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Wild use defense to create offense against Avalanche

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Solid play in the defensive zone led to the game-winning goal and an overall speed bagging of the Avalanche in the opening game of their home-and-home series.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

We hear a lot about how the best defense is a good offense, but generally in the NHL you can't get to the offensive zone without playing a little defense first. The Avalanche didn't find themselves in the Wild zone very often on Saturday night but, when they were there, it was generally the line of Duchene, Mackinnon and Landeskog. That's a pretty formidable group considering they all have elite speed and high-end puck skills. The best way to defend against a group of talent like that is to try and somehow keep them to the outside and force them to take low percentage shots. This basic (but incredibly difficult at times) formula is exactly what lead to the Wild not only superbly defending that dynamic Avs trio, but also opening the scoring on the other end.

The play starts with an Avalanche rush into the Wild zone and Landeskog controlling the puck against the far wall. Scandella does a great job staying close to Landeskog to take away his shooting option. Parise and Granlund are providing good support and take away the passing lanes to the middle of the ice. Pominville has also shrunk away from the blue line to help out in the middle of the ice. Solid defensive zone positioning all the way around. Seemingly the only option for Landeskog is a pass to the blue line, and that's the play he makes. The puck is one-timed from the blue line and Kuemper does a great job kicking the rebound into the corner.

Pominville sees the rebound go to the corner and alertly reads that Brodin is tied up in front of the net and won't be able to get there, so he immediately moves in to make a play. At the same time, Avs defender Francois Beauchemin decides he can make a play in the corner and moves to pinch in from the blue line. An advantage of Pominville playing lower off of the blue line is that when he helps out on rebounds such as this, he has a head start on the Beauchemin pinching down from the point.. Meanwhile, on the weak side of the play, recognizing Pominville moving down low and Beauchemin pinching in, Parise makes a break to support a possible chip of the puck up the boards on the near side of the ice.
Now, this is where the fun starts. In front of the net Granlund realizes that Pominville is going to win the race to the puck and so he moves off his man expecting to go on the offense. If the puck is somehow turned back over to the Avs, Scandella is still there to watch the front of the net. In the corner, Brodin has disengaged from Duchene in front of the net and moved to provide a layer of support for Pominville. On the Avalanche side of things, Mackinnon sees Beauchemin pinching in, and so instead of engaging in a battle along the boards, he moves to cover Beauchemin's position at the blue line.
Pominville's attempted chip up the boards ricochets to Brodin and instead of continuing up to cover his defensive assignment, Mackinnon is distracted by the "loose" puck and ends up in no-man's-land.
Brodin's solid puck support allows him to easily gather up the puck, and because of both Granlund and Scandella's awareness, with one easy pass the Wild break out of their zone 3-on-2. 

And finally, the Wild generated a great chance for Scandella off of the 3-on-2. Shortly thereafter, Mathew Dumba launched a rocket past Varlamov that wound up being the game-winning goal.