Three Things: Game 1

It’s just one game. It was a missed opportunity. Long series ahead, just need to steal one on the road. The Wild have absolutely no answer for Nathan MacKinnon. The Wild could play like that and win nine times out of ten. The Wild could play like that and get blown out nine times out of ten.

These were the schizophrenic thoughts that were popping around in my brain while I struggled for sleep last night. I couldn’t square the two notions that the Wild let a perfect opportunity to seize home ice advantage slip away in the third period with the notion that the Wild played, overall, a fairly solid four line game, getting positive play from everyone on the ice, and where a whisker away from winning in overtime themselves when Jason Pominville hit the post,  only to be undone by a handful of individual mistakes.

It’s just one game, but here are a few points to monitor moving forward.

1. Strength on the puck.

All three Colorado goals in the third period and overtime were preceded by terrible exits from the zone. The first was the most obvious, as Kyle Brodziak looked like he wanted to make a suicidal pass across the defensive zone before realizing halfway through his motion that it was a terrible idea. The result was a fumbled puck straight to the stick of Ryan O’Reilly, whose shot rebounded onto the stick of Jamie McGinn. You could see Brodziak’s brain working, and realizing he shouldn’t do what he was doing, but it never should have gotten to that  point. He could have either skated the puck out (he had room) or chipped it off the wall to safety.

The game-tying goal was much of the same, except it was a weak clearance by the normally safe Jared Spurgeon (who, it must be said, has had some out-of-character puckhandling mis-adventures over the past few weeks) who failed to make a safe play off the boards to get the puck out of the zone, and instead made a weak pass up the left wall to no one in particular. Fifteen seconds later, the Wild are gassed and Paul Stastny is popping in a rebound.

Colorado’s pressure in the final minute was relentless (and kudos to Patrick Roy for sensing the Wild back on their heels and going for it for three minutes without a goalie) but the Wild did themselves no favors by playing very passively. For the final minute, they looked afraid to make a strong clearance for fear of icing the puck and not being able to change. This makes no sense for two reasons. One, even if you do ice the puck, you still get a brief respite from the onslaught, rather than having to stay alert after a bad turnover, which creates chaos for tired players. Two, Colorado already had the horses they were going to use on the ice, so it was not as if they were going to bring fresh bodies on the ice when you couldn’t. I understand the argument that it is more tiring to defend for long stretches than attack (anyone who has been stuck in their own end for a 90-second stretch knows this to be absolutely true), but icing the puck gives you fifteen seconds to gather yourself, at least, and it takes the air out of the game as well.

2. Goaltending.

We knew a few things about Ilya Bryzgalov when he was traded to Minnesota. He was a little quirky, for one, and his playoff record was spotty at best. Last night’s performance won’t do anything to change that reputation.

Bryzgalov can’t be faulted for either of the first two goals, which were the result of poor coverage and high quality chances. The overtime winner is an iffy one, as it looked like he was set, but that his technique was off, allowing room in the body for the puck to get through,  but I’m willing to let it slide. Less impressive was his rebound control on either of the goals in the third period. Bryzgalov plays very deep in his net, and any goaltender that does so needs some extra snap on kick saves, as they are already putting themselves at a disadvantage for rebounds. Bryz didn’t do that on either play. For McGinn’s goal, he waved at what was a fairly weak shot by O’Reilly, barely getting the puck out of his crease. The game-tying goal is a little trickier, as with the 6-on-5 situation you know someone is going to be free, and the puck happened to go right to that player. That being said, the initial shot came from near the wall, and is the type of shot that should be handled better than Bryzgalov did. Bryzgalov is not very quick moving laterally, so poking rebounds out to the open side is suicide for him. Go back and watch the video of the game-tying goal again. By NHL goalie standards, Bryzgalov has actually a fair amount of time to get across and make a save on Stastny (granted, it would have been a great save) but gets nowhere near doing so.

As evidenced by the nine-goal output, neither goaltender got much help last night. The problem is, Semyon Varlamov is fully used to games like last night’s as this is how Colorado plays. You can be afforded these luxuries when your goaltender is a hyper-athletic freak like Varlamov is. The Wild don’t have that luxury, so they will need to contain better moving forward to cover for some of their goaltenders warts.

3. Don’t play 4-on-4 with these guys.

Twice last night the Wild and Avalanche took coincidental penalties. The first time, after Zach Parise’s fringy goaltender interference penalty and subsequent 30-second donkey punching from Erik Johnson (I don’t think it was goaltender interference, since Varlamov seemed to move out and initiate the contact, but since Charlie Coyle should have been penalized for stepping in and going after Johnson, it’s pretty much a wash) led to Ryan O’Reilly’s game tying goal in the second period. And while Matt Cooke trolling four Avs skaters in the third period was hilarious, he went to the box with Nick Holden, creating a second four-on-four situation which Colorado dominated. Though they failed to score this time around, it did set the tone for the game’s final moments.

Coincidental minors can be tricky to avoid at times, but the Wild cannot get themselves into these situations too many times. Forget the statistics about how good the Avalanche were during the regular season in overtime (only Anaheim had a better record) but their speed and skill make them lethal with the extra room. Avoid at all costs!

It’s not all bad. The Wild got scoring depth, and the way they answered the physicality of Colorado, especially early, when the adrenaline-laced haymakers were really flying, was impressive. They also showed some excellent puck movement on the power-play against a very passive penalty kill for Colorado.

Also remember these two things:

1. If Jason Pominville’s shot in overtime is a quarter-inch to the left, we all feel much better today. Such are the breaks in life.

2. Nathan MacKinnon is crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy good. Don’t worry, his career will be over in 19-22 short years.




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