Things don’t feel right around here.
Down 3-1 in their series against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Minnesota Wild find themselves on the brink of elimination. Outscored 12-4 — and 9-2 in the last two games — the Wild are a team that is going to approach the game tonight with an air of desperation that we haven't seen very often.
If you are looking for Dean Evason and management to try something nuts tonight — at least as far as who is in and who is out — it isn’t going to happen. Top prospect Matt Boldy will not be drawing in, according to Michael Russo of the Athletic. I’m not sure how much difference a 20-year old winger makes in a one-game situation anyways. He also reported that there are some injuries on the team, so if you really are desperate for the team to make a roster shakeup, at best you’ll get a Luke Johnson or maybe even a Calen Addison sighting.
The negativity surrounding this team right now is palpable and undeserved.
Marc-Andre Fleury is playing like a man possessed with a .966 Sv%, a 0.99 GAA, and according to NaturalStatTrick.com, has 6.12 GSAx (Goals Saved Above Expected). He’s rightly considered a front-runner for the Conn Smythe. We’ve seen criticism of Cam Talbot, who has an above-league average .921 Sv% and has made his own share of ridiculous saves.
We’ve had the conversation around Kirill Kaprizov turn sour, despite playing with a center who is really just a very good third-line center in Ryan Hartman. Moving Kevin Fiala to his wing might help, but the weak link on Kirill’s line has never been Mats Zuccarello, and Fiala has proven he can drive play by himself with whatever scrubs he plays with. Move the Lizard King to a line with Kyle Rau and Victor Rask and watch the Golden Knights toy with that line like a cat playing with its food.
Is this team being beaten? Absolutely. But no amount of truculence, or roster shakeups, or changes to ice-time would make a difference.
The process has been good for the Wild. You’re lying if you say otherwise. Looking at the box scores it looks bad, but this team has played its butt off in these games. At 5v5 they’ve held a 51.77 xGF%, good for 7th in the league in the post-season. They’ve Pucks aren’t going in the net, and we’ve already touched on the man responsible for that. They are putting lots of bodies in front of Fleury, but even then the last goal that scored in that fashion got called back on a soft interference call.
The Wild is being killed by special teams, but not because the Golden Knights have been scoring on the powerplay. The Wild have been excellent on the penalty kill, stopping 10/11 of the Golden Knight’s opportunities. What has been slowing them down is the number of penalties and the anemic powerplay of the Wild, which has actually been outscored on its opportunities. To allow more goals than you score on the powerplay is a path to failure, but we knew how inconsistent this Wild powerplay can be heading into the playoffs.
The Wild can win tonight. They have to win tonight. If they do, it won’t be because Kirill Kaprizov has shown “heart” or “defiance”. It won’t be because Kevin Fiala finally gets better linemates. This is the same roster that nearly won a division that included the Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalance. If the Wild win tonight it’s because players like Victor Rask, Nick Bonino, and Jared Spurgeon contribute and the Wild continued to play the game the way they have all series.
Do the thing.
Puck drops at 9:30 p.m.
Will there be powerplay opportunities? Will the powerplay score a goal?
I’m putting these two together because they are inexorably linked. The Wild have only had eight powerplay opportunities in this series, and while that doesn't seem like a disparate figure next to Vegas’ 11, if they were drawing the same as their season average, the Wild would have had 12 powerplays up to this point.
But none of that really matters if you are being outscored on your own powerplay. Will Dean Evason change his less than successful strategy?
Which Wild player shows up tonight?
Win or lose, someone is going to bust their ass to try and get the win tonight. We’ve seen Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno generate the bulk of the opportunities for the Wild up until this point. Kevin Fiala has looked like he was shot out of a cannon on most nights. Kirill has had his moments. But beyond the usual suspects, who shines the most? I’m looking at Nico Sturm, Victor Rask, or even Zach Parise to make a difference, but can they?
Can Cam Talbot get an easy night?
The profile for the Wild in the defensive zone is to keep the shots to the outside, and for the most part, they have. Mission accomplished. But they have absolutely hung Cam out to dry on odd-man rushes and breakaways. The Golden Knights have capitalized on those opportunities and it’s largely what's driving their success. Can the Wild help Cam out a little bit and keep the highlight reel saves to a minimum?