Game 1 of the opening-round series between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues is mercifully over for the Wild. It took a little more than 77 minutes for the Blues to eek out a win despite being outshot by almost 30 shots. In spite of the end result, it’s the Blues and not the Wild that needs to make adjustments before Game 2.
The Wild outplayed the Blues in every aspect of the game save the one that counts how many pucks cross the goal line. That’s important. However, looking ahead, the Wild should expect better results if Game 2 mimics Game 1.
From the Wild’s perspective, it’s tough to drop one at home to open the series. There goes home ice advantage. However, it could be a long series and they outplayed the Blues by more than a slim margin in the opening tilt. The Wild will need to solve Jake Allen, but he won’t post a .981 save percentage every game if pucks keep coming at the torrid pace they were Wednesday.
No, they didn’t win Game 1, but teams win the majority of games where they own 66.7% of the shots and 63.4% of the even-strength shot attempts.
Blues coach Mike Yeo argued the Wild’s shot attempts “will be inflated every game,” reports Chad Graff of the Pioneer Press. “They recognize that we protect the middle of the ice pretty well, and they’re trying to create from the outside.” Graff wrote that Yeo implied the Wild weren’t getting chances from the middle of the ice. That’s demonstrably untrue. The Wild took a lot of shot attempts and had a lot of high-quality opportunities.
With 51 saves, Allen had a good night. However — and it’s a ridiculous thing to say in many ways — it might not be quite as good as it looks. Allen gave up big rebounds and made a handful of saves off shots from the point he never laid eyes on. It was a big game for Allen. He made some great saves like the second-period robbery of Charlie Coyle. However, it wasn’t a performance that indicated the Wild will have a tough time solving him going forward.
sweet heck jake allen pic.twitter.com/KqugKTwAZ7
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) April 13, 2017
At the other end, there were questions about Devan Dubnyk following struggles during the regular season’s last gasp. From the beginning of March through the end of the regular season, Dubnyk, who was considered a lock for a Vezina finalist position previously, posted a .895 save percentage in 17 appearances.
Dubnyk wasn’t outstanding Wednesday, but he was solid and the Wild have fared quite well when they get even average goaltending from Dubnyk. He has the ability to steal games, but the Wild’s relentless forecheck can take care of a lot of the work if Dubnyk is serviceable.
The Wild aren’t a particularly physical team. They’re sometimes derided for it. With the Blues history, as well as big defenseman and Ryan Reaves on the roster, there was an impression the Wild may struggle to play physical playoff hockey alongside St. Louis. In Game 1, the Wild out-hit the Blues 35-18 despite holding the puck most of the game.
The Wild are a speed team, but getting ground down hasn’t been an issue at all this season. The perception of them as a meek team is erroneous. The forward group has seven skaters standing six-feet-two-inches or taller, as well as five guys north of 215 pounds. They have size.
Size and physicality weren’t a significant factor in Game 1 and the perception they are hallmarks of a Stanley Cup contender is dated. Teams that have gone the distance and made the Final in recent seasons haven’t been bruising teams. See Pittsburgh, San Jose, Tampa, Chicago, Chicago and Chicago.
Jake Allen: "They took it to us for most of the game in an honest look. We’re definitely going to be better. We’ve got a lot more to give"
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) April 13, 2017
The odds are with the Wild if they continue to outshoot the Blues like they did Wednesday. Though they do need to figure out how they turn those shots to their advantage because they can’t finish every game as frustrated as Game 1 left them.
List all the x-factors you can think of. Vladimir Tarasenko’s incredible shot and strength. Mike Yeo’s familiarity with the Wild. Allen’s hot streak. The Blues’ strong penalty kill. The Blues will not win this series if they allow the Wild to dominate possession the way they did in Game 1.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.