For the first time in franchise history, the Minnesota Wild had an opportunity to steal Games 1 and 2 in a best-of-seven series. It would have happened, too, if Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have other plans for Tuesday night’s game in Las Vegas. With nearly 9,000 fans in the building, it took almost five periods for the Golden Knights to finally get their first goal of the series.
The Wild are still haunted by the expansion draft when they lost Erik Haula and Alex Tuch to the Golden Knights; management included Tuch in a side deal that was contingent on the Knights selecting Haula. They did so to protect Eric Staal and Matt Dumba, who were both exposed. Tuch, 25, had two goals in the Wild’s 3-1 loss in Game 2.
Tuch was never really given a chance to succeed with the Wild and they took the risk of moving him that would become an instant regret as he has flourished in a significant role with the Golden Knights. It really does encompass the Wild’s past issue of moving future assets that would eventually catch up to them with nothing to show for it in the postseason.
Tuch has excelled since his rookie season and has cemented himself as a top-six winger on the Golden Knights and could be a top-line winger in the future. The Wild could really use a player of his caliber on the right side but will have to be content with competing against him. One could only wonder what the Wild would look like with a winger like Tuch and the skill set he possesses.
Fleury had an exceptional Game 2, and singlehandedly won the game for the Knights, as Cam Talbot did in Game 1. It was a disappointing loss as the Wild played well but were on the wrong side of terrific goaltending – reminiscent of the St. Louis Blues’ Jake Allen in 2017. They will have to solve the Fleury riddle if they want to advance.
According to Money Puck’s deserve to win o’meter, Minnesota deserved to win by over 65 percent. They should feel positive earning a split in the first two games as the series heads to St. Paul, where the Wild have a 19-2-2 record in their last 23 games.
The Analytics Breakdown: What Story Did the Numbers Tell?
The Wild dominated play in the second game, unlike in Game 1, and controlled play at 5-on-5 by a decisive margin. They also had the edge with 51.79 percent of shot attempts, thanks to Kevin Fiala and company, who controlled possession. They had a decisive edge in expected goals, by a near 12 percent margin, but only got one on the board. The GREEF line – Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Marcus Foligno – were a huge reason for this and were dominant and reliable as usual with tough defensive assignments. Minnesota controlled 79 percent of expected goals when this line was on the ice.
The team also accounted for just under 52 percent of the scoring chances, including a lot of high-danger chances, which perhaps explains why Fleury saved 2.74 goals above expected.
Talbot stole the first game with a strong performance that had little chance of being replicated. However, it did shed any doubts about his play down the stretch. This low-scoring action-packed series was a goaltending battle in the first two games.
Wild 3 Stars of Game 2
Marcus Foligno (1st Star): Foligno was fantastic at both ends of the ice and was arguably the Wild’s best forward. He brought energy and physicality with a team-high seven hits. The Wild controlled 59.09 percent of shot attempts (Corsi) and 81.25 percent of expected goals while he was on the ice. He continues to prove that his three-year extension is a steal, considering everything he brings to the table.
Joel Eriksson Ek (2nd Star): Eriksson Ek should get Selke Trophy consideration. He continues to show his defensive excellence and dominant two-way game. He was very strong again in Game 2 and excelled in his defensive assignments. The Wild controlled 57.69 percent of shot attempts and 78.94 percent of expected goals while he was on the ice. He continues to exemplify a reliable playoff performer.
Kevin Fiala (3rd Star): Fiala should have scored in Game 2 as he was phenomenal. The Wild controlled 63.64 percent of shot attempts and 57.80 percent of expected goals with the young winger on the ice. He continued to display not only his elite transition game but also his ability to maintain possession and create chances out of virtually nothing.
Matt Dumba (Honorable Mention): Dumba had the lone goal in Tuesday night’s loss with a nice shot from the point. He was physical from the drop of the puck and put his body on the line to block shots.
Will Zach Parise Play in Game 3?
Zach Parise – the Wild’s all-time leading playoff scorer – was benched for the first two games. It wasn’t surprising that he sat in Game 2 after the Game 1 victory since you “don’t fix what’s not broken.” But will he play in Game 3?
I can’t see him playing in the series if he isn’t dressed for Game 3. Parise, 36, has four years remaining on his contract, and he will be one of the biggest storylines this offseason as management decides whether he fits into the team’s plans heading into next season. His production dropped significantly this season, which caused him to lose his roster spot.
The Bottom Line
The Wild shouldn’t be disappointed with how they played in Game 2. Only a few minor adjustments are needed for Thursday’s tilt. They just need to find a way to get past Fleury.
The Golden Knights have done a really good job at controlling Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala, who are both pointless in the first two games. However, the same could be said for the Wild, who have kept Mark Stone from causing any damage. Game 3 will be crucial for the Wild, who will try to use their excellent play at home to their advantage.
(All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick & Hockey-Reference)
Aaron Heckmann is a journalism & broadcasting student. He covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage’s 10krinks. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.