fashion.

Mats Zuccarello is the 34-year old playmaking wizard with his ‘lizard stick’ that has demonstrated almost otherworldly chemistry with Kaprizov and he should be back after missing the last few games with an injury.  Ryan Hartman has been a nice compliment as center and he’s also contributed offensively with 34 goals of his own.

For Fiala, the arrival of rookie Matt Boldy appeared to be the catalyst for the Swiss scorer’s game and the youngster has shown he can light the lamp too with 15 goals this season.  Frederick Gaudreau has shown more and more confidence and scoring ability in recent weeks and has put up a respectable 44 points all the while winning 50% of his draws which is the best among Wild centers who have taken more than 500 draws this year.

Minnesota’s 3rd line, aka the GREEF line took a bit hit literally and figuratively on Friday when Marcus Foligno suffered a lower body injury due to a vicious knee-to-knee hit by Colorado’s Kurtis MacDermid.  There has not been any timetable given as to when Foligno may return although he did skate at Sunday’s practice and seems intent on playing.  No doubt the Wild’s medical staff will have to clear Foligno first.  If Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway have to soldier on without him, what options are there?

Nic Deslauriers seems to be the likely replacement for Foligno, who is provides physicality in a defensively responsible game but with less of an offensive upside than the Wild alternate captain.  As good as this line has been defensively, they can be dominating offensively where they use their collection of big bodies and strength to forecheck relentlessly.

There are a number of options for the Wild’s 4th line.  Brandon Duhaime loves to dish out hits and brings an element of speed but he must be careful not to take foolish penalties.  Nick Bjugstad is lanky and has a good reach and can be used either at center or the wing.  Connor Dewar also has the versatility to play center or the wing where he provides speed, perhaps a bit more skill.  Tyson Jost looked good moonlighting on the Wild’s top line but he is looking more comfortable with each game.

Mitchell Chaffee, Mason Shaw, Kyle Rau and Joey Cramarossa are all possibilities as possible fill-in’s as the Iowa Wild’s season came to an end this week and all of them have been given opportunities with the big club this season.  Some may wish to see Marco Rossi make an appearance but he revealed he had been playing with an undisclosed injury for much of Iowa’s season so I would think that would make it unlikely he’d get an opportunity in the playoffs.

Defensively, the team saw the return of team captain Jared Spurgeon and alternate captain Matt Dumba to the lineup on Friday.  With all due respect to Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin has emerged as the team’s best all around defenseman as he has the mobility to stay with any skater in the league and the conditioning level to log huge minutes.  Spurgeon is still the team’s most offensively dangerous defenseman as he leads the team’s blueliners in goals (10) and points (40).

Jake Middleton, acquired at the trade deadline in a deal with San Jose has given Minnesota’s defense corps the rugged stay-at-home presence it desperately needed.  He is an underrated puck mover and I think he has a great knack of putting shots on goal even through traffic.  Dumba has played in just 1 game since being injured on March 5th, but his return helps round out the team’s top 4.

36-year old Alex Goligoski brings experience and the ability to fill in a top 4 role if necessary.  His +41 led the team.  Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill likely round out the 3rd pairing and give the team a bit more sandpaper to the blueline.  Jordie Benn and talented youngster Calen Addison are ready to go if injuries happen.

Much was made of the move by Bill Guerin to acquire Marc-Andre Fleury the statistics may indicate that the best chance for the Wild to have success is by playing Cam Talbot instead.  It makes sense the media would get excited about the move for Fleury, a future hall of fame goaltender with Stanley Cup credentials and loads of post-season success makes for an intriguing story line.

Talbot and Fleury’s current save percentage of .911 and .910 respectively would make one think they perform at the same level but when you look a little deeper the differences are pretty significant.  This is especially true on the penalty kill where Talbot carries a very respectable .957 save percentage compared to Fleury’s .800.  So unless the Minnesota Wild can manage to avoid the penalty box completely (which isn’t the worst idea in the world) they have a better chance to escape unscathed on the penalty kill with Talbot rather than Fleury.

Minnesota’s penalty kill has been an area of weakness all season, and your best penalty killer has to be your goaltender and clearly one has been better than the other.  Fleury does have a slightly better save percentage (.936 compared to Talbot’s .919) at even strength, but when you look at the strength of games the two goaltenders have had since the trade, I think its somewhat revealing the Wild had Talbot out there against playoff-bound contenders.

Now that doesn’t mean that Fleury will be nailed to the Wild’s bench, but I do think it means we should expect to see Talbot get the initial starts in this series.  I do believe there is some merit to employing a rotation as you can give an opponent an additional element to prepare for as well as having a fresh goaltender for ready for a start.

Don’t forget, the trade we made with Chicago for Fleury only gives the Blackhawks a 1st round pick if he gets four wins in the playoffs and the team makes it all of the way to the Western Conference finals.  Guerin made the move hoping to guarantee that we would get there, and I don’t think he will play Talbot more simply because he doesn’t want to give up a 1st round pick.  If Talbot is getting the start it is because that’s who the team believes gives us the best chance to win.

No matter what, the team that has better goaltending will be the one that advances in this series.

Blues’ captain Ryan O’Reilly is one of the most well-rounded players in the league and while statistically his production has slipped a bit with 21 goals, 58 points he still a +11 and a steady 56.8% on his draws.  The 31-year old from Clinton, Ontario brings plenty of experience and poise and provides the Blues with a lot of confidence and stability.  Expect him to be on the ice to take any crucial faceoff in the series.

22-year old Robert Thomas has been one of the hottest players in the NHL during the 2nd half of the season.  He anchors Saint Louis’ top line between Pavel Buchnevich and Vladimir Tarasenko.  Tarasenko, a player who demanded a trade at the beginning of the season appears to have rekindled a desire to stick with Saint Louis, and rediscovering his scoring touch didn’t hurt as he led the team in scoring with 34 goals and 82 points this season.

KFAN‘S Pat Micheletti said on a recent episode of Beyond the Pod, that the Blues ‘fleeced’ the New York Rangers when they traded for Buchnevich for feisty winger Sammy Blais.  The statistics speak for themselves as Buchnevich is 3rd leading scorer on Saint Louis with 30 goals and 76 points compared to no goals and just 4 points in 14 games played for the Rangers.  Yea, I’d say using the word ‘fleecing’ sounds pretty accurate to me.

Saint Louis has a ridiculous amount of scoring depth with 9 players with at least 20 goals this season.  That makes the Blues extremely difficult to match up against defensively and gives Saint Louis plenty of confidence that they can get scoring from its top 3 lines.  Jordan Kyrou absolutely embarrassed the Minnesota Wild during the 2022 Winter Classic and is slippery and dangerous with the puck.

Brandon Saad, Ivan Barbashev, Brayden Schenn and David Perron are all experienced players with at least one Stanley Cup underneath their belts and have found the back of the net at least 20 times this season.

On defense, South Saint Paul-native Justin Faulk has been a great find for Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong.   The 30-year old leads all Blues’ defenseman in goals (16) and points (48).  Torey Krug is a very capable puck mover with a lot of playoff experience from his time with the Boston Bruins and also gives the Blues another scoring threat on the point.

Former Minnesota Wild draft picks Nick Leddy and Marco Scandella help give Saint Louis  defensive corps mobility.  Veterans Colton Parayko and Robert Bortuzzo along with youngster Niko Mikkola provide the size and sandpaper and will try to prevent Minnesota from getting too comfortable near the Blues’ crease.

Ville Husso has supplanted incumbent Jordan Binnington this season as the Blues go-to option between the pipes.  Husso has been significantly better in goals against average where he’s .6 goals a game better than Binnington.

This is especially true when they are playing a man down as Husso carried an impressive .972 save percentage compared to Binnington’s .912.  I think Blues Head Coach Craig Berube will use Husso as much as he can, knowing he has an experienced backup option in Binnington.

Keys to winning this series for the Minnesota Wild:

1. Scoring the first goal – Scoring first is important for the Minnesota Wild.  The Wild had the 5th best winning percentage when scoring the first goal at .814 compared to the Blues .667 when finding the back of the net before their opponents.  Minnesota’s comfort level is noticeable when it strikes first and isn’t chasing the game.  It should be noted that the Blues are the 4th best team at winning games when giving up the first goal, but they only had 8 wins that way all season so its still to the Wild’s advantage to strike first.

2. Stay out of the box – There’s no sense denying it, the Minnesota Wild have had their share of struggles on the penalty kill and with the power play being a strength of Saint Louis it is imperative that they do not take penalties.  While the penalty kill looked better the last few games if the season, to put the Blues on the power play is playing with fire.  Minnesota’s best penalty kill option is to reduce the amount of times they have to go on the penalty kill in the first place.

3. Pay the physical price to win – Postseason hockey is all about sacrifice.  It is being willing to do whatever it takes to make the play necessary to win games; whether its blocking shots, crashing the net with a purpose to score and keeping your own crease clear of opposing skaters.  You can’t just give 80% and expect to succeed here; you have to give it your all.  Minnesota added size and toughness to its lineup at the trade deadline to be better equipped for a physical series, and we’ll find out soon enough if that will pay off or not.

4. Play your game – This is a Wild team that has shown tremendous resilience all season.  As cynical as Minnesota sports fans are, there just seems to be something different about this Wild club.  They have a chance to do something special and this group seems to have the depth, the star power to do it.  Now is not the time to try to change their game to fit the playoffs, they simply need to play their game and take care of the details as they do so.

5. Win each shift – Sometimes its better to focus on the immediate challenge ahead of you than concern yourself with the end result.  Without question the Blues are a formidable match up with scoring all over its lineup, so perhaps its better to have Wild lines focus on this simple premise; win each shift.  If they do what they can to win the shift, with good puck support and being attentive to their defensive assignments the end result you want (i.e. to win the game) will take care of itself.

What do you think will be important in order for the Minnesota Wild to win this series against the Blues?  Tell us on Twitter at @MNSOTA24 and @CreaseAndAssist!