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Playing the System: Gap up!

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

It's not exactly a stretch to say the Wild stole game five in St. Louis last night. Dubnyk was peppered relentlessly for 60 minutes, and the Wild ended the night being outshot 37-19. Thus bringing the games four and five running shot total to a mind numbing 63-37 in favor of the Blues.

Obviously, there are multiple factors contributing to the Blues' consistent speed-bagging of the Wild over the last two games, but none stick out like the woeful gap control of the Wild defenders. Couple that poor gap control with the all-too-common, non-existent back pressure from Wild forwards, and you get an expressway into the offensive zone for the Blues.

Defenders should always be attempting to force the opposition to make a play at, or before, the blue-line. Forcing a play at the blue-line is important because the puck-carrier not only has to try and beat the defender, but also has to get the puck over the line in time to not force his linemates offside. Essentially, good gap turns the blue-line into another defender of sorts.

Look at how TJ Oshie is extending the puck to get it in over the blue-line while at the same time hoping to avoid Jared Spurgeon in the play below. Spurgeon's good positioning allows him to break up a potentially dangerous rush for the Blues.
(This happened in game three when the Wild were seemingly doing everything right)

And what did the pivotal game five look like? Let's start with the entry that led to the Blues first goal...



as well as.....


Every single one of these zone entries led to shots against the Wild, most of which ended up being quality chances.

The Wild play a near perfect defensive zone system, allowing very few chances off the cycle. This means that the best way for the Blues to manufacture chances is off the rush. Shots off the rush are generally more dangerous, which makes it even more pivotal that the Wild return to their game three "gap form", while continuing to execute in the defensive zone system. Devan Dubnyk has dragged this team into a position where one well executed game puts them through to the next round, and then we can forever forget how the Wild were out-shot at a near 2-to-1 ratio over a two game stretch.