The Minnesota Wild skated into the American Airlines Arena with a chance to start their run to the Stanley Cup and erase the pain of a five game losing streak to end the season. Coach John Torchetti spoke about optimism and the team’s chances, and Jason Zucker even seemed to be pumped up and trying to get the fans ready for the game on twitter by saying “This is why we play the game…Playoffs!” It seemed like the world was going to see a hungry Wild team that was going to send a message to Stars that they would have fight to win this playoff round.
This is why we play the game.. Playoffs! #mnwild
— Jason Zucker (@Jason_Zucker16) April 14, 2016
The message the Wild sent Thursday night to the Stars was “Relax we’re not interested in winning this game or the series.”
In no way did the Wild in any of the 60 minutes played yesterday give the Stars too much of a fight. With the exception of goaltender Devan Dubnyk there seemed to be very little spark in the Wild. In the first period of their first playoff game the team only put up two shots on goal, and committed three penalties leaving the team shorthanded for six of the 20 minutes of the opening frame. The only bright side was Dubnyk kept the game scoreless heading into the first intermission. It was clear from the start the Stars would cruise to a game one victory.
The Wild needed to make a big showing to reverse their negative trends of the previous five games, and they didn’t do much if anything to do that. It was evident to everyone who watched there were so many mistakes and the Wild players were not ready for the game, nor did they step up execute during the game.
Turnovers will kill a team’s offense. The first step to any offensive pressure is the transition game from defense to offense that goes through the neutral zone. Carless passes made for a transition game that could not defeat the neutral zone trap style play of the Lindy Ruff and the Stars. Charlie Coyle puts it best in his postgame interview with Michael Russo “Turnovers. Three of the four goals, we had the puck and gave it to them in transition. That’s giving them an easy game.”
The Wild not being strong on the puck also caused numerous key turnovers that led to scoring chances. It seemed like there was reluctance and hesitation when the Wild had the puck that led to opportunities for Stars to steal it and break the Wild’s chances at mounting anything on offense. Perhaps the worst example led to the first Dallas goal by Radek Faska, when Jarret Stoll got his pocket picked by Ales Hemsky in the neutral zone.
Torchetti after the game explained the impact of the turnovers best in a quote from the NHL.com postgame recap “We got to make sure we manage the puck a lot better.” You just can’t say it any better than that.
If John Torchetti was frustrated after the final regular season game, he must be very frustrated now. He’s always talked about making sure the team wins battles on both sides of the puck, and he’s talked at length about eliminating lazy play. Thursday the Wild had so many examples of lazy play one would have lost count after the first period.
Torch is not a fan of stick-checking as he’s made clear from day one. On two separate occasions stick checking cost the Wild goals. The one that stands out is the failed stick check attempt by Mathew Dumba that resulted in the Jason Spezza goal. Spezza had all the time in the world to get off a shot to beat Dubnyk. Had Dumba played the body and not the stick of Spezza he could have prevented the shot all together.
Offensively the Wild did not generate shots on net and it was largely from a lack of trying. They had 48 shot attempts, which yielded 22 shots. Typically, Torchetti expects the Wild to make 70 shot attempts, in order to make sure the team gets closer to 40 shots a game.
Don’t Let the Injuries Distract You…They Played Bad
Parise, Haula, and Vanek were out Thurday with injuries and that made things tough offensively for the Wild. Still it can be said that the inconsistent scoring play of Parise and Vanek don’t really guarantee that they would have contributed on the score sheet had they played. Haula is the only player who’s scoring has been consistent enough lately to be truly missed by the Wild.
A lot ado made over these key injuries that many have given a pass to the rest of the forwards. The fact remains that in the line-up you still had a former 30 goal scorer (Pominville), the team’s leading scorer for the year (Koivu), and the team’s second leading goal scorer on the year (Coyle) who all were in the lineup in Dallas on Thursday.
Great players need to step up when others are out of the lineup. After an 82 game season it should be expected that a few of your key players could be down. After all the Stars were without their second leading scorer Tyler Seguin and it didn’t seem to slow them down at all. Stepping up and scoring when other players are out of the lineup is the sign of a great team and something that has to happen for a team to make it to a Stanley Cup Championship.
Game two is tonight again in Dallas, and again in American Airlines Arena. The teams will be the same again, and nothing is leading us to believe that the result of the game will be anything other than a Stars win again. The Wild should have addressed their issues in the final games of the regular season, but instead they wanted to focus on the fact that they got into the playoffs and everyone was negative for not focusing on that. Well they had better enjoy the playoffs while they last, because at this rate they will only last till next Wednesday. On the other hand, there is a little hope that as Jason Pominville said “We’ll make adjustments and be better”, but we’ve heard that before.
Danny Lambert has been covering the Minnesota Wild for some time now, and is back again as contributor to THW staff. A native Minnesotan he’s always had his eye on the State of Hockey and is proud to write and represent such a great market and fans. Follow him on Twitter at @dannylambert17