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  • Recap: Wild unlucky in loss to Blues


    This was a game the Wild deserved to win.

    Per MoneyPuck.com, they controlled most all of the advanced metrics, registered 30 shots on goal, and saw good performances from many of their skaters after a wilting effort on Friday night. They even scored on the power play, which should be enough for this club to win on any night.

    Unfortunately for the Wild, the St. Louis Blues were able to tie the game after both of Minnesota’s goals. Part of the reason for this could be that while both teams notched 30 SOG, the Wild found themselves laying more hits and blocking more shots than the Blues. The conventional wisdom is that this shows toughness (it does) and is a good sign (it’s not). The problem with these hit and block “advantages” is that the Wild were playing without the puck any time they checked a blue jersey or blocked a shot.

    It’s possible that this possession differential was difficult on a team that played just last night. Anybody who’s played the game of hockey knows that when your team has the puck, you never feel tired. This could explain the late-game meltdown that eventually cost the Wild the winner point in overtime - their legs simply weren’t there.

    The Wild started the game off well - keeping pace in a controlled, defensive 1st period, they capped off the frame with a Nico Sturm goal. Sturm had been scratched the night before and came out firing, much to the glee of the Minnesota faithful.

    It was just the kind of goal the green gunners needed to give them faith in their defense - keep the Blues to the perimeter, and our goals will come.

    St. Louis evened up the game early in the second period from the stick of Mike Hoffman, gunning it home on the power play from the right wing circle. The lefty essentially potted an Ovechkin one-timer in reverse. To cap the period, however, Matt Dumba said “anything you can do I can do backwards,” blistering a power play goal past Ville Husso.

    The term “laser” doesn’t do this shot justice. Dumba completely plastered this puck into the top corner, and hopefully that’s a sign of things to come for the Wild’s hardest point shooter. After his pectoral injury nearly two years ago, it seems that Dumba’s shot is truly back just in time for an electric year with Kaprizov.

    Minnesota seemed primed to finish the game off, allowing only .778 xG in the third period, until Mike Hoffman scored a Mickey Mouse goal with the extra attacker. The Wild were stuck killing time in their own zone getting tired, and began collapsing to the net to block shots rather than pressure puck carriers. Hoffman sent a puck to the net, which was booted aside easily by Talbot - right into two retreating Wild defenders, who ricocheted the rebound into their own net. It was like the opposite of a dude perfect shot - couldn’t be done again in a hundred tries - and the game bled to OT.

    At 3-on-3, Minnesota fared poorly. We hardly possessed the puck and only took one shot attempt, a .03 xG shot on goal by Kaprizov. Shots like that make me wonder at times whether there has been too much pressure on the budding superstar to simplify his game and leverage his shot, when in fact his playmaking and stickhandling are likely his most dominant traits.

    After that shot, the Blues held the puck and hemmed Minnesota in their own end. To the credit of the Wild, St. Louis didn’t penetrate the middle of the zone at all in this time, and the game seemed destined for a shootout as Kaprizov chased Vince Dunn out to center ice with twenty seconds left in the extra frame. Unfortunately for us, Dunn escaped the pesky Siberian. The Blues came in for one more rush, and when ROR took the puck behind the net with under five seconds, he surprised Talbot on the wraparound with a hard backhand shot into the short-side top corner.

    After such a solid effort in response to Friday night’s 9-1 loss, this was a crusher to fans and it must also have been for the players. Getting the loser point is a consolation on many nights, but tonight felt like the Wild earned a win.

    While the Blues haven’t appeared to be that dangerous as yet this year - ranked 23rd in MoneyPuck’s statistical team power rankings going into the night - they are becoming a team that the Wild need to take seriously. Landing second or third in the division has to be Minnesota’s goal at this point in order to avoid a first-round playoff matchup in Denver. Monday night, the Wild will hope to even the season series vs. St. Louis at 2-2. If they can’t do that, the team’s hope for a friendly first-round matchup may rely on drawing Vegas, which won’t be likely if we can’t win against the top teams in the division to close out the regular season.

    Burning Questions

    Can Zach Parise build on his performance?

    Parise did deliver a solid performance tonight. Playing primarily on a line with Eriksson Ek and Johansson, they delivered a 5-on-5 xG% of 78.3%, a dominating figure in the possession metrics. Another good sign for the veteran winger is that he notched 4 shots on goal - Parise is what many call a “volume scorer,” meaning that rather than seeking high-quality opportunities, he has a “the more I shoots, the more I scores” mentality. Seeing Parise generate successful on-ice metrics while playing his game is encouraging.

    Will Cam Talbot continue his strong play?

    The Wild only gave up a total xG against of 1.82. This figure implies a solid defensive performance and a relatively low workload for Talbot; however, the goal scored late in the third period was a bad bounce - more so the result of bad luck than poor goaltending. Ignoring that goal, the Blues earned about the two others that they acquired.

    The real issue I take with Talbot tonight is the overtime winner. No doubt, it was a terrific shot by O’Reilly; however, with a two defenders out front and two seconds left in OT, Talbot has to know O’Reilly is likely to shoot, not pass. When a player is in tight to the net and the goalie is set, both the shooter and goalie know that it’s a race to the top corner. Talbot didn’t stand up quickly enough, and it sealed the game for the Blues. It’s a nitpick in an otherwise solid game for Talbot, but in my opinion that late game lapse is disappointing in that it spoils his night.

    Will Kyle Rau get more ice time?

    Rau did not see as much ice time as he did in Friday night’s shellacking, when he played 13:15. His primary line with Cramarossa and Sturm played 8:52 together, but with the odds and ends between changes he racked up a total TOI of 12:42. The 4th line was dominant at possession play with an xG% of 82%, and Rau posted a personal on-ice 5-on-5 xG% of 72%. Rau played fewer minutes than every forward besides Zach Parise, so at least for tonight he didn’t see an uptick in usage despite being a lone analytical bright spot on Friday.

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