Hello fine readers and residents of the Wilderness! October is gone and Movember has begun. Don't forget to sign up to the Hockey Wilderness Movember Team! Lately, we've been getting lots of new faces on our page and some of you may have seen that I'm part of the writing team and got to wondering ''Just what does he do around here? I never see any of his work!'' Well, basically, I'm the filler. Everyone here has a speciality. Nathan's the boss, Bryan's the do-it-all, Daniel's the prospects expert, Elise is in charge of interactive stuff, Bruce takes care of the college side of hockey, which is huge in Minnesota, and Heather takes care of the Aeros' stories, the Wild's minor-league affiliate. So what about me? Well, I like to do quirky little features, such as Thought Bubble, Bubble's Art Gallery, French-to-English translations and now, I'm starting this one, Now and Then, where I compare various aspects of the Wild's play this season to last season's. I also fill-in whenever Nathan and Bryan are MIA, such as with the game threads, game recaps and Wilderness Walks. In short, I'm HW's Kyle Brodziak: I can play wherever I'm needed and get the job done, but I'm at my best on the third line.
Anyhoo, we're 10 games into the NHL season right now and the Wild have been, let's say.... average. Many predicted that the roster-shaking changes of the offseason were going to make the Wild a better, more exciting team than they were last year, especially with the goal-scoring powers of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. Looking back to the same point last season, are they actually better? Let's find out.
Join me after the jump.Part 1: Storylines
Last season, the big story was Matt Cullen coming to Minnesota and finally having a decent second-line center that wasn't Mikko Koivu during his development. Speaking of Mikko Koivu, there was also his controversial contract extension which was to take effect this year. Josh Harding had badly hurt his knee in a preseason contest, so the Wild grabbed inexplicably-still-free-agent Jose Theodore as an affordable back-up. Also, then coach Todd Richards' system was one year old, so everyone figured the Wild should have a much better year then the one before, in which they had finished 38-36-8. However, disaster struck when out-of-shape Guillaume Latendresse got injured, taking away much of the team's offensive firepower. Marek Zidlicky also missed a lot of time, but newcomer Jared Spurgeon took advantage of some other injuries to Cam Barker, Justin Falk and Marco Scandella to make his place on the roster and become a solid defender, along with Clayton Stoner, who shaked off a putrid start to become one of the best stay-at-home defensemen on the team. Also, Pierre-Marc Bouchard made his long-awaited return and didn't even look like he missed a season and a half, amassing 38 points in 59 games.
This season, the big story was the roster shakeup, which was mainly between the Wild and the Sharks. Out go Brent Burns, Martin Havlat and James Sheppard, in come Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle. Whoa. This was, by far, the biggest offseason in Wild history. The big theme of the offseason was ''get young players and some offense''. New coach Mike Yeo brought optimism after he transformed the formerly awful Houston Aeros into Calder Cup Finalists in one season. Koivu's new contract has kicked in and is still giving doubt, especially with the slow start to his season. However, I remember there being a slow spell for him last year, where people were calling for the C on his jersey. I also remember the Wild falling apart when he left with a finger injury, so let's give this time.
Part 2: Stats
First things first, the records. The Wild are currently 4-3-3, which is 1 game over .500, despite losing more games than they won. 1 over .500 is fine ten games in, but horrible through 82, so they'll need to string some wins together. Through ten games last season however, the Wild were 4-4-2. So much for the ''improved roster''. Of course, they had a better start then the previous year, but that's just details at this point, because 10 games is not 82. Last season, through 10 games, the Wild had scored 26 goals. This year? 19. Last season, the Wild had allowed 25 goals through 10 games. This season? 22. Dany Heatley is leading the team with 7 points, Matt Cullen is leading with 4 goals. Last season, there was a 4-way tie in goals with 3 by Mikko Koivu, Matt Cullen, Guillaume Latendresse and Brent Burns after 10 games. The leader in points was Koivu with 11.
Part 3: Various observations
The big difference, to me, between this season and last season through 10 games is in the special teams. Matt Cullen made the Wild powerplay magical early on last season, making the Wild hover towards the top in league powerplay conversion rate. This year, well... it sucks. Bad. This is one of the main points that was supposed to skyrocket with the arrival of Dany Heatley, who has the most powerplay goals in the league from 2001 to now. The other thing that we were promised was going to improve? Offense. With Heatley and Setoguchi in the lineup instead of Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunette, they somehow scored less goals. Mikko Koivu's slow start and the new coaching system may play into this, but still, it's disconcerting, even if we're only 10 games into the season. As far as defense goes, some called the Wild's current defensive lineup ''the worst in the league''. Riiiiiight. To put the aforementioned 23 goals against in perspective, that number ties the Wild for 3rd best in the Western Conference. There's one remarkable similarity between the two Wild teams, and that's in the number of shots. The Wild are still having a whole lot of trouble shooting the puck, and still allowing a terrible number of shots, but for some reason, they have a better record when they're being outshot, just like last season.
Part 4: Fun facts
The Wild are currently 5th in hits with 266. Cal Clutterbuck is, of course, leading the team with 40, good for second in the league, 1 behind Steve Ott, who played one more game.
The Wild are 24th in giveaways with 65. Not too shabby, although this may be due to never actually having the puck to give it away.
The Wild are 1-3-0 when outshooting the opponent, 2-0-3 when being outshot. That's right, they haven't lost in regulation when being outshot yet. Despite a 41-14 shot massacre. Last season, the Wild were 3-7-3 when outshooting (that's right, 13 times), 36-28-5 when being outshot.
The Wild were 25-0-1 when leading after 2 periods last season. Only the perfect 29-0-0 New York Rangers and the 27-1-0 Carolina Hurricanes had a better points percentage. This year? The Wild are 2-0-3 when leading after 40 minutes.
The Wild had 2148 shots for, 2625 shots against last season. They currently have 248 shots for, 292 against. This puts them on pace for about 2033 shots for, 2394 shots against.
The Wild had 13 PP goals for, 8 PP goals against last year through 10 games. This season? 5 PP goals for, 8 PP goals against. They should not have allowed more than they scored.
In the end, there's one common theme going around when looking at this year and last year's edition of the Wild: They're underachieving. There's no reason the Wild should be having this much trouble scoring with the current lineup. None. At all. At least, Yeo knows exactly what's wrong and is doing what he can to fix it in practice and in-game. He said it will take 30 games for the system to fully kick in. While it may be hard for this hungry Wild fanbase to wait 30 games for their team to look good, it's refreshing to hear some honesty, as opposed to Richards' famous ''I don't have the answers'' excuse.
So are they better? 10 games is still very early, and they're technically one point better, but they still have issues. A lot of the same issues, but a lot of different ones. No one imagined the Wild would score less, but it's the only real problem. Scoring is low, but defense and goaltending are doing very good and while it may be hard to see positives when the team isn't scoring, I'm liking what I see from the energy lines, which I find to have improved from last year.
''It's not time to panic yet'' has become a theme around here, but it's only a matter of time before ''It's still early'' becomes ''it's too late''. 30 games, Yeo. We trust you.