The San Jose Sharks are a group of good skaters in front of awful goaltending. They give up expected goals, which measure the quality of scoring chances based primarily on shot location, at a lower rate than they rack them up. This is partially because they have such an effective group of forwards, as well as Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. While Karlsson hasn’t been himself so far this season, he certainly looked it for the whole two-game series vs. the Wild. When San Jose turns it on, they can turn it on.
The Sharks built their lead in the second period off of two dangerous goals. Both came from the center of the slot. The First, from Hertl, was a slick opportunity off the rush for a breakaway. Later in the period Ryan Donato extended the lead to two with a net-front play with the man advantage. Both of these can be chalked up to uncharacteristic lapses by the defense at the blue line and on the PK, respectively. You can see Hertl’s goal (and, I hate to report, a pretty good tweet from the opponent’s social media team) below.
San Jose was hard line-matching against the Wild’s forward groups all night. They sent out Kane-Couture-Labanc, their dominant two-way first line, against Kaprizov-Rask-Zuccarello. Because the lettuce line tends to get into track meets, this was a deadly matchup of Sharks who suppressed them from scoring while still taking advantage of the first line’s defensive lapses. Fiala-Johansson-Hartman, who had recently been heating up and been playing our best two-way hockey in Minnesota, were matched by Balcers-Hertl-Meier. This group from San Jose is also effective both ways, but mostly due to extreme suppression and possession. Our scoring line couldn’t score without the puck, so it was another poor matchup on the road. The matchups that San Jose offered Minnesota’s bottom 6 were pretty favorable in the long-term, but down two goals Dean Evason needed to find a way to play his scorers as much as possible.
To break up the matchups, Evason basically swapped Johansson onto the first line for Zuccarello. This put our best two scorers, Fiala and Kaprizov, together matched against the Sharks’ top line. Eventually they got that dominant line on their heels with Brent Burns on the ice, and Kap-italized.
In truth, this was a low-percentage shot. On the other hand, the Wild had 1.03 xG with this shot and were playing against Martin Jones, so maybe they were simply due. Kaprizov shoots pretty well and had a good screen in front of him as well, so the chance was better than publically available analytics will give it credit. But then, in fairness the opposite way, Nikolai Knyzhov (great name) scored a low-percentage shot of his own. San Jose sees our electric goal from a Russian-born rookie and raises us by a two-goal lead. The Wild fold.
Zuccarello scored with 12 seconds left in the game with the goalie pulled, but it didn’t mean anything. It would’ve been another amazing goal, with a hard shot by Fiala that was tipped out front, if only the Wild were down by 1 goal instead of two. Seconds later, Evander Kane scored on the empty net with under a second remaining in the game, and the refs didn’t even drop the puck to bleed out the remaining time.
When you see the Avalanche roll into town, it’s one thing to get spanked in a two-game series. Back-to-back losses to San Jose (both earned), after a toss-up series vs. the Anaheim Ducks and an ill-gotten win vs. the St. Louis Blues, show that changes are needed. If you’ve read this far, I’ll throw out my proposed lineup change for your entertainment and assume you’re interested.
- Zuccarello-Eriksson Ek-Kaprizov
- Rask-Bjugstad-Johnson/Taxi Squad Guy
Stop line-matching our best center vs. our opponents’ top lines. Instead, put him on the ice all the time, with our two best scoring pair of wings. His defensive play will translate to better defense for this leaky line, and he can get the puck to Kaprizov and Zucc. That, and you can stop babysitting them with Spurgeon and Suter for half of their minutes due to that bad defense. In my opinion, playing Kaprizov with Dumba and Brodin is far better, as Kaprizov and Dumba seem to have some developing chemistry and can transition together effectively. Ek also plays at the net-front on offense to support the “softer” playmaking/skating moves that his new wingers like to utilize.
Johnasson just got going, and this second line is looking good. It’s been effective both ways, and skates like the wind blows. Blowing it up in the 3rd tonight worked to get Kirill going, but it just feels unfair to every member of the line, all of whom have looked great on this line and deserve to stay together.
The third line is and incredibly straightforward shut-down trio. Match them against scorers at home, give them D-zone face-offs on the road.
The fourth line isn’t as strong as the current version, but this is a shortened season in the number of games played. Rotate the taxi squad player to get fresh legs. Hide Rask. If and when Bjugstad deserves a promotion, figure that out as it comes. I appreciate that Evason is taking the condensed schedule into account, and I think it’s won us a few games to skip a few practices in favor of rest. On the other hand, with the way Rask looks at the moment, you have to hide him rather than tearing down your good players by hoping they can roll uphill with him. Perhaps a move to the wing with Bjugstad will take off some pressure and get Rask going again. I believe this lineup can fix the current ills troubling the Wild.
Can the Wild hold the quality over quantity edge?
Overall the two games, the Wild scored 3.82 xG and gave up 6.44 xG, which calculates to a xG% of .39%. San Jose nearly doubled the scoring chances by nearly two times Minnesota’s production. Neither efforts were good enough, and tonight the xG battle was lost even worse than last night - 1.42 to 3.44 for the Sharks. The Wild played an effort worth a two-goal loss, and that’s the result they were handed by the Hockey Gods.
Can Mojo keep his mojo going?
I would say that he did. Discount the third period, when he was playing with two new line-mates, one of whom was Victor Rask. With his original line and playing against a shutdown trio from San Jose, I believe that he played well. He was on the shooting end of 19% of our expected goals, and his 5v5 on-ice xG% was 4th best on the team at 52%. His primary line, which I argue should continue to exist, out-attempted opponents 5-3 but gave up more quality with a 37.4% xG rate.
How long until Victor Rask loses his 1C spot?
See above for my take on when he should lose his 1C spot. As for when Evason decided, you can decide whether you believe the Kaprizov-for-Johansson swap in the 3rd was a “demotion” for Kaprizov or for Fiala and Hartman. It’s hard to believe that we put out a line with Fiala and Kaprizov, and it wasn’t the 1st line. In my opinion, I think you can say tonight was the night Victor Rask lost his 1C spot, because I think in the 3rd period he was playing 2C.