With tomorrow’s Game Five matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks just around the corner, the Minnesota Wild have their backs against the wall. Minnesota is down 3-1 in the series, but the numbers don’t reflect just how close these two teams have been.
The turning point of the series was arguably as early as Game One when Wild rookie winger Jason Zucker’s shot glanced off the crossbar, just barely missing the back of the Chicago net. The Blackhawks’ Bryan Bickell would score the overtime winner, but Zucker had his own time to shine when he scored an overtime winner of his own in Game Three in Minnesota’s first game of the series on home ice.
The problem is that Minnesota isn’t capitalizing on the chances given to them. The team has had a whopping 15 power play opportunities in the series and can’t convert on a single one. Granted, not enough credit is given to Chicago’s exceptional defense. However, with seasoned veterans like Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Devin Setoguchi, it’s not unreasonable for Wild fans and coaches to expect the biscuit in the basket on a few of those opportunities.
Another major problem is that the team is getting absolutely nothing from captain and franchise cornerstone Mikko Koivu in this series whatsoever. In four games, Koivu has no points, a negative-5 rating, eight penalty minutes (a ’12-’13 postseason team high), nine shots and a 52.6 faceoff percentage. The only reason his faceoff percentage is anywhere near respectable is due to his 15 wins in 20 face-offs in Minnesota’s 3-2 overtime victory in Game Three. In the two games before and one since, Koivu’s faceoff percentage has been below 48%.
If Minnesota is going to win the next three games, they’re going to need Koivu to step up his game and lead by example. That means winning face-offs in key situations and in all zones, getting the puck on net, making smart plays and not taking “no” for an answer.
Finally, this team just doesn’t have the legs to compete in a north-south race with the best team in the NHL. Mike Yeo needs to get his team back to the way they played on Sunday afternoon. They were physical, they dominated the game, dictated the play and didn’t back down or give in to Chicago. The way they played Game Three is the true identity of this Wild club when they stay faithful to the system. If they can get back to that, and capitalize on the opportunities that are given to them, this team has as good a chance as any to make it past the Blackhawks to Round Two.