The Wild power play has gotten off to early success. After going 0-for-28 to start last season, any bit of success is a huge improvement year over year. Minnesota now ranks tied for 7th with a 21.7 percent power play mark 10 power play goals. For years fans have been asking for the Wild to use the man-advantage as a weapon to make teams pay for their lack of discipline. It's been the one positive for the Wild's special teams since the penalty kill got off to a slow start.
Dubnyk's 1st period heroics set tone for Wild
Last night's Pivotal Moment was Devan Dubnyk getting a huge stop in the first period.
Changes Already Made
During training camp, it was said that the Wild have made some changes to the top power play unit - mostly just adding Mikael Granlund to the unit. But a bigger change was how they were going to run it. They changed from Mikko Koivu having the puck on the right half-wall and rotating the puck around from the point to Jason Pominville for a one-timer, they now have Granlund on the left side with the puck on the half-wall and Minnesota is now utilizing all of its left-handed shooters. Originally, this was to help Ryan Suter use his shot from the left side and set him up for one-timers. And it appeared to work for the first handful of games. Suter was no longer just a decoy, or just a set-up man, he was allowed to shoot and he was getting the pucks on net. With Zach Parise moved out of the slot and on to the right circle, Parise has been able to find success as a shooter.
Now that Parise is out for an extended period of time, Marco Scandella has slotted into Parise's spot. In his first game at the top of the right circle, Scandella scored on a one-timer against the Nashville Predators. With that, the Wild tried to do that same play in the following game against the Tampa Bay Lightning with little success getting the puck on net.
In this shot, you can see some really nice puck work to get the puck over to Scandella. This is an instance where the play worked. Because of Nashville's pressure on the point and Ryan Suter the best shooting option available was Scandella, who was open for the shot.
The Wild have gone to that well that has made the power play so successful so often that it has now become the only thing they do. They work the puck around and up to Suter who then sends a pass across his body for the one-timer. Except that if any team has watched any bit of film on the team, it's plainly obvious what they power play is trying to do.
In this image, once the Wild have possession in the zone, they immediately go to work to get Scandella the puck. However, with Tampa's power play more than content to sit back in its PK box, more the Lightning is not out of position and the one timer is able to be blocked, or at the very least contested. But if there was more concentration on getting the puck low, there could be more chances to outnumber the Lightning in front of the crease.
Can you blame them for doing the things that have made them so successful? No. But when you get stuck in a cycle of doing the same thing, pretty soon that option gets taken away. Ryan Suter is no longer shooting the puck to keep penalty kills honest and the forwards are almost non-factors to shoot unless there's a rebound available. No, the whole team has fallen victim to this unimaginative cycle as they do everything to feed that one position on the ice. Granlund is a non-existent as a threat, Mikko Koivu in the middle of the slot doesn't shoot it from that spot, and Jason Pominville never touches the puck.
Adding a Wrinkle
What the Wild need to do is become a better unit. It needs to use all of the shooting options available. With so many shooting options on the ice at the same time, as well as the added room with a player in the penalty box, pucks should be sent on net from anyone at anytime. Yet, the option for the one-timer at the right circle will still be there. But after 13 games, for any power play, let alone the Wild's, to become stale this early means the power play is doomed to fail in the future.
What should be an option, is Thomas Vanek playing below the left circle on instead of Pominville. Vanek has already shown a knack for creating offense and goals from shallow angles. That and his playmaking ability will allow the Wild to use the forwards down low to get more shots, and thus more havoc for the PK. This kind of change would allow the power play to use both sides of the ice and all of its players. It keeps the PK honest and keeps the main option open.