The Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues will face each other in the Stanley Cup playoffs first round. We at Hockey Wilderness will be previewing everything about these Central Division rivals. Go check out the piece on the defense here.
Craig Berube and Dean Evason’s paths to becoming head coaches in the NHL are very similar: former players found moderate success during their careers before transitioning to coaching. While Evason cut his teeth in the WHL, Berube was a rare player-coach in the AHL with the Leigh Valley Phantoms — a Philadelphia Flyer’s affiliate — before transitioning to just coaching.
They both found success in the AHL before being called upon as assistants for veteran coaches. As Bruce Boudreau met his dire fate here in Minnesota, Evason took his place for the final part of the 2019-20 season. In St. Louis, our old friend Mike Yeo was let go after a brutal start to the 2018-19 season, after which Berube took over, and the Blues turned it all around and went on a Cinderella run that ended with the Stanley Cup.
Since taking over the Blues, Berube has typically formulated his team strategy around stout defense; the changes to personnel during this offseason have helped steer the team towards a more comprehensive approach, at the sacrifice of some of that defense.
We aren’t saying this isn’t a good defensive team, just that they aren’t the beast they once were.
We’ve talked about which team will have the roster advantages, which will likely dictate who will win this series. The Wild’s shutdown line is elite, and with home-ice advantage, they will be able to control the line matching for the better part of the series, including a crucial game seven matchup (if the series makes it that far).
Evason walked into an intriguing situation when he became coach of the Wild. With the pieces he had in place, he has engineered a system that makes life easy on its goaltenders and encourages every defender to involve themselves in the offense. Activity is vital for Evason’s plans, no matter the position.
Berube’s systems on offence — including the powerplay — thrive off of high-danger slot chances. Paul Buchnevich, David Perron, Vladimir Tarasenko, Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou will try to make the Wild pay for letting them into the slot with the puck. But for all this offensive talent on the roster, the Blues largely stay away from the front of the net. This may be because of size — of all the forwards we listed, only Tarasenko is above 200 pounds — or it may be out of fear, but this weakness plays into the Wild’s hands.
The Blues are more than happy to let chances from the slot happen on defense. A nightmare if it’s the Wild forwards allowed this opportunity.
Who Has the Advantage?
While Berube and his staff have the Blues playing better on the powerplay — converting on 27.0% of their powerplays ranks second in the league — and on the penalty kill — killing 84.4% of their penalties ranks fifth — they do play a loose style of play defensively and offensively. They avoid the challenging areas on offense and concede the high-value areas on defense.
Craig Berube and Dean Evason have chillingly similar coaching resumes. Berube has just had a few more years than Evason and won the Stanley Cup in his third professional season as a head coach.
Oh, Dean Evason is in his third year as a coach.
Being able to hard-match the GREEF line of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Marcus Foligno is the trump card in a pretty even matchup of coaches.