Editor’s note: Chris Hine will write a North Score from home Wild and Wolves playoff games, focusing on three analytical points from the game and series.
Wild winger Charlie Coyle had relief and frustration in his voice at the same time.
Coyle said the Wild was frustrated in its attempt to gain control in the offensive zone during the first two games of its playoff series against the Jets.
But in its 6-2 victory in Game 3 on Sunday, Coyle said the Wild made the needed adjustments — adjustments that seemed simple — in order to fix that aspect of its game.
The difference, he said, was the Wild supported the puck from the defensive zone to the neutral zone and the neutral zone to the offensive zone against the Jets’ 1-4 defense that gave the Wild fits in Winnipeg.
“The first few games we kind of just throw it in for the sake of throwing it and we were putting guys on islands,” Coyle said. “There was no support there and we don’t get anything from it. It ruins our game and then it’s a downhill spiral. We do those little things, support and talk and we’ll get those chances and find the back of the net like we did (Sunday).”
The common advanced metric that shows show just how tough it was for the Wild to gain control in the Jets’ zone is Corsi — or overall shot attempts whether they are on goal or not. The thinking is the more shot attempts, the more time a team is in its offensive zone. Through the first two games of the series, the Wild, who traditionally never has a high Corsi number, was downright putrid in that department.
The Jets had 70 shot attempts during 5-on-5 play in Game 1 to the Wild’s 41. In Game 2 it was 59-25 Jets.
In Game 3, the Wild closed that gap (44-34 Jets). Not only did four of the Wild’s goals come during 5-on-5 play, the Wild was also able to get some key penalties in the first period against the Jets thanks in part to its play in the offensive zone.
Coyle said the Wild were more poised and deliberate in their attack against the 1-4 zone.
“When we take the ice when we can and move your feet first, it kind of puts them back on their heels and they’re not sure what to do and things open up,” Coyle said. “Guys supporting each other. That’s hockey.”
But any good offense always starts with defensemen, and center Eric Staal credited that group with playing a smarter game to get the puck out of the Wild zone.
“Some of the decisionmaking through the neutral zone was a little bit better,” Staal said. “I think our defensemen gained a little bit more confidence moving the puck and we were hitting the holes, making the plays that were there, the right plays. If you do that, when you move your feet and get aggressive on the forecheck, you turn more pucks over and spend more time (in the offensive zone).”
Trust in defensive zone
With Ryan Suter out, coach Bruce Boudreau has had to place his trust in a couple of young defensemen like Carson Soucy and Nick Seeler. Seeler played a standout game Sunday, and one metric that shows just how much Boudreau is trusting him, or has had to trust him, is where Seeler begins his shifts that start with a faceoff. According to naturalstattrick.com, Seeler began 10 shifts in the defensive zone on Sunday, the most of any Wild defenseman. Part of that is because Seeler is playing with Jared Spurgeon, one of the Wild’ top defensemen, but it’s notable that Boudreau trusts Seeler enough to handle those responsibilities.
Dubnyk seeing shots
At one point during the second period, Mikko Koivu dodged to get out of the way of an impending slapshot from Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to avoid blocking the shot — he wanted to give goaltender Devan Dubnyk a clear lane to see the puck.
Dubnyk made the save and gave a stick tap to Koivu for making it an easy save. Dubnyk made 29 saves Sunday to continue his solid play in this series, despite allowing two goals he probably would like to have another crack at. There is some analytical evidence to back up the common sense notion that a goaltender has a better chance of saving a shot the longer he can see it, but overall the Wild is doing the little things necessary to help Dubnyk and clear shooting lanes.
“I know these guys well, they do a great job, they have good gaps and they clear guys in front and clear rebounds when they’re there,” Dubnyk said. “That allows me to trust them and get dialed in and not worry about who’s around or who’s open.”
Chris Hine is the lead writer for North Score, the Star Tribune’s sports analytics beat. startribune.com/northscore firstname.lastname@example.org