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  • The Dumba-Brodin Pairing Is Going Out On A High Note

    Image courtesy of David Berding-USA Today Sports
    Matthew Smith

    The Minnesota Wild, with their season on the brink, have a goals problem. 

    Down in their first-round series against the Dallas Stars, the Wild have been outscored 17-13. With nine of those goals coming on the powerplay, the problem hasn’t been keeping the puck out of the net at even strength. While playing at 5-on-5 — bad Marcus Foligno penalties notwithstanding — the Wild are outscoring the Stars eight to six. 

    Holding their Texan opponents to just six even-strength goals — tied for the second-lowest total amongst all playoff teams — hasn't been the focus when talking about this series. It's just a silver lining to be taken from Minnesota's middling post-season performance from the Wild. It is, however, also the key to getting out of this series victory.

    That 5-on-5 success is being built on the foundation of the excelling duo of stalwart Jonas Brodin and his partner (and pending unrestricted free agent) Matt Dumba.

    While Dumba has become an enemy of the Lone Star State after his hit on Joe Pavelski in the series opener, he also drew the ire of many Wild fans through the first half of the regular season. Despite the theory that most players play their best hockey in a contract year, Dumba fumbled through the regular season, putting up a career-worst 14 points in 79 games.

    His total output in the 2021-22 season was almost twice what he mustered this season, as last year, the typically offensively-risky defenseman put up 27 points in 59 games. His tendency to throw out errant passes and get caught pinching drives fans and coaching staff up the wall, both then and now.

    While his offensive production hasn’t picked up tremendously, he does have two points in five games, which is definitely an improvement. He's also deserving a ton of praise showered on him for his defensive play in this series. Typically, it's a flaw, but in these past five games, it's a strength and it's benefitted the Wild.

    Partnered with Brodin, they’ve anchored the Wild’s defensive group, allowing only a single goal through more than 80 minutes of even-strength ice time together, according to Evolving Hockey.

    The Dumba/Brodin pairing is thriving where the rest of the Wild have been floundering. Together, they're denying zone entries and limiting opportunities off the rush. Nearly all of the Stars' chances are generated by their speedy forwards like Roope Hintz slicing through the Wild blueline. Still, one part of the Wild's de facto two top-pairing quality units are doing their best at limiting those chances.

    Watching the games, you can see how effective the pairing has been, but thanks to the invaluable data from Corey Sznajder’s All Three Zones project, we know just how effective the long-standing duo is against Dallas' lethal attack.

    Through the series' first four games, the combo of Dumba and Brodin were tasked with defending their own zone more than any other pairing, including Jared Spurgeon and Jacob Middleton. In the 60 instances of Dallas trying to carry the puck across the blue line, Dumba and Brodin have managed to stop the attempt in their tracks 11 times.

    That's more than double any other pairing. Using their bodies and their sticks, they’ve gummed up the front of their net for the typically high-flying Stars offense and made life easier for the rotating cast of Filip Gustavsson and Marc-André Fleury. Their ability to thwart the Stars' rush offense also results in them moving the puck back up the ice quickly. Dumba leads all defensemen with eight successful zone exits and trails behind just Ryan Hartman and Kirill Kaprizov in that category.

    The success of the pairing hasn’t been completely Dumba’s doing, as Brodin has been his usual steady, reliable, and largely unheralded self. We’ve been going on for years that Brodin doesn’t get the credit for his defensive play — outside of being one of the rare Connor McDavid neutralizers — around the league. Paired with Dumba, he’s shown off his elite skills against the Stars.

    They are Minnesota's only defensive pairing in positive territory when it comes to the shot share at even strength, taking 53% according to Evolving Hockey. Head coach Dean Evason is able to throw the pair over the boards against any line the Stars send out and get good results. They’ve seen the best that Dallas can send at them — including one of the best lines in the NHL this year in Robertson, Hintz, Tyler Seguin in place of injured Joe Pavelski — and still come out ahead.

    While the Minnesota Wild could potentially exit the first round with a whimper, if this is Dumba's curtain call with the organization he's been a part of since 2012, it's a fantastic one. He’s done a dynamite job with Brodin to contribute all they can to win this series. While Brodin typically gets all the flowers for being the defensively responsible one in the couple, Dumba shows that he can play that game, too, and we should remember him for that if this is indeed the end of his time in Minnesota.

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    I hope Dumba stays for less money. He’s been good overall. Playoffs, he has always been reliable. I think he’s been good at not taking penalties this series. He is a guy who tightens up and elevates his game in the postseason. 

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