It's a funny thing around these parts of the Wilderness. The Wild team that started the season has been spotted sprinkled sparingly within games rather than whole games. The Wild team that started very inclined to shoot the puck from almost anywhere and dominated the standard and advanced stats pages with the way they would out-shoot opponents and control the play at the level of NHL elite teams has fans shouting "SHOOT!" when the team gains possession of the puck in the offensive zone on the power play more recently.
To media types, this incessant yelling of "Shoot" is annoying because it's thought to be unnecessary and that the fans, "don't get it." The Wild power play was vociferously booed by the Wild faithful in a win that Wild winger Zach Parise didn't appreciate, but had this to say:
"We don't shoot," said Parise, "We've got to take some shots, and we need a guy in front of the net. It feels like when we do finally get a shot, there's no one in front of the net."
So even from the team, they are recognizing that they need to take more shots, especially with the man-advantage. Fans have recognized their lack of aggressiveness with the 5-on-4 advantage, and the even less shots that come on two-man advantages. However, this idea that fans should stop telling shoot gets mocked and ridiculed by the media.
Last Thursday, during the two o'clock hour of the Common Man Show on FM 100.3 KFAN, radio personality, and appointed resident hockey expert for the station, Brandon Mileski, had this to say in reply to a listener email:
"There's a gray area on when to shoot and when not to shoot the puck, is there not? Should the second they cross the red line, should they shoot? No. You want to wait for a better shot, do you not? The second they cross the blue line, wherever you are on the ice, even if you don't have any support going to the net, should you just fire for the sake of shooting because you don't make 100 percent of the shots you don't take? blah, blah, blah. No. You have standards every time you shoot the puck. I agree they should shoot more, but the people who yell, "SHOOT" at Wild games drive me crazy because the second they have possession in the zone, they yell, "SHOOT, SHOOOOOT!" No, the guy who has the puck right now should not be shooting in that situation. Now, there are certain times where they should be shooting. Yes, but you can't just yell shoot for the sake of shooting. The power play has not been good this year so it needs to improve. But your standards for what kind of shot you should be taking on the power play you should be trying for a better scoring chance than you would be 5-on-5. Because 5-on-4 the other team has the opportunity that if they get the puck, ice it down, now you waste 20-30 seconds and now you have to come back in the zone and set up again. You might have difficulty entering the zone, you're forced to dump the puck in and they go retrieve it and ice it down again and now you've ruined half your power play because you wanted to take a low percentage shot. (COLE:But if you pass the puck around for 45 seconds without taking a shot, you've wasted 45 seconds of a power play.) I agree they should shoot more, but it not just enter the zone and shoot no matter what. You should be having some standard."
While there is truth in what he said, he is missing the point. Yes, you do want to take a shot that actually has a chance to go in the net. But Wild fans in attendance are not asking the Wild to shoot just for the sake of shooting. Minnesota fans are learned on the game of hockey. When fans are yelling, "Shoot!" it's not because they just want to see shots taken blindly, without discretion. It's that the passing and puck handling on the power play is causing the power play to become stagnant. Players are not being decisive enough moving the puck and that sometimes just a winding up for a shot and hoping for a rebound is the best play, especially with the way this team likes to defer to everyone else on the ice (Your honor, I'd like to point to evidence item number one - the final minute of the November 22nd game against the Tampa Bay Lightning).
For the first 15 games of the season, the Wild ranked third in all situations for Corsi For per 60 minutes with 60.3. They also poured on the pressure with the man-advantage by attempting 162 shots. Now things didn't go well for the team as they owned an abysmal 6.67 conversion rate on the power play during that stretch. Mileski had a sarcastic comment about that too.
"IT WORKED REAL WELL for the first ten games of the year when they led the league in shots per power play and didn't score a goal. Their problem is creativity, not shots."
Through 15 games of the season, the Wild were getting 6.47 shot on goal per power play, but they suffered a horrendous 4.19 shooting percentage, hence the terrible power play numbers.
In the last 16 games, where fans have been more boisterous, the Wild have posted a power play closer to their three-year average at 15.42 percent. They've also been shooting less. Their shots on goal per power play has dropped to 4.69, but the shooting percentage has gone up to 13.33 percent all with the man-advantage. The attempted shots have dropped drastically too, to just 124 CF. That's including three power play opportunities in which they didn't get a single shot on net.
So what should we make of this?
Whatever the Wild were doing at the beginning of the year that was allowing them to get more rubber on net is not to blame for the low percentage. In fact, the Wild should be employing that same strategy as the shooting percentage has begun to climb. In the 15 games to start, there was never a power play opportunity wasted by not getting a shot on goal.
I know that I have been guilty of yelling at my TV for players to shoot, because, frankly, I don't believe that they're necessarily getting more creative as Mileski believes is what's plaguing this team. Rather the shots just happen to be going in. When we saw the power play clicking in preseason and ultimately play well with no pay-off, players have since become gun-shy. Do you need to have some standard when taking shots? Sure. But there's shooting to score, which the defensemen and forwards are trying to do too much of, and shooting to create more shots, which is what the Wild were doing to start the season, in my opinion.
By all means, a 15.42 percent power play should be the bare minimum for a team loaded with talent like the Wild is. Ultimately, you'd like to see more shots get put on goal now as the team looks like it is starting to crawl out of the cellar in terms of power play.
And this should go for every situation, not just the power play. The CF60 for all situations in the first 15 games was ranked third in the league with 60.3. in the time since November 13th, the Wild has fallen to 10th with a 57.3 CF60, which can also be seen in the possession numbers, because, as you know, if the team is not attempting a lot of shots, they are not possessing the puck nearly as often as they had been. While the Wild still lead the league in fewest shots on goal given up per game, they should be looking to play that up-tempo, possession-style game that won them games in the beginning of the season to help cover up their goaltending woes. In this case, the best defense will most certainly have to be a better offense.
So is yelling "shoot" as a fan in the stands something to be embarrassed about?
Is it something to be ridiculed by media types? Absolutely not. Wild fans aren't expecting the Wild to shoot just for the sake of shooting, because it is doesn't make sense to let one fly from the red line. But what Wild fans are expecting is more decisiveness and a killer instinct from their team and by refusing to pull the trigger when the opportunity is there, the team looks passive and submissive. Rather than going out to get that win, they look to just be happy with just being in the game.