NHL Playoff Preview: Minnesota Wild vs. Vegas Golden Knights

NHL Playoff Preview: Minnesota Wild vs. Vegas Golden Knights

by May 16, 2021 0 comments

The NHL playoffs are underway and we continue our series previews, taking a look at the West Division for the series between the Minnesota Wild and the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Wild finished the regular season with a record of 35-16-5, finishing with 75 points which secured them third in the West. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights finished their season with a record of 40-14-2, finishing with 82 points, second in the West. In their head-to-head matchups during the regular season, the Wild won five out of eight games. However, it wasn’t easy for them to accomplish this.

During their regular-season matchups, only two of those eight games were decided by more than one goal. With that being said, it goes without saying that this could be a series to watch. Let’s look at different sections of each team to figure out who could have the advantage.

Goaltending

First, let’s look at the goaltending for both teams.

For Minnesota, Cam Talbot will see the playoff workload for the fourth time in his career. Talbot had a great regular season in net for the Wild posting a 19-8-5 record, a 2.63 GAA, and a 91.5% save percentage. One stat that often gets overlooked when it comes to goalies is the quality start. In hockey, this means that the goalie reaches the average save percentage in a game. This year for the Wild, in his 33 starts, Talbot had 21 quality starts. This is the most quality starts he’s had since the 2017-18 season. It’s also the highest percentage of quality starts he’s had in the league since his first year, finishing with a 63.6% quality start percentage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ice, the Golden Knights have the two-headed monster tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner. Whoever head coach Pete DeBoer decides to put in the net for the Golden Knights will give them a chance to win. Not only did this tandem win the William Jennings Trophy this season, but Fleury put up several career-best numbers. Those career-best numbers include a 1.98 GAA and a 92.8% save percentage. Looking at his quality starts, in 36 starts Fleury had 26 quality starts. That may not be a career-high, but the 72.2% quality start percentage is.

In this series, as amazing as Talbot has been, that two-headed monster has been intimidating for teams all season long. The goaltending advantage goes to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Defense

Next, we look at each team’s defense.

For the Wild, looking at their goals-against per game played, they finished the regular season in the middle of the pack with 2.84 goals against, finishing sixteenth in the league. Looking at their defensive points share, Carson Soucy and Ian Cole, the Wild’s third pairing, lead the team with a 3.1. Only one of their defensemen has under two in this category, Jared Spurgeon. Spurgeon, however, is the leading scoring defenseman for Minnesota with 25 points in the regular season.

For Las Vegas, they were one of the best defensive teams in the league during the regular season, finishing with a league-best 2.18 goals-against per game played. Their defensive points share has a sole leader, and his name is Shea Theodore. His defensive points share is at an impressive 4.5. All of the Golden Knights’ defensemen have a defensive points share over two.

Both teams have excellent depth on the defensive end, but the statistics give a clear winner here. The defensive advantage goes to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Special Teams

Third, we move to each team’s special team units.

For Minnesota, early on in the regular season, their power play struggled badly and was at the bottom of the league. During the second half of the season, coach Dean Evason made some lineup changes, and the power play became ten times better. Even with these changes, however, the Wild finished 24th in the league with a 17.6 power-play percentage. However, their penalty kill was very good finishing twelfth in the league going 80.8% on the penalty kill.

As for the Golden Knights, their power play may be in front of the Wild, but not by much finishing the regular season with a 17.8 power-play percentage. Their penalty kill, however, is leaps and bounds ahead of the Wild being the league’s best penalty-killing team. They finished the regular season killing penalties at an incredible rate killing off 86.8% of their penalties.

When examining the special teams, the power play is dead even, so we have to move on to the penalty kill, which gives a clear advantage there. The special teams advantage goes to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Offense

Next, we examine the offenses of both teams.

For the Wild, they finished the season with the ninth-best goals per game stat with 3.21 goals per game. Their top two scorers combined for 47 total goals and 91 total points in the regular season. Those two players were Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala.

For Vegas, their gap between them and Minnesota in goals per game is another slim gap, finishing third in the league with 3.39 goals per game. Their top two scorers, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, combined for 45 goals and 112 total points in the regular season.

Both of these teams have high-powered offenses, but once again the stats point towards a clear winner here. The offense advantage goes to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Killer Edge/Game Breakers

Now, let’s take a look at the game-breakers for each team, which basically will have us looking at each team’s X-Factor.

For the Wild, there is one name that has been a game-breaker for teams all season long. The star rookie out of Russia, Kirill Kaprizov. Kaprizov had the most exciting rookie season that Wild fans have seen since Marian Gaborik was in Minnesota, and broke some of Gaborik’s rookie records for the franchise. Kaprizov broke Gaborik’s rookie points record with an incredible 51 points, and he also set a new rookie goals record with 27. With those 27 goals, it was good enough for Kaprizov to finish eighth in the league.

For Vegas, the heart and soul of the team runs through their captain, Mark Stone. Stone had another outstanding season with the Golden Knights, scoring 61 points which are only two fewer points than he had last year in ten fewer games. A very impressive feat, indeed.

This section is tough, but going back to the fact that it’s the game-breakers section, Kaprizov holds the ability to break any game wide open for the Wild. The killer edge/game-breakers advantage goes to the Minnesota Wild.

Coaching

Finally, we’ll examine each team from behind the bench.

For the Wild, it can be hard to remember that this is Dean Evason‘s first full season behind the bench after taking over for Bruce Boudreau last year. Looking at the playoff record of Evanson, in the Qualifying Round last year, the Wild lost to the Canucks in four games. So, he has a playoff record of 1-3 and a regular-season record of 43-18-5. Evason, however, has not been afraid to make the changes that he deems necessary for the team, scratching the Wild’s most expensive player, Zach Parise, for multiple games during the regular season, and perhaps scratching him to start this series. What Evason may lack in experience, he makes up for in his confidence and changes to the lineup.

On the Vegas bench, they have a coach who has been to the playoffs six times in his career, Pete DeBoer. In those six playoff appearances, DeBoer has gone to the Stanley Cup Final twice, once with the New Jersey Devils in the 2011-12 season and once with the San Jose Sharks in the 2015-16 season.

Evason has been great this year for the Wild and should get some love for the Jack Adams Award, but the experience of DeBoer is just too great. The coaching advantage goes to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Series Prediction

This series will be a great series to answer the question of if the regular season matters when playoff time comes around. The reason for this, as unexplainable as it is? The Minnesota Wild have always had the number of the Vegas Golden Knights, going 11-2-3 against them which is the best record in the league against the Golden Knights. So, although on paper the Golden Knights have the advantages just about everywhere, don’t count the Wild out of this series. It will be a fast-paced, goal-scoring battle, however, with Vegas having the advantages in goaltending, defense, special teams, offense, and coaching, the series will go to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Series Prediction: Vegas Golden Knights in seven

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