You may have read around the internet, in the local paper, heard on your radio, seen on TV, or even come across an astute friend who has informed you that your favorite team is in a bit of a slump right now. It's not shocking, because it is very much true. While the Minnesota Wild have had a great time dominating their opponents on the ice, we haven't seen a whole lot of cellys lately. So what gives?
The Wild have definitely refined their game since last season. They have carried some of the momentum from their late 2013-2014 season success and grown on that to become even more dominating on the ice. Yet mistakes and an inability to score have left the Wild reeling. Without a win in their past 3 games, the Wild have still managed to out-shoot their opponents a combined 100 - 69 while getting out-scored 11-2. Out-shooting their opponents is not a mirage either. The Wild have been pretty good at this all season, and are among the leaders in shots for and against in the NHL.
|San Jose Sharks||16||32.1||514||32.1||514||8-6-2|
|New York Islanders||14||31.6||443||29.2||409||9-5-0|
|New York Rangers||14||31.3||438||29.8||417||6-6-2|
|St. Louis Blues||14||31.0||434||26.6||372||9-4-1|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||15||30.9||463||33.3||500||8-5-2|
|*Tampa Bay Lightning||15||30.1||452||27.4||411||11-3-1|
So what's the big deal? We've been able to score goals in the past. How is it we can run into such a dry spell over the last few games yet still be dominating in shot differential? A big part of this has to obviously be injuries. There is no ignoring the fact that since top-line winger Zach Parise went down with a concussion the Wild have been drawing water from a dry well. He's a leader on the team and plays a huge roll in the offense. The effort he brings on every shift is second to none. This is demonstrated in the simple fact that despite missing the the past 2 games after getting hurt against Pittsburgh last Tuesday, he still leads the team in points and is tied for 2nd in goals behind Jason Zucker. The Wild have been stagnant without him.
|Scoring Stats||Ice Time|
Further proof the Wild are simply in a rough patch, something the will inevitable jump out of is that they are getting point productions from most of their roster. Of the 25 skaters that have seen ice time this season, just Justin Falk, Chrstian Folin and Stephane Veilleux have not produced a single point in just 13 combined man-games. With Folin getting an average of over 14 minutes a game, you would think he get a sniff, if even by accident by now. Christ, even Keith Ballard has an assist! Veilleux and Falk don't get a whole lot of time on ice, so their numbers are not concerning in the least. The Wild have just 1 skater who gets decent minutes and has yet to produce a point.
Furthering the Wild's issues right now is a goaltending slump. When you're not scoring goals, you need some pretty mind-blowing net minding to keep your horse in the race. For much of the early part of the season Darcy Kuemper has been electric, gobbling up pucks like they're little white marbles, and he's a hungry-hungry hippo. Niklas Backstrom has not enjoyed the same success as King Kuemper, and has seemed lost at times. The Wild seem content to rely on Kuemper heavily right now, and when he's hot, why not?
Unfortunately for the Wild, both goalies have been abysmal during this losing streak. Against Pittsburgh, Kuemper posted a .857 Sv% and against Montreal a slightly better .871 Sv%. If Backstrom's early returns in his 3 starts are any indication of what he's going to offer this season, I think it's safe to assume he will not be stealing many games for the Wild. Of course it would have been tough for him to steal his start in Ottawa, as the Wild were shutout. Backstrom's .869 Sv% on the season is well below his career average and his .824 Sv% against the Senators is just downright ugly. Hopefully he can right the ship and bring his numbers up to a respectable range, or maybe Russo just needs to get out of the way during Backstrom's turtle walks!
The only real surprising stat going against the Wild right now is their impotent power play. When you are struggling to score at even strength, your power play should be able to provide you with some life, and that has simply not been the case for the Wild this season. Yet these numbers are also a bit misleading.
The Wild's 40 power play opportunities this season ranks 28th in the NHL for PP chances. In those 40 opportunities, the Wild have only found the twine 2 times which is good enough for a 5% PP conversion rate and 29th overall in the NHL (Thank you Buffalo at 4%). Yet the Wild have managed 80 shots with the man advantage, which despite the lack of PP opportunities ranks them 10th in the NHL for PP shots on goal. It is really mind boggling that the Wild are able to shoot as much as they do, yet are unable to convert with the man advantage.
So how do we solve this little problem we're in right now? How do we draw more penalties and score more goals? The solution is simple.
The Wild need to move their feet more in the offensive zone. They need to take the puck to the slot, attack the crease and get more high-percentage shots. 2 things result when you are willing to sacrifice yourself a bit by attacking hard down low. Even-strength goals are a big one here. When you attack the net, you shift the defense, they collapse and create a lot of traffic which can be hell for even the greatest goalies in the league to deal with. You'll get dirty goals, and you'll wear out your opposition. This Wild have not done enough of this so far this season, and when teams get content with allowing you the low-percentage shots, and weather the storm, they'll wait for you to make mistakes and they'll capitalize. We saw a prime example of this the other night when Matt Dumba got caught trying preserve the offensive zone and Montreal was able to turn the puck back up ice and score a goal.
Another benefit you will get from attacking hard down low and moving your feet is that you will draw more penalties. If part of your game is to keep pushing hard in front of the crease, you wear down you opposition, and that's when they make mistakes. A trip here, a hold there. These things happen more when you are playing in traffic against an opponent who is gassed. Right now, going on the power play is a bit of an indictment against the Wild, but if they play the PP like they do at even-strength they will inevitably create better chances, you will get the opposition defense to start to chase and open up the ice for a backdoor goal or get some dirty deflections down low.
The Wild are not far off from the team they were to start the season. Injuries certainly have stagnated the offense a bit, but they are just in need of ratcheting up the effort up a notch and they will start getting the results in their favor again. Coach Yeo stated a few days ago there are players doing the bare minimum, and that will not cut it in the NHL, not if you want to win at least. When you lose somebody who puts out the kind of effort Zach Parise does on every single shift, somebody else needs to step up to that roll. The shots are still coming, the opportunities are still there. We have the tools, now it's time for the execution.