3 Things Wild Need to Improve Before Game 3 Against Stars

The Minnesota Wild did the unexpected in Game 1 when they took down the Dallas Stars in double overtime on the road in Dallas. They looked to do the same thing in Game 2 but the Stars had other plans and evened the series up 1-1 and will now play Games 3 and 4 in Minnesota. However, after the loss, there are clearly some things they need to fix if they’re going to win either one of those games.

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While some of these problems are fixable, the absence of both Joel Eriksson Ek and Ryan Hartman is not. Hopefully, those two can rejoin the lineup sooner rather than later because their presence is missed. The Wild can however reduce the number of penalties they take, improve their speed, and stop throwing the puck away. Having the home crowd behind them will also be a big help.

Wild Need to Stop Penalties, Again

It was a problem during the season and it’s become a problem early in the playoffs as well. The Wild are throwing chances away by taking unnecessary penalties and the Stars have a lethal power play that has scored five times out of 11 opportunities. They have to watch their sticks and skate harder instead of using them to trip, hook, and slash because they can’t keep up.

If they can’t stay out of the penalty box then their penalty kill has to step up. They have to block every shooting lane they can and make sure the Stars can’t get shots away. While the Wild need to get in the way of shots they also have to be careful to not screen their own goaltender. The other aspect of their penalty kill they need to adjust has to do with their defense.

At least one of the power play goals the Stars scored in Game 2 was because none of the Wild’s defense cleared out the crease. They let the Stars forward get comfortable right in front of the net and wide open to catch a pass and shoot it past Marc-André Fleury. The Wild have two choices in Game 3, stop taking penalties or have the penalty kill step up big.

Wild Need to Keep Skating

One of the Wild’s problems in Game 2 was they stopped skating and allowed the Stars to dictate play through most of the game. They can’t allow that to happen in Game 3 or they’ll fall again. They have to come out with quick feet and both aggressive offense and defense. The Wild have to put pressure on the Stars to make mistakes and turn the puck over.

The Wild’s defense, Jared Spurgeon included, was burned several times in Game 2. If they want to pinch, they have to be sure they have someone covering them. The Stars know they can get in behind the Wild’s defense and the defense has to keep their eyes open and prevent anyone from cherry-picking.

Jared Spurgeon Minnesota Wild
Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If the Wild can stop chasing the puck and instead start controlling it, they’ll throw the Stars off their game and have a strong chance to win. The chances will be even better if they can start the game as they did in Game 1, with a lot of speed and skating.

Wild Need Composure

While the Wild need to speed up their skating, they also need to steady their puck handling. They tried too hard to be quick with the puck in Game 2 and that caused a lot of sloppy passes that led to turnovers. The longer they hold onto the puck, the more control they’ll have and they can dictate how things play out. They also need to be more careful with their no-look passes. While it’s a great play when it works, it’s too risky when it doesn’t.

Related: Wild’s Reckless Decisions Lead to Loss Against Stars

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Those aren’t the only types of passes the Wild have to be careful with, they also have to watch their passes across the blue line. It’s a routine pass but if it doesn’t have enough power behind it, it’s easy to pick off. The Wild have to have intent behind their passes and they can’t just throw it across hoping it gets there. If they can do that, there will be fewer passes picked off and fewer goals scored for the Stars.

Wild Have to Stop These Stars

There are a number of players on the Stars that have made the Wild’s life difficult the last couple of days and if they want to win, they have to play strong defense against them. Those players are Roope Hintz, Miro Heiskanen, Jason Robertson, Jamie Benn, and Evgenii Dadonov. Joe Pavelski would be among those players but is currently in concussion protocol and it’s unknown if he’ll return to the series.

Roope Hintz Dallas Stars
Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Wild also have to continue to pressure Jake Oettinger. He put up some big saves on the few chances they had in Game 2 and they have to keep pushing the issue. When they throw the puck into the zone they need to have a forward rushing in to try and catch Oettinger playing the puck and force a turnover. If they can do these things they’ll secure the win in Game 3 and have strong momentum going into Game 4.