Meet the Enemy: A Q&A with Hockey Wilderness
The Stars and Wild begin their Stanley Cup Playoff clash on Thursday. Who better to prepare Stars' fans for the tilt than the enemy themselves? We asked Tony Wiseau over at Hockey Wilderness some questions about the Wild, the match up with Dallas, and the current state of the team up north.
Is the enemy you know better than the enemy you don't?
We're not actually sure about the answer to that, but we at Defending Big D reached out to Tony Wiseau over at Hockey Wilderness for a little friendly Q&A before we dissolve into irrational hatred for one another. Tony was gracious enough to answer our questions, even if he doesn't like Antoine Roussel. Can you believe that? An opponent hates Antoine Roussel. Who knew?
DBD: If the Wild are going to "three-peat" against Central Division Champs (Avalanche 2014 Blues 2015), how are they going to do it?
HW: They're gonna do it by giving Dallas as little room to create as possible. At their best, Minnesota is still a very defensive team and they do a good job of limiting chances in front of the net and in the slots. They'll have to do that extremely well, score just enough, and have Devan Dubnyk perform well. And even then, they might have to get a lucky break or two.
DBD: Last season Devan Dubnyk literally carried the Wild to a postseason berth and first round victory over the Blues. His save percentage was otherworldly last year in Minnesota (0.936), but feels more human this season (0.918). What is the explanation for that? Was he just hot last year? Or is the play in front of his worse this year?
HW: Oh, for sure he was hot last season. That's a career year, and it would be ridiculous to expect that again.
The drop-off might not be *quite* as steep as the raw Save% suggests. At 5v5, his Sv% last year was .936, and that only dropped off to .933 in 2015-16. It's a little bit, but nothing significant.
Where things are different is on the penalty kill. Last year, his PK Sv% was .903, and if you just count his time with Minnesota, that jumps all the way to .928(!!!). This season, it's all the way down to .844, one of the worst marks in the league.
I wouldn't go so far as to say most of that's on Dubnyk, though. The Wild finished the year giving up the third-most high-danger scoring chances when short-handed, so Dubnyk was left hung out to dry often. On the whole, I think Dubnyk's been very good, especially when his team holds up their end of the bargain.
DBD: Give Stars' fans a Wild player to watch for that they may not know now, but will know by the end of the series.
HW: You don't know Erik Haula, right? He's pretty good.
But as for someone who won't make the veins in your forehead pop at his very mention, you might probably know who Nino Niederreiter is, but I don't think you know just how good he's been. His 43 points don't jump off the page, but only 4 players in the NHL have had more points with less ice time per game (15:33).
And it's not just about the scoring with Niederreiter, it's that he makes everyone around him better. In the early part of the year, he was a huge part of the Wild's best line (with Jason Zucker and Mikko Koivu), and later in the year, his being paired with Haula and Jason Pominville ignited them offensively. "El Nino" is really good, and you'll probably get to see his two-way game in action against the Jamie Benn line.
DBD: Every team has strengths and weaknesses. Dallas' are widely known on both sides of the puck, but what about Minnesota's? What would you call this team's key strength and key weakness?
HW: I'd say the biggest strength the Wild have is how many looks they can throw you on their defense. You need to shut down the opposition? Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin will be on the ice. You want a defensively responsible defenseman who can move the puck up ice. Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon can do that. You need to throw an X-factor out there, especially on the power play? Matt Dumba and Mike Reilly can really provide offense.
Their biggest weakness is their forward core, especially their depth. Right now, if you can shut down the Nino-Haula line and the Parise-Koivu-Coyle line, you're going to beat the Wild. And even some of Minnesota's more prominent threats are prone to cold streaks.
DBD: Is there a player on the Stars' roster that Wild fans love to hate? You know, besides Antoine Roussel.
HW: No. If there are other jerks on the Stars, Roussel does a good job of taking the heat for them.
DBD: Does the status of Thomas Vanek change the ceiling for this team in the playoffs?
HW: A lot of fans probably don't think so, given Vanek's defensive liabilities, but I think it does. For all of Vanek's faults, he represents scoring depth that the Wild desperately need. Right now, the Wild's second line figures to be Chris Porter - Mikael Granlund - David Jones. That's a huge downgrade from Vanek's sublime playmaking, even if his inclusion means you have to make an effort to shelter that line from Benn and Spezza's lines.
DBD: Do fans in Minnesota view Dallas as a "rival"? Or is that a narrative that the media has spoken over the match up and declared it so?
HW: No. There's definitely nostalgia for the former North Stars (the Alumni Game in Minnesota was a really cool example of that), but outside of their shared history, the Stars being in the Pacific for so long, and then not seeing these teams meet in the playoffs ever has really taken Dallas off the radar for Minnesota's fan base.
That said, a really competitive series with a dash of bad blood really works wonders for these kinds of things, so let's see if that changes in two weeks.
Thanks a lot, Tony. We appreciate your perspective and hope your team does not play well. All kidding aside, you can find Tony and his team's work over at Hockey Wilderness. You may also want to check out the Defending Big D Q&A on Hockey Wilderness, found here.