Minnesota Wild Playoff Adjustments Necessary For Success

Apr 14, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) stops a shot by Dallas Stars right wing Valeri Nichushkin (43) during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 14, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) stops a shot by Dallas Stars right wing Valeri Nichushkin (43) during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Game 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Minnesota Wild was a debacle that saddled the team with their sixth loss in a row.  Game 2 saw a massive improvement in an effort that still fell short of a win,  but what can the Wild take from these losses into Game 3?  

Thursday night in Dallas was a rough night for the Minnesota Wild to put it mildly.  But Saturday night was an improvement that ended up with the Wild falling just short but still losing for their seventh game in a row.

The Wild looked outmatched from the opening faceoff to the final horn in the third period in Game 1.  The Stars controlled the pace of the game, and their neutral zone trap style defense did not allow the Wild to mount much if anything offensively.  It seemed the Wild couldn’t solve the Stars, and to be frank it seemed like they didn’t try very hard to solve them.  In Game 2 the effort came back, and the Wild looked like a team that could take on the Stars.  If it were not for a very controversial first Dallas goal, the Wild would have taken the game to overtime.  The team showed drive and passion, but alas they fell short of a win.

Jason Pominville after Game 1 was quoted on NHL.com as saying “We didn’t find a way to generate much early, and they defended hard.  We’ll make adjustments and be better.”  We saw what those adjustments were in Game 2, and they worked.   You could see marked improvements, but still some areas that need more work if the Wild were to get into the win column. 

For certain the Wild need to do something more than what they did in the first two games of the series to be successful in Game 3 and get that all important first playoff win.  Here’re a few suggestions on what they’ll need to do to turn it around based on Games 1 and 2.

1. Be Strong with the Puck

The Wild were weak on the puck, to say the least in Game 1.  They seemed to give the Stars too many opportunities to outright steal the puck, or steer the play to the side boards away from the high percentage shot areas.  The Wild will need to be strong with the puck and press the transition game play through the neutral zone to make offensive pressure happen.  Game 2 saw improvement in how the Wild moved the puck, but especially in the first period of that game, it seemed as if the Stars were intimidating the Wild through the neutral zone. 

Defensively not being strong on the puck caused perhaps the worst turnover of Game 1 that caused the first goal of that game.  In the neutral zone Jarret Stoll let Ales Hemsky steal the puck right out from him, which he in turned into an excellent pass to Radek Faksa, who buried it past Dubnyk. 

The Wild need to keep possession of the puck and move it to where they can shoot.  In the first period of Game 1 they only were able to generate two shots, and over the whole game, they could only muster 48 shot attempts equating to 22 shots on net.  Game 2 saw a four-shot improvement over Game 1 (26 shots), but still the underline issues of not possessing the puck enough for shots was there.  If the Wild can’t possess the puck more, they’ll never get more shots on net, and to win Game 3 outshooting the Stars would go a long way to securing the win.

2. Stop the Turnovers

Charlie Coyle put it best when he was quoted in the Star Tribune in postgame wrap-up as saying after Game 1 “Turnovers.  Three of the four goals, we had the puck and gave it to them in transition.  That’s giving them an easy game.”  Coyle couldn’t be more spot-on, giving the Stars the puck constantly allows them to control the possession game and generate more shots and scoring chances than they otherwise would have. 

Game 2 saw the turnovers get better as the Wild made better choices with the puck.  You could see better play that didn’t involve being careless with the puck.  The Stars two goals were not the cause of turnovers, so it can be said that was a massive improvement. 

The Stars’ game plan is to use a tight neutral zone to capitalize on the and increase the number of turnovers their opponents make.  The Wild need to continue to solve that trap if they want to solve the Stars and completely solve their turnover issues.  If the Wild can concentrate on good outlet passes, skating hard through the neutral zone, and most of all dump the puck past the Dallas defenders to push the play into the offensive zone they can be more successful.

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3. Stay Out of the Sin Bin

When a team goes shorthanded, the time of that penalty is a time where the shorthanded team more than likely will not score.  So taking the game as a whole, the Wild committed six minor penalties in Game 1 and three of those in the first period.  That’s 20% of the game where the Wild theoretically couldn’t score and 30% of the first period.  In Game 2 it didn’t get much better as the Wild committed five minors with two coming in the first period.  That meant the Wild spent 16% of the game shorthanded, and 20% of the first period.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the Wild had issues on committing penalties in the offensive zone in Game 1.  By taking a penalty in the offensive zone, you kill pressure, force your team to flip quickly to the shorthanded game, and you don’t give the other team enough time to let the pressure get to them and let them commit the penalty.

4. Match the Stars Physical Game Early

From the opening whistle, the Wild need to go out and push the Stars around in Game 3.  The Wild have seen their best successes this season when they go out play physical and generate turnovers to get an early lead.  Taking into account the issues that turnovers can make for a team, why not try to make the Stars feel the burn of making turnovers. 

The Stars’ defensemen are a weak point and should be exploited.  When they go to make the initial outlet pass the Wild should get physical with them to force them to make mistakes.  If they can get the Stars back on their heels early, they might be able to keep them there for the entire game and go on to an easy victory.  Also, its worth a mention that the Stars’ goaltending was 4th from the bottom of the NHL, so exploiting that weak point and getting their goaltenders behind early could be a deficit the Stars never come back from. 

Next: Take a Lesson from the North Stars

These are just a few examples of adjustments that the Wild need and could do to win Game 3.  After Game 1’s performance there was no place to go but up.  Game 2’s performance left a lot of hope for a victory, but with the Wild being winless in seven straight now many are skeptical if Game 2 momentum is enough for a Game 3 victory.  The Wild recognize they need to adjust their game, but will it be the right adjustments?  We’ll see tonight if the Wild get their first playoff victory, or if they move in the almost insurmountable 3-0 deficit.