Now before you get all hot and bothered at the title, yes, the team had plenty of passengers in Game 2. But when it comes to the playoffs, goaltending has been and always will be front and center for what makes or breaks a hockey team. The Minnesota Wild are no different from that moniker.
After having a relatively easy night in Game 2, thanks in large part to a big defensive effort, Alex Stalock was again between the pipes in Game 2 and had more of a challenge this time around. Not helping his cause was his team’s constant shuffle to the penalty box, which instantly increased the workload he would have to keep the Wild in this game.
The Minnesota penalty kill was stellar, but it was the saves that needed to come away from the shorthanded minutes that proved to be fatal for Stalock in the Wild.
24 seconds into the hockey game, Vancouver got on the board and set the tone for this game when Tanner Pearson fired a shot from the faceoff circle that beat Stalock right over the shoulder into the corner after the goaltender dropped down.
Had Stalock been maybe a few inches taller like his goaltending companion Devan Dubnyk, this one might hit the shoulder and stay out. But it doesn’t and Stalock can’t react quick enough to make this save and keep the game scoreless in the opening seconds.
Per Evolving Hockey’s shot chart, this shot by Pearson came with an expected goal (xG) value of 2.6%. In layman’s terms, that means that is not a good goal to allow at any point, no less 24 seconds into Game 2 of a playoff series.
After the Wild had scored on a shorthanded goal by Luke Kunin before the end of the first period, momentum seemingly was on the verge of changing to the Wild’s favor in period two. But just 181 seconds into the second frame, J.T. Miller fired a shot from the faceoff circle, again, that beats Stalock over his right shoulder again to give the Canucks the lead back. A lead that they would not relinquish in this game.
Another low probability shot, 5.2% expected goal value per Evolving Hockey, that beats Stalock from a spot not considered high danger. In fact, these were spots he was making the saves from in Game 1, as the Wild defense forced the Canucks to the outside all night long.
Again, this shot goes over the shoulder of Stalock, who if he had just been an inch or two taller might make this save? It is definitely possible.
Is it possible the Canucks found the weakness on Stalock? That is definitely a possibility as well. Drawing him out and shooting over the shoulder is something to watch in Game 3 and for the rest of the series.
A deflection and a rebound put into an empty net were the other two goals allowed by Stalock on Tuesday night, and those were shots he had no chance on. Per the Evolving Hockey model, Stalock finished the game minus-1.25 goals below expectation, which means he allowed more goals than he should have. That tells you that those first two goals were the ones that brought down his score in this game.
If the Wild want to win this series, they need Stalock to make the saves on low probability shots. Without the saves, Minnesota might not last long in this postseason.
Yes, the skaters in front of Stalock absolutely needed to be better on Wednesday as well, but the Wild is going to need these types of shots to be made moving forward. If they can’t be made in Game 3, then Minnesota might need to look at making a goaltending change, because Jacob Markstrom on the opposite end has been solid — sans a few shots from Kevin Fiala — and will not be giving up many goals.
It was just one game, but in a five game series where one game makes a world of difference, the Wild simply need better from Alex Stalock in Game 3. Plain and simple.
Because in the playoffs, goaltending reigns supreme.