It’s pretty hard to feel good about the Wild’s chances right now.
Minnesota is, once again, down 2-0 to start a playoff series. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for the Wild, as they’ve dropped the first 2 games in 7 of their 8 playoff series during the Zach Parise - Ryan Suter era.
That’s unfortunate territory to be familiar with. According to Hockey Reference, teams that jump to a 2-0 lead go onto win the series 87.3% of the time. The Wild have fared a tiny bit better, winning 1 of those 7 series, but it’s definitely not ideal.
Especially since they’ve looked, well, bad. They gave up 40 shots in consecutive games while failing to muster 20 in either game.
But what else can we glean from this disaster of a game? Let’s dig in.
Don’t Blame Duby
With a .905 save percentage in the postseason since being traded to Minnesota, Devan Dubnyk has a reputation of not being able to get it done in the playoffs.
Dubnyk definitely has turned in some bad playoff performances, but it’s been, at times, too simplistic. Dubnyk actually performed pretty well in last year’s series against the Blues. He performed well in Game 1 against Winnipeg. And he performed well tonight, 4 goals allowed be damned.
Dubnyk didn’t give up the first goal of the game until the Jets’ 24th shot of the game, and didn’t give up the second goal until the 33rd. There was plenty of time for the Wild to get a goal on the board before the game became out of reach.
The responsibility here is mostly on the team in front of him, in my opinion. The Wild couldn’t get the puck into the Jets zone at all, leaving Dubnyk to see shot after shot after shot. And unlike Game 1, these shots were coming from dangerous areas of the ice.
All 4 of the goals Dubnyk surrendered came from the “home plate” area right in front of the net. I mean, sure, I’d bet Dubnyk would want those goals back. But if the Wild’s defense was firing on all cylinders, the Jets wouldn’t be able to buzz him nearly so much, and their offense gave him no room for error. That’s what you call setting someone up to fail.
Until the goals started happening, the big story of the game was the physicality, particularly by the Jets. Winnipeg battered the Wild early and often, racking up 38 hits- a pretty astounding feat for a team that always had the puck.
Dustin Byfuglien led the way with 8 hits, but the physicality went up and down the lineup, with only 3 Jets failing to register a hit. Minnesota failed to sustain offense through the heavy checking, and to generate turnovers with their own physical game.
Minnesota can’t out-skate the Jets, and they can’t out-hit them. That might be a bigger problem than the 2-0 deficit.
If It’s Broke... Don’t Fix It????
I wrote on Thursday about how the Wild should maximize the offense on their top line. Instead, Bruce Boudreau returned with the same lines that could only muster 20 shots in Game 1.
Boudreau’s faith in his forwards wasn’t rewarded. Of the Wild’s 17 shots, just 10 of them came from his forwards. 5 of them from the Eric Staal line, and just 2 from the Granlund line.
It took Boudreau 40 minutes to make any changes, and even then, he didn’t reunite Mikael Granlund with Eric Staal and Jason Zucker. That line was one of the best offensive lines this season, and Boudreau didn’t give them the nod in a 1-0 game. Hard to understand why he wouldn’t put that line together with his team in desperation mode.
Speaking of desperation mode, as the Wild’s situation grew more dire, the team seemed to get worse.
Usually in hockey, when a team is down, they press to score, while the team in the lead stops pressing and focuses on defense.
That didn’t happen tonight. Once Minnesota got down a goal, they were out-shot 20-6. The Jets refused to let up offensively, and if the Wild can’t even generate offense in a scenario where they absolutely need to score, there’s not much hope for a series comeback.
I don’t know what the takeaway from this is, either. Much like with the Jets having the advantage in skating, skill, and physicality, this issue doesn’t seem fixable.
On that note...
The Jets are Very Good
Credit to Winnipeg. And not just to the Patrik Laines and Blake Wheelers of the world. The Jets didn’t win with skill tonight. They won with defense. Yes, they brutalized Minnesota, but beyond the flashy stuff, they out-Wilded the Wild. Minnesota got no opportunities in the high-scoring area. Their structure forced Minnesota to dump the puck instead of getting clean zone entries.
And they never quit, playing a 60-minute game, and always looking to turn their defense into offense.
We all knew going into the series that the Jets were a fun team to watch. But through two games, they’ve shown us that they’ve also got great defensive structure to compliment that offense. As long as they can keep that up, Winnipeg is a true contender for the Stanley Cup.