Game 7 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Minnesota Wild

After polishing off the Kings in convincing fashion the other night, the Lightning (4-2-0, 8 PTS) play host to a curious case in the visiting Wild (3-2-2, 8 PTS), which is coming off of what amounts to a frustrating loss to the Leafs in which a brilliant possession performance — Minnesota enjoyed a +37 shot attempt differential (+29 5v5 and +12 5v5 Close) — was negated by an excellent goalie performance and a hot Toronto power play.

Minnesota was in the midst of a surprising and promising start to the 2011-2012 season, one that propelled the team to the top of the Western Conference in points after the first 31 games, the last time these two clubs squared off in November 2011, with the Wild claiming a home victory. Things ended disastrously as the Wild eventually finished behind the Lightning in the league’s final standings, both well out of the playoff picture. Minnesota’s tremendous, albeit predicted, fall from grace has become an oft-cited cautionary tale and a focal point in the divide between the analytics crowd and its horde of skeptical critics. Of course, the Wild rebounded to earn a playoff berth last season while Tampa slunk into an even deeper malaise that resulted in Guy Boucher’s ouster and, consequently, Jon Cooper’s promotion.

Which brings us to the present: after finishing in the bottom-half of the league, possession-wise, over their lockout-abbreviated campaign, Minnesota is currently among the league’s elite in the early going this season, an apparently accelerated payoff to the conscious decision by the coaching staff to emphasize puck control, especially while maneuvering through the neutral zone on the attack, over the muck-and-grind approach leaned upon previously. However, despite tilting the ice heavily to their advantage, the Wild come into tonight sitting near the middle of the pack in terms of goal scoring. Minnesota has managed 16 total goals, although the majority of damage has come with the man-advantage; the Wild leads the league in power play tallies but is in the bottom-third for goals scored during 5v5 play.

The drop-off stems from the difference in shooting percentages: Minnesota is shooting a very healthy (but not the best) 18.4% a man up while just 4.5% at evens, where Matt Cooke is leading the Wild in production. Seriously, Cooke — who has nearly half the Wild’s 5v5 goals — has 5 points (3 goals, 2 assists) while Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, Dany Heatley, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund have combined for 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists). As amusing as that may seem, the Wild will see regression in due time. It’s just whether it will come quickly or gradually that remains to be seen.

It all amounts to an interesting showdown of sorts for the Lightning, which has held its own, apart from the Chicago match, at even-strength against the quality opponents it has faced in the opening weeks of this season. Tampa Bay has benefited from some bounces and questionable calls, of course, and has some facets of its 5v5 results — the shooting and save percentages, in particular — that seem bound for eventual corrections but there’s no substantial concerns at this point.

A win tonight would certainly set the table nicely for the remainder of the home stand even if just to remove a bit of pressure with successive bouts against the Bruins and Blackhawks still looming before the Lightning close it out against the Sabres. It might even cause some of the national TV analysts (here’s looking at you, Keith Jones) to take notice to the signs of life emanating from 401 Channelside.

SEASON SERIES
[table “77” not found /]

NOTES

Rosters

LIGHTNING WILD
[table “74” not found /]
[table “74” not found /]

TB Statpack

TEAM POSSESSION, SCORING, SHOOTING
[table “75” not found /]
SPECIAL TEAMS
[table “80” not found /]
GOALTENDING
[table “81” not found /]
PLAYER SCORING
[table “76” not found /]

MIN Statpack

TEAM POSSESSION, SCORING, SHOOTING 
[table “75” not found /]
SPECIAL TEAMS
[table “80” not found /]
GOALTENDING
[table “81” not found /]
PLAYER SCORING
[table “76” not found /]

Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

Leave a Reply