The Wild were a big talking point early in the season due to their dramatic change from being traditionally one of the worst puck possession teams in the league to suddenly becoming one of the best seemingly overnight. Chuck Fletcher and Mike Yeo both spoke about the conscious decision they made to revert to a puck possession-focused playing style and received a lot of praise in the advanced stats community.
Since then, the Wild have been steadily falling down the Fenwick For% at 5v5 Close (FenClose%) rankings and are finding it harder to dominate teams the way they did earlier in the year. As you know, FenClose% success has anextremely strong correlation with making the playoffs, making deep playoff runs and winning the Cup.
Here are some graphs to demonstrate the Wild's FenClose% collapse since the start of the year.
-Firstly, the game-by game percentages (click to enlarge):
(courtesy of ExtraSkater.com)
-The cumulative percentage as the year as progressed (click to enlarge):
(courtesy of ExtraSkater.com)
The Wild are currently 10th in the league in FenClose%, with a 51.9% rating. That is still a very good number, especially for a team who have been so terrible at puck possession over the last few years (they averaged 45.9% between 2007 and 2013, good for 29th in the league, with only Edmonton being worse). Finishing the season over 50% will be a huge accomplishment for the organisation and bodes well for the future.
Still, it's disappointing, if not exactly surprising, that the Wild are coming back to Earth after such a strong start. What is worrying is that 3 of the teams above them in the FenClose% rankings, the Blackhawks, Blues and Stars, are divisional rivals in Conference III. The Wild need to stop the rot if they want to make the playoffs this year. It's no secret that the Western Conference is extremely tough so the Wild don't want to finish the year in a dog-fight for a Wildcard spot.
It's hard to point at any particular reason why things haven't been going so well, but some possible reasons are:
- The effort it took to dominate the way the Wild did in October has worn them down and they are tired.
- The Wild were dominating while not getting the deserved rewards because they were (and still are) snakebitten in terms of Shooting Percentage. The frustration might have led to players not doing all the things they were doing early in the season and "cheating" so to speak. Their Sh% will regress to the mean over the course of the season, but they will reap more rewards if they can get back to dominating puck possession at the same time.
- Granlund's injury didn't help, as it threw what was a settled line-up into complete flux and things haven't really been the same since.
- Teams had a chance to see what the Wild were doing differently and adapt to counter them.
- Wild fans stopped being as anti-advanced stats and the Hockey Gods no longer found it funny to make them one of the best Fenwick teams in the league.
Noon Christmas Tune:
Seeing as we're now into December and Christmas is fast approaching, I'll be featuring a different Christmas song in each of the Noon Numbers I write up until the big day.
Your 5th song of the month is "Holiday Road" by Lindsey Buckingham (covered here by The Walkmen). You might remember this song became a bit of Chicago Blackhawks folklore during their run to the cup last year: