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What the Analytics Tell Us About the Minnesota Wild's Line Matchups Against Vancouver in the Regular Season

Photo credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Wild’s matchup against the Vancouver Canucks has been billed as one of the more intriguing series of the qualifying round. With both teams effectively splitting the three games — a shootout win going Minnesota’s way to give the edge to the Wild — it certainly looks like it’s one of the more even matchups as well. Digging into the analytics, as Zone Coverage’s Giles Ferrell did, shows that in any given game between the two teams, Minnesota and Vancouver probably deserved better fates along the way.

However, mining through the analytics on NaturalStatTrick.com and Evolving-Hockey can show us the minutiae of certain player match-ups that led to winning.

It shows that the top line of the Wild, the Mats ZuccarelloEric StaalJason Zucker line, was completely shut down by the Vancouver lines of Bo HorvatLoui ErikssonTanner Pearson and Antoine RousselAdam GaudetteAlexander Edler in Game 1.

That top line combination was on the ice for a little over eight minutes at 5-on-5; a full minute more than the next line combo. They were summarily out-shot 5-1, and surrendered the defensive zone with ease. They were easily the worst line of the group in expected goals against, had the most scoring chances against and surrendered one of Horvat’s two goals of the night.

Game 1 – 1/12
Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 TOI CF CA CF% CF% Rel SF SA SF% SF% Rel GF GA GF% GF% Rel xGF xGA xGF% xGF% Rel SCF SCA SCF% SCF% Rel HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDCF% Rel
Jason Zucker Eric Staal Mats Zuccarello 8.18 6 14 30 -27.45 1 5 16.67 -24.24 0 1 0 -50 0.23 0.51 30.66 -27.2 4 4 50 -13.64 2 2 50 -11.54
Jordan Greenway Ryan Hartman Ryan Donato 6.18 10 2 83.33 41.52 1 2 33.33 -2.67 0 0 0.29 0.11 72.93 25.15 4 1 80 24 1 1 50 -10
Marcus Foligno Joel Eriksson Ek Luke Kunin 6.2 2 7 22.22 -31.23 2 5 28.57 -9.52 1 1 50 50 0.21 0.19 52.73 1.83 2 3 40 -24 2 2 50 -11.54
Zach Parise Mikko Koivu Kevin Fiala 7.03 7 5 58.33 11.06 3 2 60 29.57 0 0 0.4 0.07 84.57 39.7 4 2 66.67 8.33 2 0 100 46.67
Zach Parise Mikko Koivu Mats Zuccarello 2.32 3 2 60 11.61 1 1 50 15.38 0 0 0.18 0.2 46.97 -4.8 2 1 66.67 7.41 2 1 66.67 9.52
Game 2 – 2/6
Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 TOI CF CA CF% CF% Rel SF SA SF% SF% Rel GF GA GF% GF% Rel xGF xGA xGF% xGF% Rel SCF SCA SCF% SCF% Rel HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDCF% Rel
Jason Zucker Mikko Koivu Ryan Hartman 6.73 10 9 52.63 2.63 5 6 45.45 -15.07 1 0 100 0 0.29 0.48 38.08 -20.2 3 4 42.86 -7.14 2 3 40 -23.64
Kevin Fiala Luke Kunin Ryan Donato 6.93 11 14 44 -8.56 7 4 63.64 8.37 1 0 100 0 0.56 0.16 77.97 30.52 6 2 75 33.06 3 0 100 53.85
Marcus Foligno Joel Eriksson Ek Jordan Greenway 9.87 14 7 66.67 20.33 10 4 66.67 12.61 0 0 0.33 0.14 70.88 19.71 3 2 60 12.94 1 1 50 -7.14
Zach Parise Eric Staal Mats Zuccarello 9.72 6 9 40 -12.27 0 2 0 -59.57 0 0 0.02 0.21 8.92 -48.05 1 5 16.67 -37.88 0 2 0 -64.29
Game 3 – 2/19
Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 TOI CF CA CF% CF% Rel SF SA SF% SF% Rel GF GA GF% GF% Rel xGF xGA xGF% xGF% Rel SCF SCA SCF% SCF% Rel HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDCF% Rel
Alex Galchenyuk Luke Kunin Mats Zuccarello 10.7 12 8 60 13.68 5 3 62.5 18.5 1 0 100 60 0.47 0.3 60.65 20.77 4 6 40 -0.82 3 2 60 20
Luke Kunin Mikko Koivu Ryan Hartman 1.35 4 1 80 32.73 2 0 100 55.36 0 0 0.41 0.06 86.72 48.14 4 1 80 42.96 2 0 100 60.87
Marcus Foligno Joel Eriksson Ek Jordan Greenway 12.38 11 10 52.38 4.51 6 6 50 4.35 0 0 0.14 0.17 44.24 1.3 4 3 57.14 18.68 2 1 66.67 25.76
Ryan Donato Mikko Koivu Ryan Hartman 8.08 8 13 38.1 -12.97 5 6 45.45 -1.35 0 0 0.36 0.56 39.13 -4.74 4 10 28.57 -15.87 1 3 25 -22.62
Zach Parise Eric Staal Kevin Fiala 12.2 14 16 46.67 -2.75 6 11 35.29 -15.93 1 2 33.33 -33.33 0.42 0.9 31.87 -15.02 6 8 42.86 2.86 1 4 20 -30

That’s just one extreme case, though. The Wild survive on the depth of their lineup. Minnesota’s other lines helped pick up the offensive load for the team. The second and fourth lines provided the offense with a combined 71 percent Shot Attempt For ratio at 5-on-5. The Wild still lost the game because of poor special teams play.

In both the January 12th and February 6th games, the line centered by Joel Eriksson Ek was matched up heavily against the Brock Boeser line. The Eriksson Ek line, along with Marcus Foligno played a grand total of 28 5-on-5 shifts in the two games. Eighteen of those shifts were against the Boeser line. In Game 1 of the matchup, the line featured Elias Pettersson.

Pettersson was not in the lineup for Game 2. The Eriksson Ek line was decidedly upside-down in terms of scoring chances and shot attempts in Game 1 in a primarily defensive role. However, the line still remained one of the best on the team in Expected Goals Against, meaning the line did better at keeping shots and scoring chances against to the outside and away from the high percentage areas of the ice.

In Game 2, that line swapped Luke Kunin for Jordan Greenway. The trio dominated. With the benefit of not having to match-up against both Boeser and Pettersson, the line spent more time in the offensive zone. An 8-4 shot advantage, a 14-7 shot attempt margin and a strong 0.14 xGA showed that the line could be a two-way threat against a strong, albeit not full-stGalchenyuk's Defense From Last 3 Seasonsrength, opponent.

The first two games were at home, so former Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau could match his lines they way he wanted. The home team gets the last change in between faceoffs. So say Vancouver decides to get the Boeser line on the ice for a faceoff, Boudreau could decide to put out his most effective line to go up against Boeser and company. On the road, this benefit was no longer available to interim head coach Dean Evason in Game 3.

Vancouver head coach Travis Green did his very best to keep Pettersson away from Eriksson Ek. Instead, nine of the 13 shifts for the line consisting of Zuccarello-Alex Galchenyuk-Kunin saw heavy doses of Pettersson-Toffoli-J.T. Miller. Considering the poor defensive stats for Galchenyuk the last three seasons, it must be considered that the matchup was considered strategic advantage for Vancouver.

Galchenyuk’s line held its ground. The line had a slim margin in shots and in High-Danger Scoring Chances For. Galchenyuk even added a late game-tying goal and the eventual shootout winner.

However, Evason’s approach to deployment was much more about rolling lines more equally, with the edge going to lines that had Kevin Fiala for reasons that should be evident. Therefore the Staal line was forced to take on some of the Pettersson duties. On the road, it appears that containing the young studs of Vancouver will be more of a platoon assignment.

Line mixing and matching is one of the main duties of the head coach. Evason will need to win the game within the game if he wants to get his Wild team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Although this series has importance for the Wild’s future and shot at a Stanley Cup, for Evason this series is important for him landing a head coaching gig in the NHL as well. With the stakes so high it’ll be the finer details being the difference in such a close and even match-up.

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Photo credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin (USA TODAY Sports)

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