NHL PLAYOFFS: Game 2 – Wild @ Vegas

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.

TeamLowD GoalsMedD GoalsHighD GoalsReb 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?

32 thoughts on “NHL PLAYOFFS: Game 2 – Wild @ Vegas”

      1. He has been absurd. But the Wild look darn good too. This is fun so far.

  1. Fiala looks like a man possessed out there.

    Wild forecheck in general is working pretty well.

    Felt like a good period with no reward (dammit, Fleury)

    1. I have to say though, that I'm always super nervous when Vegas is in the offensive zone, and Talbot is consistently demonstrating that I should breath more easy.

  2. Game 2 takeaways:

    Fleury - The Wild did exactly what they wanted to do. They generated chances in front of the net, they outshot Vegas (not easy to do), they won the first half of this game everywhere but on the scoreboard. And that's down to Fleury.

    Kevin Fiala - Really good game, Fiala is at his best when he peppers the net. He's not a player that scores with one or two shots, he scores by volume. 8 shots in this game and the highest on-ice xG of any Wild forward. With Fiala on the ice, the Wild outshot the Golden Knights 2:1, which is night and day from what happened in Game 1. The only thing missing here is getting on the scoresheet, but if he plays like this, he'll get there.

    Top three lines played really well. If the Wild play a game like this every time out, they will win a lot more games than they lose.

    Kirill Kaprizov had the quietest game I've seen from him in quite a while. That happens, and I'm not too concerned. I'm super excited to see what happens in Minnesota when line-matching can be turned in the Wild's favor.

        1. Aren't changes done on the fly? Or do you mean when there's stoppage of play?

          (man, I'm hockey ignorant)

    1. Re: Fiala - but he was the one out of position on that second goal, right?

      Re: Kaprizov - Seemed like there was an extra level of the clutching/hitting/grabbing etc., including after the play. That was why Dumba got the roughing penalty, right? Or has that always been there at that level, and I'm just seeing it?

      1. I'll take Fiala driving offense and shooting the puck even if he makes occasional defensive mistakes.

        The second goal...

        Coming over the line, the Wild are set up fine. Suter will step up to force Pietrangelo to get rid of the puck, and the Wild have two guys back (Fiala and Spurgeon) to cover two Knights.

        The first mistake is when Talbot doesn't control the shot and the puck ends up directly behind the net, usually he'd either control it or direct it to the corner. Now the question is - who retrieves the puck? (Hint - the answer is not anyone in a white sweater)

        Notice that Janmark has caught up to and almost passed both Fiala and Spurgeon from the first image to the second. Spurgeon really didn't move his feet at all through this whole sequence and that ends up really hurting the Wild because Janmark is able to get the puck without trouble, and have enough time and space to decide whether to carry behind the net or center the puck immediately. If Spurgeon pressures Janmark as he retrieves it, this is harder. Janmark centering immediately was a really nice play it got through Talbot and Spurgeon I think because neither was expecting it, and it fooled Fiala ... because Fiala went to the far side of the net to seal off a wraparound or a centering pass coming from Janmark carrying the puck behind the net. That never happened, and so he was not in a position to do anything about the centering pass to Tuch.

        Good play by Janmark, bad read by Fiala, really wish Spurgeon had pressured Janmark a little better after Talbot put the puck behind the net.

        1. Ok, there was way more happening there than I could pick up on.

          Let me ask the follow up question that I think your breakdown here begs: has Spurgeon fallen off a bit this year?

          1. I think Spurgeon has generally been the Wild's best defenseman. He could not generate any offense this year for some reason (*cough* shooting percentage is a volatile stat *cough*), but all his analytic numbers showed that he should be generating much more.

            Evolving Hockey has him as the most valuable skater on the Wild in both expected defensive outcomes (tied with Brodin) and actual defensive results, and he had the biggest difference between expected offensive outcomes (where he ranks 6th highest on the team) and actual offensive results (18th out of 19). Overall, they have him as the second best Wild defenseman in actual results (behind Carson Soucy - I mentioned he had a crazy good year, right?) and the best in expected outcomes. It certainly wasn't his best year statistically, but there's not much to say that he's played any worse that I can see.

            1. This is why I asked. My perception as a casual fan is he wasn't going as good, but it's probably just the difference between expected and actual results.

      2. Interesting (to me) is reading the recaps and how different people break down that second goal.

        Hockey Wilderness blamed Suter and Spurgeon for not getting to the front of the net.

        Part of the blame here can be placed on the defensemen, Suter and Spurgeon, who both decide to follow the puck behind the net in spite of the threat of a Vegas player driving the net. Typically, only one player should venture behind his own net unless the opponent sends three players behind the net to overload that area, and center Ryan Hartman (whose responsibility would normally be to cover the net front for the defensemen if both do have to chase behind the net) is the last Wild skater to return to the play. It’s a bit more complicated than that due to the quick nature of Vegas coming in on the rush, but overall the play seems to have a few small mistakes on a tough play rather than anything glaring.

        Russo points out that Johansson (the fourth Wild player back) picked up nobody.

        Eleven seconds after the giveaway, the puck was in Minnesota’s net after Johansson also lollygagged up the ice as Janmark sped all the way from his own goal line to beyond the Wild’s goal line to reach the puck first and set up Tuch in the slot. Johansson wasn’t defending a soul when the puck entered the net.

        So, apparently this is one of those Rorschach goals that allows one to see whatever they want in it.

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