Minnesota Wild Strategy: Beating St. Louis Blues In Round One


Hockey strategy can be a lot like be chef at a prestigious restaurant.  A chef will pick the best ingredients that suit their tastes and try to bring out the best of those materials to make the best tasting dish they can.  A hockey coach does much the same thing with personnel groupings, where they figure out what lines and pairings work best to try to bring out the best result.  I have no doubt Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo and St. Louis Blues bench boss Ken Hitchcock are looking back at film trying to determine what combinations work best.

While having the right personnel is important, part of the art of getting it right is using those players the correct way to bring about success.  The Hockey News certainly has their thoughts on what needs to happen in order for the Minnesota Wild to prevail.  Which strategies or tactics can the Minnesota Wild use to beat the St. Louis Blues?  The wrong strategy squanders the ability of your personnel and both clubs have high expectations of a long playoff run.  Here is how I would do it.

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  • 1.  Embrace the speed & puck possession game ~ The truth is, the Minnesota Wild are not a rough and tumble hockey club.  Especially in comparison to the St. Louis Blues which features a number of big mean skaters like team captain David Backes, Steve Ott, Barrett Jackman, Alex Pietrangelo and Ryan Reaves the Wild do not really match up in regards to physical tenacity.  So the Wild would be wise to embrace being faster and holding on the puck to drive the Blues’ collection of bigger bodies nuts by depriving them of time and space and forcing St. Louis to exert a lot of energy chasing them all over the ice.  There is little question the Blues will attempt to impose themselves physically on the smaller and weaker Wild squad.

    The Minnesota Wild have a nice collection of very fast forwards at their disposal in Jason Zucker, Chris StewartErik Haula and Jordan Schroeder that can put opposing defenseman on their heels which can maximize the finesse we have on our blueline with Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon and Mathew Dumba.  Zucker would be best used on the team’s top 6, while Haula and Schroeder on the bottom 6 which would provide that speed element to apply consistent pressure on the Blues’ defenseman.  Attacking off the rush and backing off defenders by charging towards the crease the Wild and opening up space for the drop pass which often leads to a quality scoring chance.  Slowing the game down only serves to make it a strength game where St. Louis has a distinct advantage.  So I wouldn’t be placing a premium on slower, perhaps stronger and more experienced players like Ryan Carter, Sean Bergenheim or Matt Cooke.

    2.  Any shot is a good shot ~ One thing that amazes me is that as skilled the game can be it often can be most the most simple plays that make all of the difference.  The Minnesota Wild have been guilty at times of trying to be too fancy with the puck and making that additional pass when it would be better served by simply sending a shot on goal.  It is somewhat understandable for playmakers like Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund to try to make that extra pass but it’s incredibly frustrating when a scorer like Thomas Vanek declines shooting the puck when the opportunity presents itself.

    Against a solid defensive team like the St. Louis Blues, the Wild cannot afford to pass up chances to shoot the puck.  As the YouTube clip above demonstrates good things happen when you shoot the puck and even though I believe the Wild got lucky with some favorable bounces, but many of those sequences took place because the team took its chance to shoot the puck.  When the Detroit Red Wings were in their glory years, and whenever they were struggling to score they often seemed to just start throwing pucks on goal and hoping for the best and they were often rewarded for it.  Ugly goals count just as much as the pretty ones do and the Minnesota Wild would be well-served to adopt this simple, straight-forward approach.

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    3.  Backchecking and shot blocking are essential ~ The Wild found out the hard way on Saturday what happens when your backchecking lags a bit against a potent offensive team like the St. Louis Blues.  In many ways the Wild have been spoiled by the play of Devan Dubnyk, who has been nothing short of phenomenal as he has bailed the team out many times when it has made defensive mistakes.  When the Wild were backchecking the Blues were creating very little in the way of offensive pressure and Minnesota was able to have the lion’s share of quality scoring chances and possession.

    Blocking shots are a both a test of individual courage and dedication to their teammates as you try to limit the amount of shots that reach Dubnyk.  With Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and sniper Vladimir Tarasenko the Wild will have do what they can to deny these players time and space with the puck.  Having a faster lineup will also assist the team’s backchecking efforts which were serve to thwart and frustrate the Blues in the process.  It might seem like an obvious point, but Dubnyk cannot be expected to deliver the victories all by himself.  The last few weeks have shown the Wild can be successful by holding a stalemate through the first 2 periods that they have a fair chance at winning the game in the 3rd period and backchecking and shot blocking will be a big part of that.

    4.  The Power Play must create offensive pressure ~ If the Wild have any glaring area of weakness it’s the power play.  It makes it that much more remarkable this year’s club was the highest scoring Wild team in franchise history while having the 28th ranked power play in the NHL.  That will need to change in the playoffs where power plays can serve as perhaps the most powerful measure of accountability any team can levy towards its opponents.  In 2002-03, a far less talented Wild squad than this one used a red-hot power play (it too had a terrible regular season power play) to make its way to the Western Conference finals.

    The Wild certainly have more scoring depth throughout its lineup, but having a power play that at least applies significant pressure can help tire out the Blues and help the team sustain momentum in games.  If Mike Yeo uses the same veteran group on the power play as they have all season long, then those veterans like Vanek, Koivu, Jason Pominville need to step up.  Vanek especially needs to show he can be a factor in the post-season as our own Kirby Horgan wrote.  If this group isn’t getting it done the coaching staff must allow its 2nd unit to get at least equal time in order to avoid fielding a stale power play that only emboldens the Blues.

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