The regular season has wrapped up, and now all that is left is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Central division offers an interesting matchup with two teams who are very opposite with the Minnesota Wild facing off against the Winnipeg Jets.
Winnipeg Jets vs Minnesota Wild First Round Series Preview
Offence vs Defence
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We’re about to find out with this series. The high-flying offence of Winnipeg is about to meet with one of the NHL’s best defensive corps in Minnesota.
The Jets have 4 players with 60+ points. In the fifth spot is rookie Kyle Connor. He finished with 31 goals and 57 points. Sophomore Patrik Laine finished the year second in goals. Also, he failed to show any signs of the dreaded sophomore slump. The second line consisting of Nikolaj Ehlers–Paul Stastny – Laine will be key. This, even if the top line gets shut down. The team also will use their lethal power play. Scoring on just over 23% of all their power play chances. This carried them to their 3.33 goals per game during the regular season. It was good for second in the league. The offense is potent and it will take all of the Wild’s defence and goaltending to stop it.
The Wild defence is almost as scary as the Jets offense. Consisting of Ryan Suter, Mathew Dumba, and Jared Spurgeon as top defensemen. Suter and Dumba both had 50+ points this season. To note, only two other teams had two 50 point defenders. Unfortunately, the Wild have lost Suter to season-ending surgery. That looked like it would be a major blow to the team. However, the team seems to not miss him a step as they continue to score. They also lead the league with the lowest xGA. This shows the quality of their defense but the defensive ability of their forwards. Mikko Koivu, who finished top three in Selke voting last year, also contributes to the quality of the Wild defending. Though he isn’t without the help of Mikael Granlund. Whoeven received Selke votes last year.
Whether the series is filled with goals or is a bunch of low scoring games will become a large factor in which team will walk out victorious.
An Abundance of Penalties Makes Special Teams Key
This series might have special teams written all over it. With such differing strengths, the man advantage could create the chances that open up scoring for a team. Both teams have taken more penalties than they have drawn and taken more penalties than the league average could become a major factor.
Minnesota has been close to the norm with special teams this season. The Wild score on 20.42% of their power plays, good for only 18th in the NHL. On the other hand they 81.3% of the penalties they take, and that puts them up to 13th in the league on the PK. The Wild have nothing that jumps out at you, but when looking at it from year to year, they were top 10 in the league last year with both special units. This year they seem to have taken a step back.
The Jets are at the opposite end of the spectrum. They have one of the best power plays in the league, and a top 10 penalty kill. They improved both significantly from last season. The Jets have been riding hot on all areas of their special teams to give them the advantage in every game they play. Scoring on the power plays they get, and killing off the penalties show they are a good all-around team.
Players To Watch
Heading into the playoffs, the superstar players aren’t always the ones who get it done for you. Last year it was the Pittsburgh Penguins Jake Guentzel who put up impressive numbers with 13 goals and 21 points. Or in 2015 when Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson had 23 points in 26 games en route to a loss in the Stanley Cup Final. These players are the impact players that win teams a Stanley Cup.
Heading into the playoffs, the Jets superstar scorer Laine only has two points in his last 10 games. Thankfully the captain Blake Wheeler and the rookie Connor had 11 points and 13 points respectively. Andrew Copp has also been productive in recent memory, going 4-2–6 in his last five. Because of the recent production from Copp, this provides an increase of scoring through the top three lines of the Jets offense, making it even more lethal. It isn’t the end of the world if Laine hits a cold streak or if they get another center injury, such as the one to Mark Scheifele near the start of the season.
The Minnesota Wild have lost a key player with Ryan Suter to injury but Dumba continues to step up with Jonas Brodin on the blueline. Each has posted four points in their last 5 games. Zach Parise began scoring after a slow start when returning from injury. He has tallied seven goals and nine points over his last 10 games, and likely would be near the top of the teams scoring had he not missed significant time with injury.
The series will be one of the best to watch. Both teams have strengths in places where the other team has a flaw.
That said, the series will likely go in favor of the Jets in six games.
The Wild’s weaknesses are much greater than that of the Jets and considering that Suter will not rejoin the team this year, that hurts the Wild. The Jets have a solid defensive grouping, so their weakness isn’t that flawed. It greatly outweighs the struggles of the Wild forward group scoring outside of Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, and Mikael Granlund. Any way that you cut it, this should be a great series to watch.