This is my first article for Gone Puck Wild. I’d just like to thank Dakota, Derek and everybody else involved with this blog and the Fansided network for the opportunity.
With 4 games left in the regular season, the Minnesota Wild are currently experiencing the rare phenomenon of playing meaningful games in April. While they are not a lock to make the play-offs just yet, they are certainly in a position of strength in the developing skirmish between the teams in and around the play-off bubble.
There’s still a (very small) chance that they could catch Vancouver and take the last ever Northwest Division title along with the 3rd seed, but this would require a monumental collapse by our friends in BC. The battle to determine who gets seeds 4-6 could be quite interesting, depending on how the Blues fare down the stretch. If they slip-up, then the Wild will have a very strong chance to take the 6th seed.
Anyway, to get to the point, I am of the opinion that the best thing that could happen for the Wild is this: they take enough points in their last few games to hold onto 7th and the Blues stay hot and lock-down the 6th seed. The reason why? A play-off series against the Canucks, Kings or Sharks, without home-ice advantage, spells a certain 1st round exit. On the other hand, the Ducks, who have the 2nd seed all but locked-up, may be vulnerable and an ideal match-up for the Wild.
The Ducks have had a great season. They hit the ground running on the back of Daniel Winnik’s insane early season scoring, Viktor Fasth’s stellar performances in net and a resurgent Ryan Getzlaf leading by example, and have held down 2nd place in the West for almost the entire year. They showed a remarkable ability to come back to win games from behind and seemed to come out night after night and play with the same energy and chemistry regardless of how much Bruce Boudreau changed-up the lines.
But during this rise, the Ducks rode some incredibility high and very unsustainable percentages. They have led the league in PDO for most of the year, which, as always, according to the advanced stats community means they will eventually see their numbers regress to the mean and the wins dry-up. They did well enough early in the season to lock-up their play-off berth, but recently they have somewhat come crashing back to Earth, posting a 7-8-3 record since March 16th, and getting outscored 37 to 46. They still hold a league-leading PDO number 1.045 which suggests this trend will continue. (For more info about PDO numbers: http://nhlnumbers.com/2013/4/15/pdo-numbers-by-nhl-team-apr-15)
It is worth noting that in a shortened season, these numbers aren’t quite as telling as they would be over 82 games due to the smaller sample size, but they certainly cannot be dismissed outright. Even the most hardened Ducks fans know that the team’s performances on the ice have slipped and that they are in danger of being one-and-done after such a promising start to the year.
The Wild met the Ducks 3 times this season. The first game, in Anaheim found the Wild starting strong before being completely outplayed (FINAL SCORE: 1-3). In the 2nd meeting, once again in SoCal, the Ducks dominated for the first half of the game before the Wild turned it around and nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback (FINAL SCORE: 2-3). The final regulation meeting took place at the Xcel Energy Centre where the Wild completely dominated the game, but whether due to being wasteful on the Powerplay, losing concentration after Corey Perry’s illegal hit on Jason Zucker or just the Ducks being incredibly lucky, they somehow managed to lose what was probably the most frustrating game of the year (FINAL SCORE: 1-2).
It might seem strange to want to take on a team that went 0-3 against the Wild this year, but I feel like the Wild improved with each game and were never blown-out, not to mention the fact that all 3 games happened back when the Ducks were at their best, before regression kicked in.
If the Blues do slip up and the Wild end up with the 6th seed, then we will be treated to a series against everyone’s favorite team, the Vancouver Canucks.
After two consecutive President’s Trophy wins, this has been a somewhat strange year for the ‘Nucks. As always, they are on course to win the Northwest division comfortably, but they have struggled to get any kind of production from their Powerplay (ranked 26th in the league) and have suffered from serious injury problems at center with Ryan Kesler and Manny Malholtra missing most of the year injured, leaving rookie Jordan Schroeder to pick up the slack. This problem is evident in their 47.5% at the face-off dot (ranked 26th in the league).
These issues aside, the Canucks are a positive puck possession team, have the fourth-highest goal differential in the Western Conference, and have 2 extremely talented goaltenders to call upon. The deadline acquisition of Derek Roy from the Stars, and Kesler’s return to full health should fix their problems at center.
In terms of how they stack-up against the Wild, I think it’s pretty obvious that the gap is not as wide as in previous years. The 2 teams split the season series, with Vancouver winning 4-1 on the road, and then 2-1 at home, before the Wild hit their stride and won 4-2 at home and then 3-1 in Vancouver. The games were extremely exciting and chippy, showing a lot of evidence that a play-off series between these two clubs would be great to watch. But, viewing pleasure aside, I would be worried about the Wild stumbling early on in the play-offs against a hardened, perennial play-off team. With the West being as tight as it is, taking a game or two to ease into a series is likely a death sentence.
Aside from all the regression talk, I think the fact that the Ducks didn’t make the play-offs last year and have a relatively new coach at the helm, as well as a lot of young players and new faces amongst the veteran stars could make them an easier match-up for the Wild.
I already mentioned how a series with the Canucks would be high on entertainment value given the how volatile regular season games between the two teams can get. But I also see many aspects of a Wild/Ducks series that could make it great viewing:
- There’s some reasonable play-off history between the two clubs. The Ducks dumped the Wild out in 2003 (4-0) after their miraculous run to the Western Conference Finals (before they went on to get beaten by New Jersey in the finals, winning goal courtesy of Mike Rupp). They also knocked the Wild out in 2007, this time 4-1, in the 1st round (there’s still 5 players on the Wild roster who played in that series).
- A Wild/Ducks series would potentially mean a lot of talented young players taking the ice together as both teams are stacked with prospects. With Brodin, Coyle, Granlund, Zucker, Dumba (maybe), Etem, Palmieri, Fowler, Vatanen etc. all potentially being involved, it could make things very interesting as we see future stars get their first taste of the NHL play-offs.
- The Perry/Zucker incident earlier in the season might add another crease to the series and add to the overall intensity.
- If the Wild flamed out in heart-breaking fashion, I wouldn’t even feel that bad because, c’mon, who can be mad at Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu?
(Now that I’ve written this article, I’ve all-but-guaranteed that the Wild will finish 8th and get annihilated in the 1st round by the Blackhawks. Sorry, guys.)