Well, let's do this one more time. The Wild play their first absolute "must-win" game of the year. They are back in Vegas, so we get another real late start, and it would be understandable if interest in this playoff season is waning. Disappointment and frustration are the dominant Wild fan feelings at this point, and the temptation is to write a post-mortem on this season already.
The Wild aren't done until they lose one more game, so let's see what they can do with their backs against the wall.
This series is causing complicated feelings
It's really hard for me to watch this series and come away with any kind of coherent analysis. The Wild have lost three games in a row despite winning a whole bunch of statistical categories, even the ones that they don't usually win.
During the season Vegas was ranked in the top 4 in the NHL in Shots%, Goals, xG, and High Danger chances (3rd, 3rd, 2nd, 4th respectively).
The Wild were in the bottom half of the NHL in Shots%, xG and High Danger Chances (21st, 21st, 19th respectively).
And yet, in this series, it's the Wild that have carried those offensive categories. Looking at this table in comparison to regular season stats you could argue that the Wild are outperforming their expectations in all categories except one.
(xG, High/Medium Danger Shot attempt numbers from MoneyPuck)
So you can look at those numbers a bunch of ways:
- Are the Wild just bad at converting offensive chances? A 3.5% shooting percentage is not going to win many games.
- Or is Marc-Andre Fleury an immovable object that just can't be overcome? Flip that 3.5% around and Fleury has a 96.5% save percentage even when we don't count game 1.
- Is Las Vegas riding a hot shooting streak and making things that much harder for the Wild? Or is Cam Talbot not holding up his end of the bargain? An 11.9% shooting percentage (or an 88.1% save percentage) makes it really hard to sustain a lead or climb back into a game.
Watching the games, I don't come away thinking that Talbot is playing poorly, just that somehow Vegas ends up with a lot of goals and capitalizes on a lot of chances. So my preliminary thought is that it's not Talbot's fault, but also that he hasn't saved a game the way he did in game 1. Unfortunately, that seems to be what's needed given what's happening at the other end of the ice.
Fleury is almost single-handedly ruining the entire playoff experience for Minnesota. He's been unbelievable in four straight games and even when he's been beat, it's almost a 50% chance that the goal will be called back after review. During the regular season, the Wild were 12-2 when they had more than 3.0 xGF and less than 2.5 xGA. In this series they are 0-2, losing both games 2 and 4.
As fans, we want the Wild to just ... fix it! Just try a different shot or a different set up and score more! But it just hasn't happened despite an awfully good effort from the Wild. They're doing everything right except scoring, and their goalie isn't playing at a superhuman level. That makes it really hard to point to something and say, "this is the thing to fix to make it work better". The only thing that's worked so far is when Cam Talbot just didn't let in any goals. If they can try that again, maybe that will work?
Whither the offensive stars?
The Wild actually had offensive production this year from more than one person! They were fun to watch! What happened to all of that?
The most productive players in the series on either team at 5 on 5?
I recognize a bunch of those names! (Full disclosure - Marcus Foligno (MIN) and William Carrier(VGK) also have 0.8 xGF in 5 on 5 play). The players that you expect to drive the Minnesota offense are right there, driving the Minnesota offense. Unfortunately, they are driving it right into a brick wall, and sometimes that gets really hard to watch.
Which brings us to the other possibility for increased offense. The power play. Las Vegas had the best or second best penalty killing season in the NHL this year (Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson in the regular season allowed two power play goals against and were on the ice for two shorthanded goals - so, that's pretty good). So coming into the series, it was pretty clear that relying on the power play was going to be not a sure thing. And, well, it hasn't been. The Wild have gone 0 for the series, and allowed a shorthanded goal (Stone, of course). They have generated exactly 1.0 xG and 2 high danger chances in 14 minutes of power play time.
It just hasn't been inspiring. One hopes that Evason is going to find a new combination or something that can make offense happen with the man advantage. The Wild need something to turn the momentum in their advantage, and the only thing that is glaringly bad right now is the power play.