Almost a quarter of the way through the season I think it's time to pull the plug on the current version of the Minnesota Wild power play. The weakest link for an otherwise impressive team thus far, the power play has clearly cost the Wild some points in the standings. I feel like the vitriol from the fans and media may have reached its peak after the failed man advantage opportunity against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. Watching a team desperate for a tying goal pass the puck 298 times does tend to have that effect. Despite all of the angst in regards to the over-passing, I still don't feel like that has been the biggest issue at play.
Before getting into exactly what seems to be going so wrong on the man advantage for the Wild, it's important to understand some general qualities of successful power plays. In no particular order of importance, a good power play generally has good spacing (handedness matters), has a shoot-first mentality, has at least one elite shooter, and has somebody with elite finishing ability in front of the net. Something that I won't get into detail just yet is the power play transition game, which is more important than most people realize. In short: bad power plays transition into the offensive zone to set up their power play, good power plays use numbers advantages in transition to create chances off the rush.
In my mind, the most prevailing issue on the power play has been the spacing of the players as a result of personnel decisions. The goal should be to have as many players in shooting positions as possible, especially when on a 6 on 4 advantage like the one in picture below. Having available shooters forces the defense to cover more ice, and creates larger passing lanes.
The Wild have three players within 10 feet of each other who are effectively being covered by two defenders. Suter is stationary, not moving to support Granlund who has the puck. And it would take a miracle pass and shot to make Pominville any kind of a threat. Pominville likes to hang out really wide away from traffic, making for long passes and more difficult one-timers. It would be nice to see him a step or two closer to the middle of the ice when the puck is on the other side of the zone.
An important factor playing into the poor spacing is the fact that Granlund is playing the trigger position at the top of the circle. That position is usually reserved for an elite shooter, like say Nino Niederreiter. Granlund has the propensity to shoot muffins, Nino fires rockets. I know I'm not the only one who gets all tingly when he steps to the middle and loads up for a snap shot.
It's obvious by the 10 foot cushion that Granlund is getting here that teams have found no reason to respect Granlund's shot. The spacing issues continue in front of the net where Vanek and Parise have fused to become one superhuman net-front presence (that might be what it takes for Granlund to score from there). Seriously though, Vanek needs to be a shooting option for Granlund here and leave the dirty work in front to Parise. Parise, who is a wizard when it comes to scoring greasy goals on the power play, could be the biggest benefactor of having a heavy shot like Nino's at the top of the circle. Simply put, hard shots mean more rebounds. Which brings me to Ryan Suter and his seemingly inexplicable aversion to slap shots. I understand it's easier to get wrist shots through traffic and that they're easier to deflect, but they're also much easier to stop without allowing rebounds if the goalie sees them at all. I don't think it's a stretch to say more goals are scored off of rebounds than deflections, so it's time to start pounding the puck from the point.
Going forward I am confident the Wild have the personnel on their roster to have an effective power play. Parise is a proven elite finisher on the power play who is going to start scoring around the net very soon. Ditto for Vanek. The big question left for me is can they solve the ugly spacing and hesitant shooting issues with a change of personnel to turn the power play into a weapon. Playing Nino on the top unit at the top of the circle would force defenses to spread, and in turn open up space for Vanek, Koivu, Granlund or whomever, to make plays. With most other options seemingly exhausted at this point, I think it's beyond time to put the guy with the biggest gun in the trigger position.
Bonus painful screenshot.
I still can't believe Koivu didn't shoot this: