What a year it’s been for the Minnesota Wild. The firing of Paul Fenton as general manager. The hiring of Bill Guerin. The rough start to the season. The 11-game point streak. The firing of Bruce Boudreau. The Jason Zucker trade. The deal that almost sent Zach Parise to the New York Islanders.
Oh, and let’s also not forget about COVID-19 and the social justice movement that began in the heart of Minneapolis in May.
Yeah. It was a pretty crazy year.
But despite all of this, the Wild still found a way to give fans something to cheer about in their play-in series against the Vancouver Canucks. Even if it was only for a few games.
Unfortunately, the Wild were eliminated by the Canucks in their best-of-five series early Saturday morning around 1 a.m. CT. And even after the Wild got off to a hot start in the series, they just couldn’t keep the momentum going.
There are many reasons why the Wild couldn’t take down the Canucks and advance to the conference quarterfinals, but here are the five biggest reasons.
1. Powerless power play
Had the Wild’s power play been firing on all cylinders against Vancouver, things probably would have been a whole lot different in their play-in series. But the power play simply failed to generate quality scoring chances and blew numerous opportunities to get the Wild on the board, and it cost the team in the long run.
The power play actually got off to a good start in the series. In Game 1, the Wild went 2-for-4 on the man advantage thanks to tallies from Kevin Fiala and Jared Spurgeon. After Game 1, though, the power play crumbled. From Game 2 until the end of the series, the Wild went 1-for-18 on the advantage as Vancouver’s middling penalty kill seemed to have its way with both of Minnesota’s PP units.
An overall success rate of 13.6 percent in a series won’t get many teams very far, and the Wild are no exception.
2. Lack of 5-on-5 scoring
Since the Wild had difficulties scoring with an extra attacker on the ice, it should come as no surprise that they had just as hard a time scoring at 5-on-5. When both teams had five skaters on the ice, the Wild managed just three goals in the series — the remaining seven goals were either scored on the power play, while a goalie was pulled for an extra attacker or during the penalty kill (hat tip to Luke Kunin for that one).
Shockingly, perhaps the best player at 5-on-5 for the Wild was defenseman Jonas Brodin. While he only finished the series with a pair of assists, he logged an impressive 54.84 Corsi For percentage and typically helped the Wild generate offense when he was on the ice. Fiala’s play at 5-on-5 was also admirable. Unsurprisingly, Fiala, along with Matt Dumba, led the Wild with nine shots on goal at 5-on-5 throughout the series. Unfortunately, the pucks just weren’t getting past Jacob Markstrom.
3. Penalties, penalties, penalties
When you play with fire, you’re probably going to get burned. And the Wild got burned. While the dangerous Vancouver power play didn’t look like its typical self against Minnesota, they were given enough opportunities to do some legitimate damage. And had the Wild stayed disciplined and refrained from taking ill-advised penalties, it could have been a much different series.
Game 1 was nearly perfect for the Wild. Not only did they stay out of the penalty box, but they also capitalized on two of their opportunities with the man advantage. But after Game 1, the parade to the penalty box began — for both teams. In Game 2, the Wild took seven penalties. And it was in the third period that the lack of discipline caught up to them as Bo Horvat scored the game-winner on the power play. One would imagine that the penalty issues would have been addressed prior to Game 3, but that wasn’t the case. Once again, the Wild were sent to the penalty box seven times, resulting in a pair of power-play goals for Vancouver — one from Elias Pettersson and another from Burnsville’s own Brock Boeser. Minnesota managed to minimize the penalties in Game 4, but that still didn’t keep the Canucks from converting on the man advantage. Calder finalist Quinn Hughes scored to tie the game at three goals apiece.
One could argue that the officials were a bit quick to dish out penalties in this series. But the fact of the matter is that both teams took an unnecessary amount of penalties. The Wild just couldn’t survive against an elite power play.
4. Veterans did not step up
This was not a good series for a few of the Wild’s long-time stars. While Spurgeon, Parise and Eric Staal all contributed on the scoresheet, other veterans failed to step up when the Wild needed them to. Perhaps the most noticeably quiet player in the series was Mats Zuccarello. Signed to a five-year, $30 million contract last summer, one would expect the 32-year-old winger to be one of the top point producers on the team, especially given how dynamic he was for the New York Rangers. Unfortunately, Zuccarello only managed a single assist in the series despite seeing huge minutes on the power play.
Like Zuccarello, Dumba also didn’t have a particularly great series — at least in terms of point production. While he finished the series with an outstanding Expected Goals For percentage of 60.32, he also managed just one point in the series. This doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, though, considering Dumba’s down performance during the regular season.
And then, of course, there was the play of Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu. Suter, though he was unable to play in Game 4 due to injury, managed one point in his three appearances. Koivu, relegated to the fourth line for the series and much of the regular season, logged zero points. At this stage in his career, it’s unrealistic to expect an outpouring of points from Koivu, who may have just played his last NHL game. But for Suter, Zuccarello and Dumba, it was certainly a disappointing series.
5. Fiala couldn’t do it all himself
One of the few players who routinely stood out for the Wild was, of course, Kevin Fiala. Fiala scored the first goal of the series with a one-timed blast on the power play and followed that up with a two-goal performance in Game 2 (though both of his goals came long after the game was virtually over). But even when he wasn’t scoring, Fiala still found a way to make a significant impact.
Unfortunately, Fiala could only do so much on his own. He was directly responsible for nearly a third of the goals Minnesota scored in the series, and aside from Spurgeon and Kunin, no other players managed to score more than once against Vancouver.
Thankfully, it appears help is on the way for Fiala. With the signing of prized Russian prospect Kirill Kaprizov in July, the Wild now figure to have a pair of highly skilled wingers to play on the top line. And with a high draft pick in a particularly deep 2020 class, the Wild could select an eventual superstar with the No. 9 overall pick — or even the first pick!
While it’s frustrating that Fiala seemed to be one of the only Wild players to step up his game in the play-in series, it’s certainly a good sign that he has the potential to significantly impact a playoff series. With the addition of some more young talent, the Wild could be a pretty scary team very soon.