Mike Yeo and his Minnesota Wild have a lot of explanations about why they're down 2-0 in the Central division semi-finals of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. They say it's because they weren't physical enough against the Colorado Avalanche. They say it's because they were caught on their heels against the Colorado Avalanche. They say it's because the officials favored the Colorado Avalanche. Conspiracy theories are always fun, but let's put the tin foil hats away and look at what really presents the Wild their biggest challenge in trying to dig themselves out of a hole and get back into this series: their game.
So what is Yeo to do? How can his team make this a series? Let's look at some of the ways the coach, his team, and analysts have suggested that happen.
Better Match Ups
Yeo has said that he's looking forward to bringing the series back to Minnesota because it will give him the chance to dictate the match ups. Generally, this means ensuring that your opponent's best players are facing your best players. Unfortunately for Yeo, that's what was happening in Colorado. The Avs' top line thus far has matched up against (and dominated) the best the Wild has to offer. Top forwards Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, as well as top-defensive pair Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter, were flat out beat repeatedly by Paul Stastny, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. Who exactly does Yeo think will do a better job? There is talk that Yeo will go with his third line. Yes, please.
Contain Nathan MacKinnon
There are two ways that Yeo plans to go about this. First, he wants to up the physicality his players bring to the young rookie. He is considering putting Matt Cooke out on the ice against MacK, in the hopes that the young forward will spend so much time on his ass that he won't be able to score. Yeo clearly hasn't watched much film on the Avs if he thinks MacKinnon will be that easy to push around. Just ask David Backes how well he was able to execute that game plan. There is a concern, however, about the manner in which Cooke will bring that physical play. This is a guy who has a history of questionable decisions. It's certainly possible that containing MacK means taking him out of the game to Cooke. The only thing the Avs can do to combat this, if it should happen, is smart play by the rookie and protection by Patrick Bordeleau. Something tells me Cooke won't be so eager to face Bordy.
The second way Yeo has hinted at stopping MacKinnon is by matching his speed. He's suggested putting Erik Haula out there against MacK. Lol. Okay.
Shut Down the Top Line
Certainly, stopping 29-26-92 is crucial to any success the Wild hopes to find. Unfortunately for Yeo, If you throw your best at Stastny, MacKinnon and Landeskog, you still have to shut down Ryan O`Reilly, Jamie McGinn and P.A. Parenteau. They ain't no scrubs, son, and can generate plenty of offense themselves. You also can't forget the guys on the back end. Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie (who'd rank 6th & 7th in scoring on the Wild, respectively) can put the biscuit in the basket, too. The bottom line is that the Avs come at you in waves. You may be able to hold back the tide once, but it won't last for long. (Gotta believe Yeo made some sacrifices to ensure that Matt Duchene and John Mitchell weren't back for this series. Can you imagine?)
Another approach Yeo has considered taking is becoming a more active force through hits and checks. This was the plan going into Game 2. Didn't really work out, did it Mike? The Avs, a team generally not known for their physicality, topped Minnesota in hits 41 to 28 in Game 1, a game that the Wild should have won. Game 2, however, favored the Wild at a rate of 34 to 26. There's no doubt that the Avs had a much better game the second time around, so hitting didn't translate to the kind of dominance Yeo hoped it would. One of the things he may have overlooked is that hits and checks can pull you out of position, something you absolutely do not want to happen against the Avalanche. You get out of position, and their speed will burn you. Also, if you're hitting, it means you don't have the puck, so hit away little Wild.
Yeo's best option against the Avalanche is to hope the Avs play worse than they have. That's not to disrespect the Wild. The team still has weapons, and it's not going to be a cake walk for the Avs. However, if Colorado can close out Game 3 the way they did Game 2, the second round is all but theirs.