The Stanley Cup Playoffs will start for your Minnesota Wild Thursday evening in Denver at the Pepsi Center, and its glorious scoreboard (about the only good thing in the Pepsi Center), at 8:30 PM CDT. It will be no easy test as the Central Division champions may not have the greatest underlying possession numbers, but they do have a solid power play.
Colorado finished the 2013 regular season with a terrible 15 percent success rate with the man advantage. This season, the ‘Lanche are bringing the 5th-best power play in the league at 19.8 percent into the post-season. It may be why the team made such an impressive jump up into the standings. Avs fans will tell you otherwise.
The Avs in 2013 drew an average of 2.9 power plays per game, and extrapolating that rate over an 82-game season, the number would have ended at 238 total power play opportunities. The Avalanche of last year were on pace to score roughly 36 goals with the extra man. This season, Colorado drew more power plays with 3.07 power plays per game, and capitalized 50 times, which is a 14 goal improvement year-over-year.
It's easy to see how important a solid power play can be for any team thinking about a championship. However, defense wins championships. The young core of forwards for the Avalanche may be more interested in scoring, rather than defending, especially when down a man. Colorado has the 24th ranked penalty kill with 80.7 percent. They've surrendered 48 goals while attempting to kill off penalties.
Now, I'm not saying that the special teams are anything to gloat about for Minnesota. In fact, they're anything but spectacular. The Wild can be encouraged as it has yet to surrender a power play goal to the Avalanche in 11 shorthanded chances even with the 3rd worst penalty kill with 78.8 percent.
The power play hasn't been any better for the Wild this year either. Minnesota's power play finished in the middle of the pack for the second straight year. The Wild have had absolutely no improvement year-over-year again finishing with an identical 17.9 percent success rate last season to this season. It's like they picked up right where they left off.
What does all this mean? It means that special teams will be paramount in this first round match-up. If the Wild can improve upon their 0-for-11 performance from last year's playoff match-up against the Blackhawks, then you could see the Wild very much in this series. The penalty kill is by far the biggest aspect of the Wild's game that needs to improve. Like I said earlier, defense wins championships and they will need to lean on players like Ilya Bryzgalov, the D-corp, Kyle Brodziak, and Matt Cooke to contain and stop the speedy forwards of the Avs.