I'm back from my very lengthy lay-off from blogging. I just haven't had the time to write anything lately with work kind of taking over all my free time. Thankfully things have eased off a little bit and I should be back in the saddle from here on out.
One year ago, the Wild, coming off a season in which they had been a below average 5v5 team, managed to go toe-to-toe with one of the league's best in the Chicago Blackhawks over 6 games in the Conference Semi-Finals. Despite their great play, they lost the series 4-2 thanks mostly to Corey Crawford and an ineffective powerplay. Given the Wild's deeper roster this time around, the development of their younger players, their improved goaltending and the Hawks maybe getting slightly worse since 2014 one could be forgiven for expecting the Wild to really put it up to them and maybe win this series. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
The Wild are 0-2 after two games and have looked like a shell of themselves. Their 5v5 performance in particular has been worrying. What is even more concerning than them starting slowly on the road against the Blackhawks is the fact that their 5v5 play left a lot to be desired against the Blues too and one could argue that their winning that series had a lot to do with spurts of great play from Devan Dubnyk, awful play from Jake Allen, good special teams and getting the right bounces at key moments.
Here's the Wild's (red and green line) 5v5 scoring chance differential (score adjusted) for each game in the playoffs so far compared to the Blackawks (red and black line):
You can see that the Wild have been on the wrong side of 50% in most games while the Blackhawks have been quite the opposite. The Wild have the lowest % of 5v5 scoring chances (45%) of any team in these playoffs so far and so it's no real surprise that they've been outscored 11-16 overall at 5v5. Quality of opposition is obviously a huge factor here but that doesn't mean the Wild's performance hasn't been below par.
All signs point to the Wild playing some extremely not great 5v5 hockey against one of the most dominant teams in the NHL. That's a recipe for a quick exit from the playoffs. They need to find their game and find it fast. Their neutral zone play has to improve as the Blackhawks have just dominated there, they need to start winning more battles behind the net, they need to protect the puck and use it better coming out of the defensive zone. It could be too late at this point but we know this team is talented enough to run riot on anyone when they're playing their best hockey; being fast, aggressive and well organised defensively.
On a more positive note, the Wild have the highest powerplay goal rate of any team in the playoffs this year and have the 5th lowest goals against rate on the penalty kill. Their special teams will need to be nails for the rest of this series if they are to progress. Devan Dubnyk, who ranks 16th out of 21 goalies in the playoffs this year in Adjusted Sv%, will need to improve on his poor play in Game 1 and Game 2.
In terms of individual players, here's how each Wild player who has played 50+ minutes at 5v5 in these playoffs has performed in terms of on ice scoring chances and shot attempts:
The X-Axis represents each player's on ice impact on Scoring Chance differential, the Y-Axis is for Corsi (shot attempts) and the circle colour is just TOI/G.
Now obviously this doesn't account for how tough each player's usage is and is based on a small sample size, but you can see that Parise, Granlund and Vanek have seen pretty decent success compared to the other forward lines, particularly as the former two have mostly seen the opposition's best lines. Justin Fontaine has had the Wild's highest positive impact by a wide margin. Scandella, Spurgeon and Suter have all been roughly the same in terms of their impact. Chris Stewart has been buried so far in these playoffs in terms of his influence on 5v5 play.
That's all from me for today. Leave a comment with your thoughts and don't forget to like and share and all that stuff.
Follow me on Twitter @GerWilderness.
Thanks to war-on-ice.com for the data.