No one wants to hear about 2003 again, so I’ll leave any comparisons to those two teams out of this. You’re welcome.
So, without further adieu, here are five matchups that matter between the Vancouver Canucks and the Minnesota Wild.
Canucks’ potent young offense vs. Wild’s veteran D-corps
This particular matchup is probably the biggest contrast in this series. The Canucks top 8 scorers in 2019-20 are all age 27 or younger, including the entire nucleus of Pettersson, Boeser, and Horvat.
On the other hand, out of the Wild’s top 6 defensemen, 4 of them are age 29 or older. That includes longtime number-one Ryan Suter and perennially underrated Jared Spurgeon, who both make up the first D-pairing.
Suter and Spurgeon should get the lion’s share of the matchups against the Canucks’ top line of Pettersson-Miller-Toffoli/Boeser, a line that was humming along essentially all season for Vancouver.
When it comes to Vancouver’s second line of Horvat-Pearson-Boeser/Toffoli, Minnesota’s second pairing of Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin will likely be dispatched to stop the trio.
Statistically speaking, the Canucks are 8th in the NHL in terms of goals-for-per-game with an average of 3.25, while the Wild sit 24th in the league in goals-against-per-game with an average of 3.14. However, the Wild did allow the fewest even-strength scoring chances per-60 in the entire league.
Vancouver will hope to overcome that with offensive production from their top 6. The top line in particular had an exceptional year, with Pettersson, Miller, Toffoli, and Boeser all having even-strength Corsi percentages of well over 50%.
On the Minnesota side of the coin, only one Wild defenseman had a Corsi percentage of over 50%, Spurgeon (52.4%).
In a short series, possession time will prove to be massively important, and the Canucks’ youthful top 6 could prove to wear down the older Wild back end.
Canucks’ goaltending vs. Wild’s goaltending
One of the biggest revelations this year for the Canucks was the emergence of Jacob Markstrom as a bona fide number one and star starting goaltender. For the Wild this season, things were more in-flux between the pipes.
Minnesota split the starting duty between veterans Alex Stalock and Devan Dubnyk. Stalock was the more reliable starter, with pedestrian numbers of a .910 save percentage and a 2.67 GAA to go along with four shutouts. Dubnyk had a rough go this season with a .890 save percentage and a 3.35 GAA and a shutout, starting as the team’s starter but falling out of favor to Stalock as the season went on.
Markstrom was likely Vancouver’s most valuable player this season, as the team had a penchant for getting dominated territorially and on the shot-clock but it was the 6’6” Swede keeping the Canucks in each game.
He finished the season with a .918 save percentage, 2.75 GAA, and two shutouts, stats that really fail to really show just how important he was to Vancouver.
Jacob Markstrom turned aside all 49 shots Wednesday and established a @Canucks franchise record for most saves in a shutout performance. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/QrtkZU4OzM— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 13, 2020
What could prove to be a factor however in this matchup is experience. Markstrom of course, has yet to make a playoff start for the Canucks. Devan Dubnyk has played in 25 playoff games but the more likely choice to start in net is Alex Stalock, who has started one NHL playoff game.
It will be a different kind of pressure this year, coming off of a long break and playing in front of no fans, but there will certainly be pressure. In a short series, this is likely the most important matchup.
Canucks’ shaky defence vs. the Wild’s surprising offense
Although the bigger match-up is probably Vancouver’s forwards versus Minnesota’s defence, there’s some intrigue here as well.
The Canucks defence struggled again as a whole this season, finishing bottom-10 in shots against, goals against, and Corsi against at even-strength. The Wild on the other hand, we’re middle of the pack in terms of shots and chances created, but they finished fourth in the NHL with 2.84 goals-per 60 at evens. That was largely thanks to a 9.43 team shooting percentage, which was second in the league behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Alex Edler and either Troy Stecher or Tyler Myers should match up with the Eric Staal — Kevin Fiala — Jordan Greenway line for Minnesota. Fiala broke out this season with 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 64 games, good enough to lead the Wild in scoring.
Also on offence for the Wild is Mats Zuccarello. Quite possibly the greatest Norwegian NHLer of all time, he has recorded his lowest season point total since 2012-13 this season, with 37 points in 64 games. Before the break, he was playing on a line with newly-acquired Alex Galchenyuk, who had seven points in 14 games for the Wild.
The X-factor in this match-up between units will be rookie phenom Quinn Hughes. Will the 20-year-old be able to dominate in his most meaningful action of his short career, or will the pressure of the stage get to him?
While Hughes is the only Canucks defenceman with positive possession numbers, eight Wild forwards have Corsi numbers of over 50%, indicating their team has the possession advantage when on the ice.
What’s striking about the Wild forwards is that 11 of them finished the season with 20 points or more, so there are scoring threats on each and every line. Needless to say, the third Canucks’ D-pair, including a rotating door of Stecher, Myers, Oscar Fantenberg, and Jordie Benn will have to be reliable for the Canucks to have a chance in the series.
Canucks’ PP vs. Wild PK
Starting with the raw percentages, Vancouver’s power-play is substantially better than the Minnesota penalty kill.
The Canucks score 24.1% of the time they have the man-advantage (4th in the NHL), while the Wild kill only 77.2% of opposing power plays (25th in the NHL). This could prove to be the biggest mismatch of the series.
Having a bona fide power play quarterback (Hughes, duh) has been a godsend for the Canucks, as they’ve been deadly on the man advantage for most of the season. Quinn is tied for the team’s power play points lead (Miller) with 25 points (3 goals, 22 assists)
It’s been a different story for the Wild. After their February 1st game, they sat at 30th in the NHL on the penalty kill. Since the firing of Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota has moved up six spots, but it remains an obvious vulnerability for the Wild.
Special teams are always crucial in the playoffs, and if the Canucks execute up to their powerplay standards it could win them the best-of-5.
Canucks’ PK vs. Wild’s PP
Again, starting with the straight-up numbers. Vancouver’s penalty-kill has been just about as average as they come, killing 80.5% of opposing power plays, good for 16th in the NHL.
The Wild’s powerplay should present a challenge for the unit, as they sit at 11th in the NHL, scoring on 21.3% of their chances.
Parise actually leads all players in the series with 27 total power play points (12 goals, 15 assists), and is tied with Horvat for the power play goal lead.
Vancouver’s PK has been streaky over the course of the season, so how they perform in Game 1 could potentially be telling as to how they’ll perform over the series.
All in all, the Wild hold the slight edge in this regard, and it’ll be important that the Canucks have one of their best penalty-killers Chris Tanev back to even the playing field as much as possible.
This will be an important match-up but ultimately I think the play of Jacob Markstrom and the Canucks’ power play will decide which way this series goes.