Late night hockey for game 2 as the Wild look to take another game in Las Vegas.
Road teams that win games 1 and 2 in the NHL playoffs win 80% of the series (79 out of 99 historically). Road teams that win game 1 and lose game 2 win 43.5% of the series (70 out of 161 historically). Unsurprisingly, it would be good to win this game.
What we learned in Game 1
- Defense is different in the playoffs, huh?
Neither team really generated a whole lot of traffic or dangerous opportunities. Next to nothing happened in front of the net, and although there were a lot of shot attempts, the lopsided shot totals don't really represent the whole story when it comes to shot quality.
(stats from MoneyPuck)
For some context on these numbers, during their 8 meetings in the regular season, the Wild averaged 3.25 rebound shots per game and 4.88 high danger shot attempts per game. Las Vegas averaged 1.63 rebound shots per game and 3.0 high danger shot attempts.
The Vegas defense played a really good game, and Marc-Andre Fleury played a really good game. But Cam Talbot and the Wild defense were still better.
For what it's worth, Eriksson Ek's goal was graded as a medium danger shot attempt, which is actually remarkable, since the Wild scored less than half their goals against Vegas this season on low or medium danger chances. If the series continues to be this defensive, with limited high danger and rebound chances for the Wild, that plays to the Knights' favor. Looking back over the season series, it's clear which team is better suited to score in a no rebounds, low danger shots environment.
|Team||LowD Goals||MedD Goals||HighD Goals||Reb Goals|
- Fiala-Rask-Johansson just didn't work
That line was just steamrolled by the Knights. Evason tried to put them in for offensive shifts (60% of zone starts were in the offensive zone), but they couldn't create pressure (4 shot attempts, 1 shot on goal). When they were on the ice, Vegas outshot the Wild by a 3:1 margin. If this line can't put pressure on the Knights, that leaves them free to focus on quieting Kaprizov and Eriksson Ek, and that worked pretty well in Game 1.
Evason might need to bring up Bonino or Sturm to this line if they continue to struggle in game 2. Bonino-Sturm-Bjugstad had 0 offensive zone starts, but managed to keep shots even while they were on the ice - another sneaky good performance by the fourth line.
- Kaprizov is still good
I mean, yeah, we all know this by now.
Vegas matched up Kirill against their top defensive line (Marc Stone + whoever) with their top defensive pairing (Theodore/McNabb) most of the time, and Kaprizov still managed to create offense in a game that saw very little of it. Hartman-Zuccarello-Kaprizov were the only Wild forwards over 1.0 on-ice xGF. That line got 12 shots on goal at even strength, the rest of the team all together got 9.
Kaprizov knows that McNabb is coming with a slash, and he just ... doesn't let it happen. The fact that he controlled the puck through this sequence is remarkable. The fact that it didn't end up in the net at the end is completely unfair.
- Special teams not so special
5 power plays, and really only one that yielded any real scoring chances (Vegas at the end of the first period). Both penalty kills were pretty suffocating, and actually generated a couple of shorthanded shots in both directions. Either team breaking through on the power play would be huge, especially if scoring remains so difficult in this series.
What that means for Game 2
I would guess the Knights are going to do more of what they did in Game 1, focus on limiting the Wild to low danger chances and keep the front of the net clear. They kept the puck to the outside in their defensive zone and pretty effectively turned the play back the other way on Minnesota. Finding chances to beat Fleury in that environment will continue to be a challenge. The most obvious answers available are Kaprizov's creativity and the Foligno/Ek/Greenway forecheck. Get both of those going and see if Vegas will crack.
The most obvious area for improvement is the Rask-Fiala-Johansson line. Their set of skills is particularly tough to get going against a focused defensive effort as they don't dump/chase particularly well, but if they can get the puck out of their own zone and push through the neutral zone controlling the puck, that will go a long way toward allowing the Wild to create more pressure and those high-danger chances they created all season against Las Vegas.
So that's what I'm watching: Can the Ek line forecheck the Vegas D into making more mistakes? Can the Rask line move the puck in the right direction more often? What will Kirill do next?