Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild
Sunday, August 02, 2020 – 10:30 PM EDT at Rogers Place
The Wild had an absolutely awful start to the 2020 season. They couldn't score, everything was going in, it was being hailed as them being too old and nothing would amount to the rest of the calendar. However a 24 team playoff and suddenly they are back in the mix. The comeback to right the ship began as soon as they returned home for a couple of games after beginning with six of seven on the road. It was a weird season for them though as just when it began to look like they were 'doing it', head coach Bruce Boudreau was terminated. This came on Valentine's Day, but the Wild still closed out the remainder of the season with an 8-4 record.
Vancouver didn't have any of that coaching drama this season. Markstrom had some personal issues that put him out of the lineup for a considerable portion of the season, and there was a bit of a dip with replacement Demko. For the most part however their talent remained healthy except for a handful of games that Edler and Boeser were sidelined. Right before the trade deadline they added goalie Louis Domingue and talented winger Tyler Toffoli.
Overall these were two middle of the pack teams doing the best with their contrastingly young and old lineups. It is an interesting clash of age coming into this series. During the season, Minny marginally won it with a 2-1 record and the third game being in overtime. This was a game in which the Canucks held a 3-2 lead with five minutes left and new acquisition Alex Galchenyuk both tied it up in the final few and then also got the shootout winner. These teams are incredibly close, though I knew which side I would be backing relatively soon into the work.
The Canucks have a young potent offensive threat that we saw put in work this year. All in their early to mid-twenties, this core created problems for a lot of teams with four of them breaking 20+ goals. Their powerplay unit was also excellent finishing in the top five in the league. Quinn Hughes, at only 20 years old, was dynamic quarterbacking the powerplay putting up a team-leading 22 assists with the man-advantage. For the Wild, veteran Ryan Suter was this guy still but to a lesser extent. At 35 years old he was still better on the defensive end that Hughes with an average of 24 minutes a night and playing all 69 games. The Wild powerplay however was nothing to write home about, though it still finished in the top half of the league.
The true budding superstar on this Canucks team is Elias Petterson. He is one of those players you could pair with almost anyone else in those top three lines at 5v5 or on the powerplay and be sure to get point contribution. The addition of a shooter like Toffoli to the wing, who also brings Stanley Cup winning experience. He is one of those rare players who was tossed into the deep end in his debut with the Kings getting the callup in Game 5 of the Western Conference final back in 2013. While they didn't win that year, the following season Toffoli was solidified as a starter for their Cup run putting up 14 points including 7 goals, 2 game-winners, and a +6 rating. He is some much-needed experience on the front-end of this young Canucks offense.
For the Wild, of the players who attained 30 points this season, five of the seven are over the age of 30. Additionally all seven finished with a negative plus/minus. This forward matchup will contrast the 'roundness' of Minny's four lines in comparison to the power of the Canucks top two.
The #1 unit for the Canucks was lethal this season, however beyond that was nothing to boast about. 41 of their 57 goals came from the top powerplay line. Even if they are playing 60% of the the time with the man-advantage, can they possibly do enough and then keep up their 5v5 minutes as well. Only a single player from that second unit broke 10 points this season while an opponent was in the box. It is a similar case for the Wild, but again this is supposed to be one of the strengths of the Canucks.
Domingue is by no means a brilliant backup, however he is an improvment on Demko...or should be. Markstrom posted some elite numbers this season and if he is healthy can certainly be a catalyst to a deep run. On the opposite side is a Wild team which has seen Dubnyk gradually drop off to the point where Stalock is their go-to now. Stalock had better numbers, over a smaller workload, than Markstrom however the Wild have also been needing to play a defensive-minded style for years now. That was not really the case this year as a whole.
I thought the addition of Meyers and Benn last off-season could round this team out nicely to begin contending for a perennial playoff spot. Yet somehow it didn't. Benn was sidelined but put up mediocre numbers when he was in, and Myers still has yet to become that defensive stud with Pronger-esque contribution.
Where Minny's true advantage sits is in the depth of their defence. This is depth in contrast to Vancouver and a handful of other play-in clubs, but not by any means 'elite'. However on all three lines their ability to limit the opposition was reflected in allowing the fewest scoring chances against. This did not correlate to fewest goals, but it is a notable statistic. The Canucks on the other hand allowed the fifth most opportunities against their goalies. This is the type of stat which can mitigate a superior goalie over even a five game series.
There is some nice experience to complement the youth of Hughes. Edler and Tanev may both be past their prime, however they had respectable seasons and also have a bit of playoff experience under their belt. Tanev was in just his rookie season when the Canucks last made a Cup run, but he did play in a handful of games in their two appearances since.
Wrap It Up
While the Wild were not a banged up squad during the season and were playing alright when the break occured, this hiatus has helped them just like everyone else. Their aging core of Koivu, Suter, Staal, Parise are all over 35 years old now. One thing I've heard a bit about this week is that it takes longer for old bodies to get going into a season which I don't doubt. That said, this is a veteran squad with respectable talent on all 19 of their starters. They lack the flash and explosiveness of a Petterson, however I always get concerned with top-heavy teams as I have pointed out several times in these previews. If that top powerplay unit does not produce, the Canucks will struggle throughout the playoffs.
For example let's compare the Oilers powerplay which finished first, to the Canucks powerplay which finished 4th. Vancouver was given over thirty more opportunities with the man-advantage this season than Edmonton which amounts to roughly an entire game more being played on the powerplay. However they only scored one more goal on the season. I have already commented on the outlier nature of Edmonton's powerplay performance, this is simply to point out that while their goal scoring looked incredible they had a greater distribution of opportunity to do so. There is actually quite a bit to unpack with a theory like this and I don't think I am fully doing it justice for this NHL pick.
I have decided to go with the more well-balanced Wild for this series at +105 with BetOnline. The talent and age narrative is being a bit underepresented on their side of the ice in contrast to potential superstars. Again, just to point out the glaringly obvious; this is the first time Pettersson, Boeser, Hughes will play in the post-season and there are more than a handful of young talents whose points do not translate from the regular season immediately.
I actually favor the Wild squad in this series but still only placed a one unit wager on them. Their NHL odds are about the same at the best sportsbooks, and the separation here in contrast to a pick'em doesn't make a lot of sense after pouring over everything.