Time to clean up the rest of this preview, with a brief glance at the special teams and then try and guess how it’s all going to go.
On the power play, the Wild have for years been terrible. That changed in the first round, and you can mostly pin that on the presence of Matt Dumba. The Wild went 4-for-12 in the series against St. Louis, which isn’t a lot of chances in a six-game series but certainly is enough power play goals. Dumba had one, and set up one or two more with the cannon he has from the point. It gives them a second point-man with a big shot, with the other being Jason Pominville, who they don’t always use on the point. With Neiderreiter, Vanek, Parise, and Koivu all bodies that can make plays around the net, and the problems the Hawks had with the Predators down low on the power play, this could become an issue.
The Wild PK could be another problem. Even though the Hawks’ PP was able to come up with a couple big goals in Game 1 and 6, no one around here is ever going to be convinced that it will be a constant threat. The Wild were able to hold the Blues to two power play goals over six games, in 11 chances.
The main fear of the Wild PK is the amount of talented, speedy forwards that can attack the Hawks at the points and expose this umbrella they went to at the end of the season that gave up a raft of shorthanded chances. Parise, Coyle, Koivu, Brodziak, Fontaine, and Granlund all kill penalties for the Wild and can apply high pressure to a Hawks’ power play that doesn’t really handle high pressure well, especially on the points. It might leave open those give-and-go’s that Keith will sometimes start where he dishes to Kane on the wall, gets behind the pressuring forward and is wide open in the middle of the ice. Once again, and as they did a lot to the Preds to be fair, stationing Toews in the high slot to keep the forwards on a leash lest they give him too much space, will be of importance.
What Does It All Mean?
It’s hard to get a true handle on this series, because where we knew exactly what Peter Laviolette would do as he only knows one way, Mike Yeo is no such easy study. Just one year ago, Mike Yeo changed plans from period to period and it took just about six games for the Hawks to catch up. One period they would trap, and then the very next one they were sending two forwards in on the forecheck with a third ready to pounce, and then back again. It’s actually rare that you have a team as flexible as that and a coach willing to use it, but the Wild have both.
It’s also hard to glean much from the regular season meetings. The three Hawks wins came when the Wild were having goalie problems. The first Wild win was on the Ice Show trip and the Hawks clearly didn’t give much of a fuck before turning it on to end that trip against the Jets and Blues. The last meeting was the last home game of the season, and the Hawks didn’t have Patrick Kane and that was the night Q tried to hint that he didn’t want to finish higher than 3rd and had Rozsival and Rundblad out there in the last minute down a goal (and Versteeg too, who gave away the puck for the empty-netter in perhaps the most predictable mistake this side of Tet Offensive).
We can say relatively confidently that the Wild can’t push the pace as hot as the Predators did, because they don’t have the mobility on the back end. If the Wild were to try and sit on the Hawks’ line for as long as the Preds did, Leopold, Scandella, even Suter and Brodin would be at serious risk of getting beat back up the ice (Suter’s skating brilliance is built in its efficiency, not necessarily top end speed).
But that doesn’t mean the Wild can’t play fast, because their forwards certainly are quick. They’re not going to want to go up and down with the Hawks, but then it doesn’t feel like the Hawks want to go up and down either with only Keith being a real transition d-man at the moment (unless Oduya can find his end of season form). I think we’ll probably see Yeo bounce back and forth again from period to period, but not as violently as last year.
The plan of attack for the Wild won’t look too different from Nashville’s. They’ll try and get the Hawks to back up off their blue line to carry the puck in, though the Wild are more built to win pucks along the wall than the Preds are with Parise, Neiderreiter, Koivu, Vanek (maybe, depending on mood that day) and Stewart all good forecheckers. But because of the gap that should be between the Minnesota forwards and their defense that can’t be right up on the play all the time, if the Hawks move the puck quickly they won’t come up against as tight of a pinch at their line as they did in the 1st round. That means getting through the neutral zone and hitting the Wild line with speed, and that’s generally when good things happen.
It’s impossible to predict what Devan Dubnyk or Corey Crawford will do. Dubnyk got something of a sweetheart assignment in his first playoff experience, because we all know the Blues are always waiting for a chance to freeze and then puke all over themselves, which they did. The Hawks don’t come with that, and as currently constructed will roll four lines of threats. My guess is that neither goalie will either win or lose this series.
At the end of it, the Wild’s possession numbers are what rings the loudest. It is almost impossible to fathom how the Wild can cede 53-55% of the shot attempts over seven games to the Hawks and come out ahead unless Dubnyk stands on his head, and we can’t say that will happen for sure. And whatever his first round hiccup may have been, Crow has the much more accomplished playoff record and is just as likely to stone the Wild as Dubs is the Hawks. Whereas the Blues only had three or four threats even with all that possession, the Hawks have Hossa, Saad, Toews, Kane, Sharp, Bickell, Shaw, Kruger, all of whom have had playoff binges for a handful of games at some point, and that’s not even including Richards and Vermette. I just don’t see the Wild holding up to all that on the back foot as much as they were in the first round and in reality how much they’ve been for pretty much the 2nd half of the season.
It looks like last year’s series to me, five home wins before the Hawks scratch out a road win in Game 6.