How the Coyotes addressed the Wild tonight:
Minnesota put together a strong first period, ending with 1.66 xG compared to Arizona’s 1 xG per MoneyPuck. Off of a solid goaltending performance from Talbot, the real score ended 2-0 off of Dumba’s finish in a scrum and a pretty goal from Greenway.
Personally, I was riding high at this point. I had finished a glass of wine, the team looked prime to get the series sweep over the Yotes, and the offense was humming from the way they looked and the advanced analytics. The Wild were playing their game, dominating quality and possession while getting solid goaltending from Talbot.
Unfortunately for the Red and Green, the desert is a strange place. The winds started to blow high, and some fans in the stands might say that it rose to something of a howl. The North Stars throwback jerseys were powerless so far from their home in the True North, especially in the presence of those sick purple Kachina sweaters.
After the first intermission, Darcy Kuemper shut the door on Minnesota, likely because the witches of the desert hexed the Wild via the Blood of Members Past.
Cam Talbot played well, making some huge saves to keep the wild in a two-goal game by the end of the third. While he didn’t quite measure up to the workload he faced, it didn’t matter in the end as the Wild failed to outscore the Coyotes’ 3.03 total xG. The Wild’s scorers only got two pucks past Kuemper, and Talbot’s role has been clearly established - his job is to only give up what the Wild allow. The Wild’s skaters gave up a rare performance in which they failed to generate as much quality as they gave up to their opponents: the posted an xG rate of 47%, excluding Arizona’s empty net shot.
For my money, this is the result of the two teams’ styles of play. The Wild control possession by regrouping at our own blue line, then effectively break out and control play along the offensive end boards. It relies on simple, consistent plays from our smooth-skating and skilled defensemen.
The Coyotes play a very unconventional forecheck. Most teams in the NHL pressure with 1 forward, and set up the rest of the team in some form of trap in the neutral zone in hopes of pressuring the puck carrier into turning over possession. Aggressive forechecking teams may have a second forward play higher to take away the rim play to the far side of the boards, but this forward typically peels back to the NZ easily. The Coyotes, like the Philadelphia Flyers, play a 2-1-2 formation forecheck. In simple terms, this means that two forwards play man coverage on the Wild defensemen, while the other three cover breakout passes to the Wild forwards.
This puts our breakout far outside of its comfort zone - rather than having a simple check-down to the D-partner in order to reset the breakout, the Coyotes force the Wild to pass north immediately. These passes often turned to offsides, icing, or falling into traps set by the back three members of Arizona’s forecheck which are quickly turned into odd-man rushes for the Coyotes.
The good news for the Wild is that most teams don’t want to play this style because of the perceived risk of putting two forwards deep in the offensive zone. If we can get a reasonable points percentage against Arizona over the regular season, they likely won’t present a problem in the playoffs as they’re unlikely to be among the top four teams in the division. The game against Arizona on Friday showed that this is totally feasible for the Wild when playing with a lead.
Going forward, it would be best for Minnesota to focus on limiting the Coyotes’ offense until they are forced to press, and then exploiting it when they deviate from their structure. Talbot and Kahkonen give the Wild a chance to win every night, and the team remains exciting.
If Parise’s struggles continue, does he move in the lineup?
Parise, Bjugstad, and Fiala actually played quite well tonight. Parise mustered a meager .14 xG, but his possession and quality driving metrics were solid for the whole line at above 80 xG%. This was largely driven by Bjugstad’s .8 xG which was set up by Fiala, but Parise was part of the team on this line and undoubtedly contributed to the success in the way veteran leaders do - with small, savvy plays on the edge of the screen.
Another bad powerplay night?
The Power Play went 0-2 and generated .04 xG per MoneyPuck. While two powerplays isn’t going to get you a goal very often by league-average standards, you’d like to see the Wild post about .2 xG (or 20% of a goal) on every Power Play - for those keeping score at home, that’s .4 xG if you get two Power Plays. Tonight, we mustered a tenth of that.
Can the Wild improve at the faceoff dot?
Minnesota was handled 56.5% to 43.6% on faceoffs. In a word, no. The good news here is that the Wild know they don’t have center depth, and are working to acquire some. Furthermore, a faceoff is not actually a very high-value play - it’s the same as a 50/50 at the boards or anywhere else on the ice. The Wild have opted to get their best players on the ice, with faceoffs as a secondary consideration, and this is something that I can support as long as Guerin is patiently adjusting the roster.
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