The Wild set out to activate the defensemen this year, and so far in this young season, have done just that.
Good morning Wilderness! Fresh off of a 2-0 weekend and continuing to out-play its opposition, the Wild look to take its recent success on the road for four games. It will be the Wild's first extended trip away from Xcel Energy Center this season. The team will make stops in Buffalo, Toronto, Tampa, and Sunrise, Florida to end the trip against the Panthers. It will be the first trip to the Eastern Conference since 2011-2012.
Prior to training camp, Wild head coach Mike Yeo sat down with Michael Russo of the Star Tribune and emphasized that the team was going to be more aggressive and more of a "puck possession" team. In being more aggressive, the Wild needed to get more scoring from its defensemen. In the first month of last season (the season opened in January) the Wild had only 16 points from its D-corp. Only two defensemen were in the top five in scoring on the team - that being Tom Gilbert and Ryan Suter.
So far, only two weeks into October, the Wild have accumulated 13 points from its defensemen group. The top pairing of Jonas Brodin (2-2-4) with Suter (0-3-3) and Jared Spurgeon (1-2-3) bunched in a five-way tie for fourth in scoring on the team. What's more impressive is that all top-six defensemen have at least one point so far in this young season.
The statistics have supported the notion that the Wild have become a much better possession team. Where those numbers stop and start is at the blue lines. The defensemen for the Wild have had a strong hand in the way the Wild exit their defensive zone and hold the offensive zone. The Wild are either leading or among the leaders in Corsi FOR percentage and Fenwick FOR percentage. The fact that they hold a 65 to 25 shot advantage in second periods alone screams to support the fact that the Wild are dominating in both ends of the rink.
A lot was made of the Wild finding secondary and even some tertiary scoring. It was almost forgot that just two seasons ago, the Wild were among the cellar dwellers in the league for production from the blue line. The offense from the blue line was reliant on some guy named Marek Zidlicky. This year, they have guys that have the ability to put points on the board. In fact, three defensemen have power play goals. The other four power play goals? Three of them belong to something called Zach Parise and one is credited to Jason Pominville. The power play is clicking because the defensemen are getting shots through and some are going in.
Wild defensemen have been spotted jumping up on to the line rushes. Brodin scored his second goal of the season by crashing the net against Winnipeg last Friday night.
You would think that by activating the defensemen in the offense it would sacrifice more on the defensive side of things. All defensemen, aside from Marco Scandella (-2), are either even or plus players. Obviously, plus/minus is extremely subjective and mostly disregarded by most sabermetricians and real statistics junkies. However, the stat is based on if the player was on the ice was either scored for or against their team. For a team that started 0-1-2, seeing that the defensemen are keeping the losses a low scoring affair allowing the plus/minus to be on the positive side of things is encouraging. It's encouraging because the defense core is made up of one bon-a-fide all-star, a kid that is in his second season (which is really a half season and a couple games), a 23 year old diminutive three-year veteran, a re-tread looking to find his game again, a 6-foot 4-inch big bodied anti-prolific scorer, and a kid that has been incredibly inconsistent but has real talent and ability that all are hoping that he can put it all together.
The Wild have made right on their promise to be more of a puck possession team so far this season. The Wild have dictated the play in all but one game (Nashville) and have outshot their opponents 162-107. This type of play just wouldn't be possible and won't be sustainable without the continued stellar play from the guys holding down the blue line.