The Minnesota Wild won Game 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights, and it happened in an extraordinary fashion. The Wild were finally able to experience the winning side of the Jake Allen loss in the 2017-18 postseason. The Blues goaltender stole the game versus the Wild with 51 saves, and it felt all too familiar in the Sunday afternoon meeting, which featured one of Cam Talbot’s best performances this season.
The overtime thriller capped off an exciting and entertaining game. This playoff series – the first between these two teams since Vegas’ inception – has already lived up to its expectations after just one game. The atmosphere must have been phenomenal as T-Mobile Arena was approaching upwards of 9,000 fans which is 50 percent capacity.
Zach Parise – the Wild’s all-time leading playoff scorer – was a healthy scratch in Game 1, which was just another development in head coach Dean Evason’s questionable decisions regarding deployment and lineup decisions. For some reason, Marcus Johansson continues to be rewarded with a spot in the lineup despite his poor play.
Despite a 1-0 finish, it was a fast-paced high-flying game that became a goalie battle. Talbot continued his strong track record in the playoffs, where he has produced strong numbers in his playoff career. He even out-dueled future Hall of Fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury which helped the Wild emerge victorious in Game 1 with Joel Eriksson Ek scoring the game-winning goal.
The Analytics Breakdown: What Story Did the Numbers Tell?
The Wild were outplayed – plain and simple – but still found a way to win like they usually do this season. The Wild’s usual reason is their finishing ability which has been showcased all season. They continue to capitalize on their chances and score when they desperately need to in the games they need to win.
It has often gone unnoticed, but their finishing has actually been an underrepresented theme this season that has flown under the radar. Not only did they rank first in the league in the regular season with the highest shooting percentage at five-on-five – 10.21 percent – but they also outperformed their expected goals by a considerable margin. The Wild were expected to score 2.25 goals per hour at 5-on-5, yet they scored at a rate of 2.79 per hour – a near 0.8 difference. This is also illustrated by JFresh’s team cards that display the Wild as one of the best finishing teams.
However, this was not the case in Game 1, as Cam Talbot’s performance in Sunday afternoon’s battle was the only reason why they won the game. He stole the game and continued to make saves that kept the Wild in the game despite probably not deserving to be in it.
The fact of the matter is that the Wild were out-chanced, outshot, and had a significantly lower share of expected goals. With this being said, they weren’t outscored, which is the most important thing at the end of the day.
The Golden Knights had roughly a 30% edge in shot attempts and had the clear advantage in high-danger chances and scoring chances. This was due to a poor first period in which the Wild was expected to allow almost 1.5 goals. It wasn’t a solid defensive effort, and they weren’t generating enough offense either, which isn’t the recipe for success going forward in the series.
3 Stars of the Game
Cam Talbot (1st Star) – Talbot singlehandedly won this game for the Wild. He saved all 42 saves, which gave him a playoff shutout. He saved a ridiculous 3.11 goals above expected based on the quality of shots he faced. He was calm and composed between the pipes and made some huge saves to keep the Wild in the game.
Ryan Hartman (2nd Star) – He was the Wild’s best forward and was buzzing on the ice. He generated 0.55 individual expected goals by himself, which was the highest on the team. The Wild controlled 59.46 percent of shot attempts and 68.02 percent of expected goals while he was on the ice.
His energy and aggressiveness were good as always and he had several good chances – including an early game breakaway – but couldn’t bury them, albeit Fleury was on top of his game. It was arguably Hartman’s best game of the season.
Mats Zuccarello (3rd Star) – Zuccarello has really elevated his game this season, and it appears the culprit behind his underwhelming first season with the Wild was a nagging injury that required offseason surgery. He had a great game and was second in individual expected goals at 0.38. Likewise, he was sporting a 56.76 Corsi for percentage and 67.72 expected goals for percentage, both of which ranked second.
How the Wild Win the Series: The Recipe That Leads to Success
The Wild will win the series by containing the Golden Knights’ top guns, staying sound defensively, and getting elite goaltending in the backend from Talbot. Max Pacioretty – the Knights’ best goal scorer – was out today, which was a huge benefit, but whenever he makes his playoff debut this season, the Wild need to be ready to contain his prolific goal-scoring ability.
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They also have to contain players like Mark Stone and their other top-six talent. The Wild have an advantage defensively and depth-wise, which means containing their top guns will equal success if they can shoot a higher volume shots at the net and create quality chances.
Containing Stone will be essential in this series because he’s such a threat. He has a strong two-way game and can really change the momentum of a game.
Despite what was said on the NBC broadcast during Game 1, the Golden Knights were not the best defensive team in the league this season and were actually far from it. Their 2.38 expected goals against per hour ranked 22nd in the regular season and subsequently ranked 27th in even-strength defensive goals above replacement via Evolving-Hockey. On the flip side, the Wild continued to be one of the league’s best defensive teams and can use it to their advantage.
The Wild need to exploit the Golden Knights’ sub-par defense results because they don’t have enough top-six talent (aside from Kaprizov, Fiala & Eriksson Ek) to match the Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights have the best goaltending tandem in the league, which means Talbot will have to be at the top of his game like in Game 1 for the Wild to have an advantage and counter in this area.
The Bottom Line
The projections and predictions heavily favored the Golden Knights because of how strong they are from the top to the bottom of the roster. However, they have really struggled this season against the Wild – losing 5 of 8 with only one regulation win. The playoffs are obviously a different animal, but it is clear after Game 1 that this won’t be an easy series for them.
The Wild have a legitimate chance in this series to pull this off, but they still have several things that they need to polish because Talbot was playing out of his mind and that might not be sustainable in terms of singlehandedly winning games.
(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.