The Chicago Blackhawks have opened up their second round series against the Minnesota Wild in spectacular fashion. They’ve posted four goals back-to-back in games 1 and 2 on home ice, emerging with two wins to hand them a commanding lead as the series swings up to Minnesota.
But with the Wild being so fantastic defensively as the regular season wound down and in their first round series against the St. Louis Blues, how have the Blackhawks been able to open Minnesota up so well?
Let’s take a look at the game film.
One aspect of Minnesota’s game that Chicago has brilliantly been able to exploit is the fact that their star number one defenseman, Ryan Suter, has been drastically off his game in the early going of this series. His possession game has been egregious. Last night, he was a -9 in shot attempt plus/minus. In game 1 he managed to break even, but he was a -1 in goal based plus/minus.
Something’s off with Ryan Suter’s game. He usually brings an incredibly cerebral presence to Minnesota’s blue line. Positioning and puck handling mistakes are rare from the American, but last night on the power play he made a huge mistake that allowed the Blackhawks to draw first blood late into the second with a shorthanded tally. Take a look at the play below.
Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews are obviously excellent forwards on the penalty kill, but there’s no good reason that error should have happened. One of the possible not-good reasons is the fact that he was on his off hand at the boards on the power play there. He still should have been able to play the puck on his back hand, but it’s always more difficult for a defenseman to make plays with the puck at the point when he’s on his forehand. Possibly something coach Mike Yeo should look into is making sure he doesn’t have defensemen playing on their off side with too much frequency.
Suter again got beat on Chicago’s second goal from Patrick Kane. With the play in the neutral zone, Suter acting as the left defenseman, and Kane acting as the right winger, Kane is Suter’s responsibility as the play transitions toward the Wild’s end. Suter gets caught up a little bit too high and a little bit too far toward the middle, and Kane goes wide to sneak behind Suter and accept a pass. Kane takes the pass, enters the zone, and beats Dubnyk with a gorgeous shot. This was not as directly Suter’s fault as the previous goal, but he is primarily at fault here. Take a look below.
If you’re the Minnesota Wild, you have to feel as though there are some aspects of your roster heading into a playoff series that you’d like to think you just don’t have to worry about. Zach Parise will generate offense on some level, bring a solid two-way game, and give his best effort every night. Mikael Granlund will effectively use his patience and hockey sense to help generate chances for his linemates.
One of such things that Mike Yeo would like to be able to take for granted is the steady play of his number one defenseman, Ryan Suter. But as shown previously, Suter just hasn’t been up to the task in the first two contests of this series.
If the Wild are to have any prayer in coming back to win this series, Ryan Suter will have to start playing like the Ryan Suter that Minnesota fans have grown accustomed to since he joined the team in 2011.