The man-advantage has been rather disadvantageous for the Wild this season. After ending the month of October fourth in the league on the power play, Minnesota has been putrid since. The power play in October converted on 13 out of the 53 (24.5%) tries in the month. It was their highest power play goal total of the season. They would go on to convert on just 32 of their next 199 (16.1%) power plays for the rest of the entire regular season.
This was all the more troubling with the fact the Wild also was one of the worst penalty killing teams of the season. They finished the regular season with the 27th ranked PK. For a team that struggles to score like the Wild do, they better not allow goals and their PK has failed them all year long.
Nowhere was this more prevalent than in Game 1 against the Blackhawks. While the Wild were playing a solid game - out-possessing the Blackhawks for long stretches of the game - special teams play ending being the demise of the Wild. Minnesota finished 0-3 on their power play opportunities generating only four shots on goal. Let me state that again: three power play opportunities and only four total shots on goal were generated by the Wild.
Now, to be fair, shots on goal doesn't even begin to explain what transpired on those opportunities. In fact, the Wild attempted 11 shots on the power play, with nine of those going unblocked. The story here? Missing the net. Jason Pominville and the rest of his team mates were absolutely atrocious in testing Corey Crawford Friday night. Nine unblocked shot attempts and only four were on goal. That's amazing. If you remember, the Wild in last year's quarterfinal against these same Blackhawks went 0-for-11. Many of those games were tightly contested and a power play goal could have changed the complexion of that series. It will have to do better this year if the Wild is aiming higher than the second round.
Jonas Brodin took two penalties for high sticking in Friday night's game. One of those was a double-minor as he caught Marian Hossa in the mouth after his carelessness with his stick rode up the shaft and into Hossa's mug. The other penalty was when Brodin caught Ben Smith up high. Both times with Brodin in the box, the Blackhawks were able to find the twine in behind Ilya Bryzgalov. This comes after closing out a seven-game series against the Avalanche in which the Wild killed 22 of 25 short-handed chances. The Wild had the best PK in the playoffs. But the Wild got a rude awakening against the better skilled, highly talented force that is the defending Stanley Cup Champs.
Every good penalty kill has a goaltender that is their best penalty killer. You could put any forward and any defensemen combination out on the ice, but eventually the goalie will have to make a big save in order to give his team a chance. Bryzgalov just didn't do that in Game 1. The Blackhawks move the puck so efficiently with short, quick tape-to-tape passes, and move east to west very effectively. If there is one thing that both Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper have over Bryzgalov and Niklas Backstrom, it is their lateral movement within the blue paint. Not having those guys in between the pipes minding the nets is a clear disadvantage to the Wild.
Minnesota was only better than the Dallas Stars in the Central Division on the power play against Chicago this season. The Wild have scored 3 power play goals against Chicago all season and only once scored with the man-advantage at the United Center.
With three of the five games between these two clubs being decided by one goal, the Wild need to buckle down and improve their play in special teams. Whether that means that the team needs to make Crawford make more than four saves during a power play, or boxing out the Hawks so that Bryzgalov can follow the puck all the way in and clearing the zone efficiently, the Wild need to be stronger than they were in the Avalanche series.