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Behind The Numbers

Avalanche, Wild chase final playoff spot

Behind the numbers of Wild Card pursuit in West

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

With a 6-3 victory against the Colorado Avalanche March 1, the Minnesota Wild are tied with the Avalanche at 68 points apiece.

They are locked in a two-team race for the final Western Conference position in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are both seven points back of the Nashville Predators, who have 75 points in 64 games, for the next highest playoff position and eight points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes and the Vancouver Canucks, who are tied for No. 10 in the Western Conference with 60 points apiece.

Colorado made the greater push at the NHL Trade Deadline, acquiring defenseman Eric Gelinas and forwards Shawn Matthias and Mikkel Boedker, while giving up Alex Tanguay, two prospects, and two draft picks. Minnesota's only significant move was to acquire David Jones from the Calgary Flames for goalie Niklas Backstrom and a sixth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Statistically, the Wild are a stronger team in terms of defensive play and puck possession; the Avalanche have the edge on special teams, the shootout, and many of the intangibles.

Minnesota's Advantage: Defense and Puck Possession

Minnesota's two greatest advantages over Colorado are achieved practically by default. Statistically, the Avalanche rank near the bottom of the League defensively and in terms of puck possession.

The Avalanche rank No. 23 with 2.88 goals allowed per game, No. 29 with 31.6 shots allowed per game, and last with 3,173 total shot attempts allowed and with a SAT of 44.0 percent - that's the percentage of all shots taken by Colorado in its games, and is used as a proxy for puck possession.

In contrast, the Wild rank near the League average in these defensive and puck-possession categories, with a strong blue line built around workhorse Ryan Suter. Consequently, the Wild are likely to have more success controlling the play and protecting leads than the Avalanche.

Video: MIN@CGY: Suter scores for Wild on two-man advantage

In terms of goaltending, it is hard to choose which starting goalie will be better in the final six weeks of the season, Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild or Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche.

Last season, Dubnyk won the Masterton Trophy, was a second team All-Star, finished No. 3 in voting for the Vezina Trophy and No. 4 in voting for the Hart Trophy.

In 2013-14, Varlamov was a second team All-Star, finished No. 2 in voting for the Vezina and No. 4 in voting for the Hart.

Despite the close match between Dubnyk and Varlamov, the Wild may enjoy a slight edge; at even strength, Minnesota ranks No. 8 in the NHL with a .934 save percentage, compared to Colorado's .927, which ranks No. 17. Furthermore, Darcy Kuemper of the Minnesota Wild is a more experienced and accomplished backup goaltender than Calvin Pickard of the Colorado Avalanche.

Colorado's Advantage: Special Teams and the Extras

By definition, intangibles are hard to measure, but Colorado has the edge in size and youth.

Minnesota's leading four scorers are all between ages 31 to 32, but 25-year-old Matt Duchene is the oldest of Colorado's top four.

With the addition of Gelinas, the Avalanche have four defensemen who are at least 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. Minnesota has none; Jared Spurgeon, who ranks second on the Wild in ice time, is 5-9 and 176 pounds. This lack of size could be one reason why they rank last in the NHL with 1108 hits. Colorado is No. 16 with 1487.

The Avalanche's advantage on special teams is easier to measure. While not in the League's top 10, Colorado still ranks higher than Minnesota in terms of power-play percentage, penalty-killing percentage, goals and shots per 60 minutes on the power play, and goals and shots allowed per 60 minutes when shorthanded.

Since this playoff race could come down to a single point, Colorado's advantage in the shootout could also make a big difference. Colorado is 3-0 in the shootout this season, and Varlamov's .746 career save percentage in the shootout ranks No. 5 among the 42 goalies who have faced at least 100 shots.

Video: COL@MIN: Iginla's one-timer on PP puts Avs ahead

In contrast, Dubnyk's .631 career shootout save percentage ranks No. 35, and Minnesota and Carolina are the only teams without a shootout victory this season.

Which team has an edge in coaching? That question is yet to be resolved. There are only a few metrics available to measure coaches, and they're based on experience, and how well their teams performed in the standings relative to the previous season. In these regards, Colorado's coaching staff began 2015-16 with an edge in each category.

However, Minnesota coach Mike Yeo was fired on Feb. 13, after the Wild started 2016 with a 3-12-4 record. Yeo was replaced by John Torchetti, who has 20 years of coaching experience in seven leagues, including 10 seasons in the NHL with six different organizations. The Wild have gone 6-3-0 since his arrival, which has neutralized one of Colorado's key advantages.

These teams are very well-matched, and even the smallest advantage could make the difference in a playoff race that might not be decided until they next play against each other on March 26 at Pepsi Center, and through to the final game of the season.

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