Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How Long Will This Dominance Last?

Are better times ahead for the Wild when playing the Blues? Photo: Jeff Robertson/AP
One could easily look at last night's score and say "The Wild got throttled by St. Louis". When you read 3-0 and Parise leaves the game with injury, its real easy to say that. If you watched the game, the Blues controlled the puck like no other and it showed up in the stat line. The Blues dominated the game with a 61% Corsi For. Not exactly the way the Wild wanted to send a message to St. Louis in their first meeting as divisional opponents.

But take a closer look at certain things, and one could come away with a little hope for the Wild when it comes to playing St. Louis down the road. The Wild at times last night looked like a spitting image of St. Louis, but it became difficult to keep that up once Zach Parise left the game for good.

When one watches the Blues, you notice they play very physical hockey. They have dominated the Wild in the past because of their physicality and the lack of response the Wild offer to it. Last night, however, the Wild had more of a response.

For example, early in the first period, David Backes and Nino Niederreiter had a shift opposite each other and exchanged hits in the corner of the St. Louis zone. It was a battle that saw Niederreiter get a shot on goal. First of all, David Backes may be the most skilled physical player in the NHL. One does not win a physical battle with Backes often, and Niederreiter went toe to toe with the St. Louis captain. Its also worth noting that Niederreiter finished the game with five hits, which lead the Wild.

Charlie Coyle would fit in just well for the Blues too. He can be a big power forward that can deliver a hit or two while creating plays to get the team on the board. Coyle wasn't overly great last night, but his style of play is what a team needs when playing the Blues.

Another example, is in the defense and goaltending. Early on, Niklas Backstrom and his defenders looked sluggish. Backstrom could not hang on to a puck to save his life, the defense could not push the Blues off the puck, and St Louis was able to slip in behind the defense a few times. Add all that up and you have an early 2-0 lead for the home team.

But Backstrom and company responded as they clamped down (or made a fair effort) and did not give up another goal the rest of the night (we dont count the empty netter here). A big reason for St. Louis' success is the strength of their defense and goaltending, which has been a huge reason for the Wild's franchise record start this season.

The win last night pushed the Blues winning streak against the Wild up to six games. But the Wild appear to be trying to mirror how the Blues play and the types of players they are putting on the ice. You certainly can't blame the Wild for doing this, when St. Louis has been arguably one of the best teams in the NHL for the past three seasons.

The teams will meet again on December 31st at Xcel Energy Center. If the Wild are at or close to full strength, they should give St. Louis more of a fight than the one we saw last night.

It's just not in the Wild's nature to get dominated like that this year. Expect them to try and end this dominance on New Years Eve.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell