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Preview: Wild face Kings for final time this season

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Minnesota opens Californian back-to-back in LA.

Minnesota Wild v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images

The Minnesota Wild have 11 games remaining in the NHL regular season. Of those 11 games, the Wild will play two games vs. the formidable Vegas Golden Knights and five games vs. the St. Louis Blues, who are desperate to qualify for the playoffs and will be giving everything they’ve got. That leaves four “easy” games against the California teams — a back-to-back vs. Anaheim, a game Saturday night in San Jose, and Friday night’s game vs. the Los Angeles Kings.

LA has spent the season rebuilding by getting ice time to their developing players. This investment will certainly pay dividends in coming years, but as of now the growing pains see the team sitting outside of a playoff spot with a .47 standings points percentage on the season. According to MoneyPuck.com’s estimate, LA has only a 25% chance to make the playoffs and - even worse - is ranked 21st in the league according to their statistical power rankings.

Don’t try telling that to the LA Kings, though. While it’s true that they’re on the outside looking in, any standings-watching done in the City of Angels would show that they’re only four points behind the Blues and that both teams have 13 games left to play. Arizona is five points ahead of LA, but LA has four (!!!) games in hand on the Coyotes. MoneyPuck offers the Kings a 45% chance to win on Friday night, likely in part because they have categorized it as a Big Game for the Kings in their statistical preview. If the Kings win, their chances to make the playoffs go up by nearly 10%, and a regulation loss would drop their chances to make the playoffs from 25% to nearly just 20%.

Interestingly enough, a loss in regulation wouldn’t hurt the Kings’s chances to make the playoffs much at all. Combine that with goaltender Calvin Petersen’s solid play on the year, as well as a team that’s playing for its life and going to deliver playoff-style hockey, and the Wild are likely going to have a tough time scoring tonight. The Kings have solid goaltending, and they have every reason to try and rag this game out to the end. Expect a grinder tonight at the STAPLES center.


Burning Questions

Will Calvin Petersen’s rebound control burn him?

The LA Kings have long been anchored by the aptly named Jonathan Quick, who has graced American Olympic teams and won Stanley Cups with his nimble work in the goal crease over the past 13 seasons. He’s split time this year with Cal Peterson, who is having a breakout year in his third season of NHL action. Playing in 25 of LA’s 43 games, Peterson has racked up saves in the face of a relatively heavy workload based on expected goals estimated on MoneyPuck.

One reason for this is that he has offered up rebounds at a higher rate than expected, based on the locations of the shots he’s faced. Just as the probability of a goal can be modeled based on a shot, so too MoneyPuck estimates the likelihood that the puck is bounces off the goalie instead of being caught and frozen. Rebounds are generally events which goalies don’t want to occur, since they creates chaos rather than an orderly faceoff.

Cal Peterson does a good job of stopping shots, but doesn’t freeze them as often as an average goaltender would. This creates opportunities for other teams to bang loose pucks back on net. To his credit, Peterson seems to either play his rebounds to a safe location or to save the second efforts effectively, because he’s posted a strong save percentage greater than expected on the year. However, the Wild should know that he tends to give up rebounds, and if they can game plan their way to the net front and generate second-effort shots, it should boost their offensive volume.

Can the Wild preserve a lead when they get it?

On the season, the LA Kings have been able to improve their offensive output at the expense of their defensive performance. Focusing on the below chart, originally created by hockeyviz.com, You can see LA trending from “bad” to “fun.” While they haven’t yet crossed into the promised land above the red line, what is especially evident from the graph is that LA is one of the most offensive-minded, barn-burning clubs in the NHL. The Wild are most likely going to be able to get in front of the Kings because Minnesota is the better team; however, the Wild will need to be prepared to play perfect defense if they want to hold onto a lead. The Kings are top-ten scoring team in the NHL, and their playoff hopes are going to make them desperate to at least make it to overtime.

Can the Wild dominate tonight against a team that playoff contenders should dominate?

The Wild have been fighting an uphill battle vs. analytics for weeks. Look at the Wild in the tweet above, and read the tweet below. It’s not complicated a complicated subject - we’ve gotten worse, to the point that it’s going badly.

While I expect the Kings to play hard for all 60 minutes, they’re also bad enough in most analytical metrics that the Wild should be able to use this as a get-right game. What that looks like is more shots on net, more penalties drawn, and better shot locations compared to our opponent tonight.

If the Wild are reliant on high shooting percentage from the Fialas and Kaprizovs, or goaltending, it’s not a recipe for sustained success. If that’s what we rely on tonight against the LA Kings, I’d hate to see what it looks like in Las Vegas in the Playoffs.