Color Me Impressed

Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes you can outplay one of the best teams in hockey and still lose the game. Wanna find out how? Well then you better read all these words I wrote on that very subject.

Last night, the Wild faced-off against the Kings in what was the first game of the new season for both teams. It was at the Xcel Energy Center and there was a crazy buzz around the place when the players were being introduced and through the early part of the game. The Wild rode this wave of emotion to an early goal courtesy of Matt Cooke's foot, before a dumb Zenon Konopka penalty gave Drew Doughty a chance to tie the game on the PP. The Wild scored again through Jonas Brodin on a powerplay of their own, before a late equaliser by Jeff Carter sent the game to OT. After a stalemate in the extra period, the Kings went 2/2 vs the Wild's 0/2 in the shoot-out and took the extra point home.

I'm not gonna spend too much time rehashing the game because it has been talked about to death, but I will say Kyle Brodziak played as well as he ever has, Granlund looked like the saviour he has been billed to become, Coyle played like a veteran, Niederreiter was the focal point of the Wild's attack, Brodin was as solid as ever, Spurgeon/Scandella were the best defensive pairing, playing with physicality and skill, and Clayton Stoner wasn't terrible! So there were a helluva lot of positives to take away from this game. When Suter, Koivu and Pominville have pretty quiet games by their standards and you still look like the better team, then your guys had a strong all-round performance.

So, after this very positive game, Wild fans took to Twitter to show their appreciation:

...the "Eye-Test": A flawless system for evaluating hockey. Who needs stats?

Speaking of stats, here are some highly interesting ones last night's game:

WILD


Total Game Stats


KINGS


2

Goals


2

29

Shots


18

Firstly, the regular "boxcar" stats for the entire game, which take in all situations, show that the Wild out-shot the Kings quite heavily and had the same result: 2 goals.

WILD


5v5 Close (35.8 min played)


KINGS


1

Goals


0

29

Corsi


25

20

Fenwick


11

18

Shots


6

Analysing the possession numbers from close situations (when the game is within one goal in the first or second period, and tied in the 3rd period and overtime) is the best way to get a realistic picture of which team was better at 5v5 as it avoids the interference caused by score effects.

As you can see from the table above, the Wild heavily out-Fenwick'd and out-shot the Kings in that 35.8 minute sample size. They also out Corsi'd them, but not as heavily. What's impressive is how many of their shot-attempts made it through to the goalie. The Wild blocked 14 shots, while the Kings blocked 9.

WILD


5v5 tied (9.9 min played)


KINGS


1

Goals


0

13

Corsi


6

7

Fenwick


3

6

Shots


2

Narrowing down the sample a little bit more purely for curiosity's sake, with the score tied, the Wild still had the same dominant Corsi, Fenwick and shot totals.

Why is all this important? Well the LA Kings are the poster-boys for great puck possession, and as a result, very successful hockey. They have been the best FenClose% team in the league for the last two years with a score of 55%, and they have also led the league in Corsi For% in close situations over the same period, with 56%. I'm sure you've seen this by now, but Habs Eyes On The Prize have this great visualisation of how being good at FenClose% generally leads to making the playoffs and also making the Stanley Cup finals. No surprise then that the Kings won the cup in 11-12, and were knocked-out of the playoffs last year by the other great FenClose team in the league who went on to win the cup.

Obviously this is only one game, but the Wild have been an awful possession team for a very long time so seeing them put-up those kind of numbers against an outfit as dominant as the Kings is very very encouraging and impressive. If they can continue to do this then get ready for a healthy dose of playoff hockey in St.Paul this year.

The Wild had an ES Sh% of 5.3% (17th in league) and an ES Sv% of 90.9% (17th), the Kings's numbers were 9.1% (9th) and 94.1% (9th). One again, this is quite obviously a tiny sample size (I have to keep adding this disclaimer because you just know some smart ass will point it out in the comments section) but you can see that the Kings had noticeably better averages. The Wild were pretty damn unlucky.

Dominating puck possession is a recipe for success. You're gonna have nights and stretches where the teams shooting percentage and save percentage desert them and they lose, but those averages will even-out through the "magic" of regression to the mean. If the team can repeat last night's performance again and again, the odds on winning are stacked in their favour.

If the team had "Sieve" Mason or Ondrej Pavalec or some other AHL-level bum in net, I'd be worried about goaltending holding this team back, but I have enough trust in Backstrom that he can do enough to keep this team competitive. He was bad last year and very good the year before, so hopefully this year he can land somewhere between those two points, and we can also get a nice contribution fro Josh Harding to provide some relief.

Anyone who is whining about last night's performance is out of their ever-loving mind. The Wild were fantastic and just needed a few bounces to go their way. Mike Yeo and Chuck Fletcher talked about becoming a better puck possession team, but I had no idea we'd see fruits of that this quickly. Whether it continues is another matter, but for now, color me impressed.


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