St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen has been arguably the best goaltender thus far in the playoffs. Only Pekka Rinne has a better save percentage, .979 to Allen’s .974, but Allen has faced over 20 more shots than Rinne. Many of those saves have not been spectacular (although his glove wave might make a couple of them seem like it), but that doesn’t really matter when he is keeping the Minnesota Wild to one goal per game despite facing an average 39 shots per game. He is avoiding mistakes and his teammates are working hard to minimize second and third chances too. Consistently making save after save in spite of the Wild’s dominant puck possession is an impressive feat. If the Wild fail to mount the improbable but not impossible comeback, it is because Jake Allen maintained his laser-like focus and beat them.
The Wild have to be getting frustrated. They are doing seemingly everything right and Allen or the crossbar gets in the way nearly every single time. Bruce Boudreau is reportedly scrambling lines, trying to find some way to beat the red hot netminder. Another solution is available, however, and the Wild must avail themselves of it. Simply put, the Wild need to shoot the puck from the top of the circles, particularly on the glove side.
First off, that seems like a patently obvious thing to suggest. The tops of the circles are part of the high danger scoring area (HDSA), albeit the very upper boundary of it. Of course the Wild should want to shoot from the there. Secondly, it is a lot simpler to declare something must be done from in front of a computer, making it happen on the ice is a whole different story.
Let’s take those fair retorts one by one. In answer to the first, taking a look at Allen’s heat map on the regular season, it shows that he allows most of his goals in the area immediately around the net. The Wild have been making plenty of attempts there, but the combination of Allen’s hot streak and the Blues doing a good job of clearing out second chances has preventing the Wild from finding any success there except for Zach Parise’s 6-on-5 goal in Game 1 that forced overtime. Where Allen also has struggled this season is in the top half of the gloveside circle.
In the graphic, the shots Allen has faced are colored purple and the shots that have beaten him are in red. Compare that graphic to where the Wild have attempted shots in Game 1, Game 2, and Game 3. The top half of the gloveside circle is pretty light in Games 1 and 3 and largely clear in Game 2. The Wild have not been scoring much at all, but they also haven’t been attempting shots from a space on the ice that has proven to be particularly tricky for Allen this season. It deserves some priority in the Wild’s offensive gameplan.
In response to the second, the Wild have been having success getting shot attempts in much of the high danger scoring area (HDSA), especially right in front of the net. They have clearly found ways to get off attempts in the HDSA despite the Blues doing everything possible to keep them out of there. They have even had chances to shoot from the circle but passed up on them. Several times during Game 2, a Wild forwards would streak down the right side with the puck, but instead of attempting a shot from the circle, they made a move towards the corner to pull a defender with them and attempt a centering pass to a teammate. As a play it makes sense, especially when dealing with a goalie that is seemingly stopping everything, but in Game 4 the Wild should attempt the shot from the circle instead if possible.
One final reason to attempt shots from the tops of the circle instead of attempting a centering play or looking for a shot in a closer area of the HDSA: Allen has been giving up rebounds. It hasn’t burned him yet and the Blues are clearly aware of the danger, but rebounds from shots off the circles tend to kick out into the most dangerous area of the ice with enough oomph that they don’t end up immediately on the sticks of a defender. Given how much trouble the Wild have had getting off close in shots right on top of the crease, having the puck a couple feet out might prove to be a more rewarding tactic.