Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks series preview

Chicago Blackhawks Offensive GVT: 1.6

Chicago Blackhawks Defensive GVT: 8.3

Chicago Blackhawks Goalie GVT: 22.4

Chicago Blackhawks Total GVT: 40.0

Minnesota Wild Offensive GVT: 17.2

Minnesota Wild Defensive GVT: -0.3

Minnesota Wild Goalie GVT: 3.5

Minnesota Wild Total GVT: 30

Chicago Blackhawks Strengths:
Chicago’s a threat on both ends of the ice and though they weren’t the regular season powerhouse they have been the last few years, there is that intangible sense that they can turn it on at moment’s notice. That feeling may have a lot to do with a forward group that includes Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brad Richards, and Antoine Vermette for experienced vets. Even in a slump, you can’t take any of them lightly.

Defensively, Chicago finished the regular season with the league’s second best Corsi For% at 53.6%, the eighth best G+/- at +21, and they allowed the seventh fewest goals overall. Part of that was good goaltending depth with Antti Raanta and Scott Darling picking it up when Corey Crawford wasn’t in net. They had the league’s second best team save percentage at 93.6%.

Offensively, they weren’t as strong as they’ve been in the past, but their individual player talent is undeniable. It proved to be the difference in their opening round match against the Nashville Predators, where the Blackhawks didn’t get consistent goaltending, going from Crawford to Darling and then back to Crawford. Crawford will get the start in Game 1¬†against the Wild. Their 15 goals through six games in the opening round was the most by any team (prior to Tampa vs. Detroit Game 7).

Chicago Blackhawks Weaknesses:
On the other hand, Chicago’s 15 goals allowed was also the most allowed by any team in the opening round. They ranked ninth in postseason even strength save percentage at 92.3%. The discrepency there is partly due to Chicago playing two overtime games totaling five OT periods. But it’s also because they allowed more shots against per 60 minutes of even strength play (SA60) than any team who advanced to the second round at 32.8 shots.

They also had the most goals against per 60 minutes of even strength play (GA60) of any team advancing to the second round and second most overall at 2.5. So, it’s not solely the result of overtime periods.

Chicago’s special teams are also in question. Despite a dynamic group of forwards (units going into 2nd round are Keith-Sharp-Kane-Toews-Shaw; Seabrook-Richards-Saad-Hossa-Bickell), they finished 20th overall on the power play in the regular season. Their penalty kill was 83.4%, ranked 10th overall.

Minnesota Wild Strengths:
Like Chicago, the Wild give their goaltender a good shot at winning through strong shot suppression. Their 27.0 SA60 during the regular season was 7th in the NHL. Fortunately for the Wild, when that’s not clicking, they’ve got Vezina finalist Devan Dubnyk in net, who was outstanding during the regular season and aside from a sloppy Game 5 against St. Louis, he’s been great in the playoffs. He could be a difference maker.

During the regular season the Wild’s power play was a 27th ranked 15.8%, but their special teams have been clicking in the postseason with their top ranked power play converting 33.3% of opportunities through a very¬†small sample. Zach Parise also nabbed a crucial shorthanded goal to open the scoring in the series-clinching Game 6 against the Blues. The Wild had the league’s top ranked penalty kill during the regular season and finished the first round with a 81.8% success rate.

Minnesota Wild Weaknesses:

The Wild emerged from the first round in six games, but they had a -15 shot differential against St. Louis, who was a tough opponent for the physically outmatched Wild. But they relied heavily on Dubnyk in some games to get the win. If they can’t get their cycle going and establish zone pressure, it could be a problem. A lot of the offense they did have came off the rush, a result fast transitions and solid stretch passes, backing the St. Louis defense off the zone quickly. They consistently gained the zone with control and speed.

Another problem for Minnesota, which is somewhat a result of their opening round match, was that they finished the opening round with the worst possession in the league and a -1 goal differential. However, as much as they leaned on Dubnyk, his overall save percentage wasn’t such that it was the only reason they advanced. His 92.2% Sv% at even strength put them at 11th among playoff teams.

While they only allowed 24.7 SA60, third best in the playoffs, they also only had 21.8 SF60. That’s the second lowest in the opening round. The Blues suppress shots well, but the Wild will need to turn that around to beat the ‘Hawks.

The turning points of the series will be whether the Wild are able to keep up their tight defensive play while exposing the fact that Chicago has played far less tight defensively toward the end of the season and into the playoffs. Goaltending will also be key. Crawford has been inconsistent and that could be a problem for the Blackhawks who are facing the Wild for the third postseason in a row, but for the first time where the Wild have had consistently strong goaltending.

The Blackhawks won the first three meetings of the season, all pre-Dubnyk. Since Dubnyk arrived, the Wild won one in St. Paul and one in Chicago, limiting Chicago to a single goal between the two games.

This will be a tight series with a lot of defensive play despite having offensive threats like Patrick Kane and Zach Parise in the series, as well as fast young players like Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, and Teuvo Teravainen. I’m taking the Wild in seven, with them grabbing a pair of games on the road for the second series in a row.

One thought on “Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks series preview

  1. It’s 2 games in, so all I can say is, so far, Chicago has once again risen to the level of the challenge and met it. I picked Chicago in 7, and it may well take that still, if Minny can defend home ice.

    But Dubnyk isn’t the brick wall he was in the regular season and the Wild look beatable when Chicago puts its back into the game. We’ll see if the Wild can outwork Chicago in the great white sort-of north.

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