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How the Minnesota Wild can destroy the Death Stars this postseason

Many Bothans died to bring us this information.

Breaking news: the Dallas Stars are pretty darn good. Their forward corps is one of the best in the business. They have Wild-Killer-In-Training John Klingberg (who is not a forward, but he's very good).

They have two weaknesses.

One is between the pipes: While the Stars have racked up impressive numbers this season, neither Antti Niemi nor Kari Lehtonen are particularly impressive. Both have allowed an average goals per game in the high two-and-a-halfs and their save percentages are both around .905 in all situations (courtesy of the Dallas website). According to Corsica, a look at their 5v5 Save percentage garners some good news to both Minnesota and Dallas: Lehtonen sits at .909: unimpressive to say the least. Niemi has had a better season, but even he has only saved .926 of the shots that come his way; league average but hardly imposing.

The sad truth is the Niemi has over performed his career numbers this season; he has averaged a .924 over his time as a goalie (at 5v5). All in all: suffice to say that the Stars' goalies likely aren't going to steal the series, the way Corey Crawford did two seasons ago.

The second weakness lies just ahead of the goalies, in the defensive corps.

None of what follows should be taken to mean the Dallas Stars have a bad corps of blue liners... that was the assumption going into the season, but that fantasy has long since been dispelled. Rather, merely that Dallas is a team which relies more on its offense to win games than its ability to keep pucks out of the net.

First, the bad news: Of the eleven Stars d-men who have played more than 50 minutes this season, only two have a sub-50 CF%. Even those two (Jordie Benn and Stephen Johns) are only barely under 50%. It's unlikely the Wild will see Johns, who has played only 200 minutes this season, which brings the total to one defenseman who doesn't drive possession successfully (though again, not to say Benn is poor).

The good news, however, is this: Dallas plays a high-event game. In other words, they rely not on stopping the other team from shooting, but rather on shooting more (and shooting better). While they are successful at this, if the Wild can slow the game down and keep the pace slower, they stand a decent chance of finding a way through the Southerners.

This is clear when you look not at differentials, but raw rates: how many shot-attempts and (more importantly) shots on goal Dallas allows per game. There are only three Stars defensemen who have allowed fewer than 27 shots on goal per 60 minutes of 5v5 play (we already know it will be important for the Wild to stay out of the box). What's more: all three of those defensemen have fewer than 250 minutes this season; it's unlikely we'll see them in the playoffs except in case of injury.

The better news is this: the Dallas defenseman who allows the most shots on goal per 60 minutes is also the defenseman who has played the most minutes (note: not the most shots on goal, the most per 60; this isn't a direct result of more TOI). Who is this? Alex Goligoski. While its true that Goligoski takes more shots than he allows, that comes back to the Wild needing to suppress shots.

Another piece of good news for the Wild: they have another means to stunt the Dallas offense; in addition to staying out of the penalty box themselves, get Dallas into it. While the Wild aren't known for their prowess drawing penalties, they can play the percentages and target certain players. For instance, Jonny Oduya (who has played the 2nd-most time of all Dallas d-men) also has the worst penalty differential on the blue line.

Where's the Trench?

The Wild will need to limit the Stars' offensive abilities if they are going to win this series. The Stars are an active team that moves the puck well; the Wild will need to throw them off their game to do so. The Stars like to move the puck quickly and they like to play an up-tempo game. The Wild's success will depend on their ability to deny the Stars that.

No one likes to say it, but the Wild's best bet may be to clog the neutral zone and slow the game down and play a heavy cycle. If the Wild can suppress Dallas' ability to shoot, they stand a chance of winning this series. This is by no means going to be an easy for the Minnesotans. A series win is possible, but it's going to be difficult, and the Wild will need to exploit the two weaknesses Dallas has.