With the schedule for the second round now released league-wide, it’s now time to take a look at an overly familiar foe, the Minnesota Wild. Specifically starting with their out-of-nowhere Vezina finalist Devan Dubnyk (the second consecutive the Hawks will face) and the defensemen in front of him.
The story is well worn at this point, but here’s a quick recap just for thoroughness’ sake. Dubnyk washed out of Edmonton behind a garbage defense and a down year last season, being traded to the Nashville Predators and then later to the Montreal Canadiens, both for literally nothing. Dubnyk made two starts with Nashville and none with the Habs, as he was assigned to their AHL team in Hamilton, where he played in 8 games.
This off season he signed a one year deal with the Coyotes to back up Mike Smith, and after Smith was an unmitigated disaster, Dubnyk was solid enough for Minnesota to trade for in a last ditch attempt at saving their season. It was scoffed at at the time, but save it he fucking did, to the tune of a .936 save percentage in 39 games with the Wild after joining the team on January 15th.
That said, this is not wholly out of nowhere. Dubnyk was the 14th overall pick in 2004, and between the seasons of ’10-’11, ’11-’12, and 2013, Dubnyk sported save percentages of .916, .914, and .921. So the potential has always been there, and now that he’s playing behind a team with actual defensive structure where he can see where the shots are coming from, he’s certainly making the most of the opportunity.
Dubnyk is massive at 6’6″, 215, but is quite nimble for a big man. He covers a ton of ground down low and can move laterally very quickly, something that the similarly sized Rinne has slipped with doing since his hip issues began arising. Dubnyk’s glove is not what Rinne’s is however, allowing higher shots to hit him in the chest as opposed to gloving them cleanly. And while not vintage Martin Brodeur or even Marty Turco, Dubnyk is not shy about handling the puck, and certainly won’t be handcuffed by routine plays coming behind his net.
Against St. Louis Dubnyk came away with a midland .913 save percentage, but that was brought severely down by his one true turd of a performance in game 4 at home, where he allowed 6 goals on 17 shots before getting the hook. But aside from that aberration, he was beyond solid, allowing 7 goals on 132 shots. good for a .947, and just 2 on the power play.
Dubnyk is clearly feeling it right now and has been for months. The standard tactics of waiting him out and picking a corner, misdirection, or traffic are all still in play here but the most important aspect of getting to him enough to make a difference is the sheer volume of attempts. And that’s where things get interesting.
Top Pairing – Suter & Brodin
Now going through this the third straight year, the story is very familiar with these two. Suter is obviously one of the workhorses of the entire league, and his game can only truly be appreciated live, where his movement is arguably as efficient as Nick Lidstrom in his prime if not more so, as Suter doesn’t even take the offensive risks that Lidstrom did below the rings. Or at least with as much frequency. Brodin has proved a perfect compliment to Suter being slightly more mobile but just as positionally sound.
Obviously these two will see as much of Toews, Hossa, and Saad as Sam Fels Doppelganger Mike Yeo can manage, and then probably spot duty against other lines as well if the below pairs can’t hack it. But very similarly to Suter’s old partner in Shea Weber in Nashville, these two tend to merely absorb the top threat of the opposition, particularly since Dubnyk’s arrival, and most certainly during the Blues series. Suter was held a miserable 41.8% share of all attempts at evens against St. Louis, and Brodin wasn’t much better at 42.9%. Suter and Brodin were also below water from the time Dubnyk arrived until the end of the regular season, so this isn’t necessarily something the Blues did specifically. But again, the thought process (Stone Pony) is that these two free up the more mobile and defensively porous lower pairings to push the play the other way, and they were for the most part able to do that.
During the regular season.
Pairing 2 – Scandella & Spurgeon
Marco Scandella had something of a breakout year for the Wild, with 11 goals, 23 points, and his first season ever above 50% in possession at 52.0%. Scandella is big and mobile at 6’3″, 217lbs, and has not been afraid to fire away on net this season, as his 11 goals are already evidence of, but his increase on shots on goal per game increased from 1.05 per game to 1.75. Spurgeon is still a prototypical undersized offensive defenseman, with the emphasis truly being on undersized at a listed 5’9″. Spurgeon can move well with the puck and has a shot far larger than his diminutive frame, but obviously corner battles in his own end tend to be an issue for him.
But again, this unit got snowed under by the Blues, sporting identical 44.51% shares at evens. Additionally, because these two couldn’t move the puck out of their own end effectively enough, they started far more shifts in their own end (54%) than they usually would, and that’s with playing an equal number of home and road games. Both have three points so far, and 2 of Spurgeon’s have come on the power play. They’re also getting a 93% save percentage from Dubnyk while they’re out there. If the Hawks are able to hem this unit in, they should generate enough attempts on Dubnyk to make an impact.
Pairing 3 – Dumba & Leopold
At present Matt Dumba is getting the benefit of the softest zone starts among Wild defensemen, and he is still only carrying the play to the tune of 43.94%. That’s not to say he isn’t a threat, because he does have an obvious set of wheels and great vision, because he certainly does, and the Wild drafted him 7th overall because of it. But he’s being babysat for the most part by Jordan Leopold, who is absolutely done by any measurable statistic. No cutesy story about his daughter and playing for his hometown excuse the his sub-40% share of attempts while playing 12+ minutes a night at evens. And absolutely any time the Hawks can manage to get the Toews or Kane lines out against Leopold in a defensive zone draw situation, particularly at home, they need to do so. Because they’re going to need every shot on Dubnyk they can manage.