NHL PLAYOFFS: Game 1 – Wild @ Vegas

The most successful team in Wild history (by points percentage) now begins the playoffs on the road in Las Vegas, a team that could easily be the best in the NHL this season. A lot of the predictions and previews out there has focused on the Wild's success against Vegas in the regular season, where the Wild won 5 out of 8 and only lost once in regulation. That's not nothing, and it's always better to line up against a team that doesn't feel like the overwhelming favorite (see: Avalanche, Colorado), but it's also pretty clear that the Golden Knights are an elite team, one of the best in the NHL and there will be no easy wins for the Wild in this series.

I have to be honest, I don't know how I'm expecting this series to go. All the games against Las Vegas were super exciting and fun to watch, so if we get a series full of more games like that with playoff intensity on top of it? That will be something. It's been such a fun regular season, and the road through the playoffs is soooo tough, that it's impossible to say that getting knocked out would be an unexpected disappointment. But disappointment is still the word.

I really loved this look at how each team has scored against each other in the regular season. Granger did a great job of illustrating what each team has done well, and what each team has been able to remove from the other team's playbook.

A quick summary of the Las Vegas offense/Minnesota defense:

  • Las Vegas doesn't score when they dump and chase the puck. 2 out of 20 goals came off of dump-ins.
  • Las Vegas scores by shooting, they had 0 deflection or rebound goals in 8 games against Minnesota.
  • One-timers were their bread and butter (9 of 20 goals).

Minnesota just doesn't allow teams to grind out goals against them.  Their defensemen are too good at retrieving dump-ins and clearing the puck and bodies from the front of the net. If Las Vegas can carry the puck into the zone and set up some passing plays, that's when they are dangerous offensively.

A quick summary of the Minnesota offense/Las Vegas defense:

  • 13 of 22 Wild goals were scored on rebounds or deflections
  • An even split between carry-ins (11) versus dump-ins and faceoffs (11) to set up goals.

The Wild have to control the front of the net in the offensive zone. 13 goals in 8 games off of rebounds and deflections is a remarkable number, and it shows the key to beating the best goaltending tandem in the NHL (Vegas allowed the fewest goals per game in the entire league, the Wild were the only team to score more than 2.4 goals/game against them).

Speaking of goaltending....

Well, it won't surprise anyone that the goalies will go a long way toward deciding the outcome of this series. I expect the Wild to roll with Cam Talbot pretty much exclusively until they are forced to change tactics. The good news is that I don't think they need Talbot to be superhuman and single-handedly steal the series. What they do need though is for him to be solid, probably even slightly above average.  That's what they saw from Talbot almost all year, and it's one of the biggest reasons why this has been such a successful year.  If one is prone to the pessimistic view of things, one might look at Talbot's last 10 games or so and wonder if maybe above average is asking too much.  On the other hand, the Wild haven't played too many high-pressure games this season and so the potential for everyone to elevate their game is there, and we'll soon see what playoff Cam Talbot looks like.

Kirill Kaprizov Corner:

43 thoughts on “NHL PLAYOFFS: Game 1 – Wild @ Vegas”

    1. That's why coaches tell their players to "just shoot the puck". So many goals are of the "lucky" variety. If you don't shoot you never get lucky.

        1. Eh, is it “lucky” if you win on a passed ball, or a missed tackle? Or did you put yourself in a position to win by being in scoring position, maintaining composure, creating repeated opportunities to succeed, etc, etc.

  1. Game 1 thoughts

    Cam Talbot answered every question emphatically. Vegas didn't have a huge number of incredible chances, but he was always there and always solid. As has been said so often, Talbot doesn't have to be superhuman like Fleury was today, but stopping 20 shots in the first period is pretty amazing. Everything that was asked, he answered. He's playing the rest of the series, almost certainly.

    Kirill Kaprizov was the best skater for the Wild in Game 1. Kaprizov-Hartman-Zuccarello was the only Wild line to top 50% Corsi, and Kaprizov was a forechecking beast and a playmaker. No points on the scoresheet, but he set up so many Ryan Hartman chances...

    Eriksson Ek-Foligno-Greenway got shut down by the Las Vegas heavy line. Just an invisible game until the last shift. Credit where it's due though, Eriksson Ek found space and didn't try to beat Fleury high glove with his shot. Foligno disrupted the clearing attempt that allowed Greenway to carry the puck low and set up the GWG. Interesting to see if this line stays matched up with the Reaves line in future games.

    Vegas defense really good at retrieving dump ins and clearing the zone. I can't think of more than a handful of shifts where the Wild sustained pressure. Part of why Fleury was so tough to beat was every chance was one shot coming off the rush and then that was the end of the play. This surprised me a little bit how much the Wild struggled to establish their offense.

    Suter-Spurgeon pair lowest xG percentage by quite a bit of the Wild D-men. I didn't notice them being particularly bad, but it seems like they gave up the best Vegas chances, so something to watch going forward as well.

    1. Only watched the 3rd period and overtime. Kaprizov continues to amaze me. He has a way of gaining control of the puck in the offensive zone with poise. He protects the puck then maneuvers to a spot that allows the rest of his line to get in position. He has eyes in the back of his head. He might not be the fastest skater, but his skating is elite, in terms of edge work. As I have typed before, he is also the best player I have ever seen away from the puck. That is a very underrated trait for hockey players. Ek, is gaining a ton of respect around the league. On the NHL channel on Sirius XM today several analysts called him one of the best 2 way players in the NHL. Fun squad!

      1. Kaprizov had that one huge chance, and he did such an amazing job protecting the puck, even for just that fraction of a second to carry it from one side of the net to the other. He made carrying the puck through that traffic look easy.

        I still don't know how he didn't score on that one.

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