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Broken System: Wild penalty killing has faults all over the ice.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Wild special teams this season has been grotesque. It's not that the players aren't trying hard to correct it. I mean, there is a level of pride with players. And human nature, nobody wants or tries to suck at something. However, the penalty kill has been that one harbinger of suckitude for the Wild all season long, and it's costing the Wild games - games the Wild can't afford to lose at this juncture in the season.

The Wild does one thing well - it does not take many penalties. It has been short-handed the 2nd fewest times in the league with 166 times short-handed. When teams see Minnesota on their schedules, they know that they are going to play a disciplined hockey team, and no amount of shenanigans, on the ice or after the whistle, is going to get the to Wild off its game by taking a stupid penalty. No where was this more apparent than in Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals last season when known Blues antagonist Steve Ott failed to goad the Wild into taking needless penalties.

With the fewest minutes short-handed in the league, you'd think Minnesota would have a better penalty kill than they do. But just ask a couple of Hockey Wilderness writers what their opinion of the PK is.

mntrumpterguy

It's been bad all year, but lately I think Duby's sv% has been like .609.

TonyWiseau

Haula took a big step back statistically.

bjvcampbell

Personnel. Jarrett Stoll is not good and got a lot of minutes. No Parise, Fonzy scratched a bunch. Porter good early, but regressed. No Zucker, no Nino.
I hate to say it, but Brodziak is missed.
Duby also struggling on low danger sv%. Lots of shots from far out screened or deflected.

jvanthomme

Dubnyk has gotten more goalie scouting attention this year than previously, due to his unchallenged #1 status on the team. In 5v5 it's hard for teams to devote the extra man to the screen. In 5v4 that's much more possible. The team is over compensating for that by clogging the shooting lanes, which screens Dub, produces more tips, and opens up half wall one-timers.

2 Broke Units

In the most recent game against the Avalanche, the Wild gave up a power play goal to Jarome Iginla within the first minute of the game. The PK was set up in a passive box, but this was so passive, that even the most passive-aggressive Minnesotans were like, "Damn! That's weak sauce!"

COLPPG

The puck was as far down as Nathan MacKinnon prior to this screen grab. Ryan Suter let MacKinnon get a shot from below the left circle. But as Dubnyk made the save, Suter and Carter failed to gain possession of the puck. The puck was then passed out to the point. Carter tried to challenge the point-man, but he's late in getting there. Meanwhile, Stoll has completely lost Iginla while he's stuck in No-Man's land. He should be in a position to get his stick in the passing lane. It's not like there was anyone in the slot posing a huge threat that he needed to be collapsed so far down for. And Jared Spurgeon isn't cheating to that side much at all and is caught out of position, leaving a pretty wide-open shooting lane should Iginla take a one-timer....which he did.

Here's the play in action:

COLPPGgif

It's plays like this that makes a penalty kill the 3rd worst in the league in Fenwick Against per 60. The Wild is just not blocking shots.

The penalty kill had a terrible display against Colorado, but it got worse against the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres' power play is ranked number 11 in the league, but the Wild made it look like the 2013 Capitals power play. After Nino Niederreiter took a high sticking double minor to start the second period, the Sabres scored two power play goals. The first was by former Wild 2nd round pick, Johan Larsson. The puck went to the corner, where Buffalo was able to win the battle and dig the puck out. It was sent to the other wing behind the net, where Jack Eichel passed the puck up to the point to Rasmus Ristolainen. Ristolainen's shot was originally stopped by Dubnyk, but the rebound went right to Larsson for the finish. Now, Jonas Brodin, coming out of the scrum in the corner seemed to lose track of Larsson. And by not playing the body or tying up Larsson's stick, he was unchallenged as he scored.

LarssonPPG

It didn't help that Haula was late to getting to the point to block the shot. Carter seems lost, while Suter is attempting to take Sam Reinhart meaning Larsson has even less people to fight through to get to the front of the net.

Here's that play:

BUFPPG1

Giving up the front of the net that easily is exactly why the Wild ranks 4th worst in scoring chances for per 60 minutes when short-handed. We see Zach Parise earn every inch of the ice he gets when he's in that low slot area, so when the Wild don't play more physical in front of the net, its making it too easy for the opposition to get to the scoring areas of the ice. The numbers regarding the penalty kill are not good, no matter how you look at them. What the players are doing on the ice, though, isn't helping their case.

Not being able to clear the puck is one of my biggest grievances. The PK should be able to get the puck and get a clear. A player only occupies a two and a half foot radius on the ice that's between six and seven feet tall with a range of six feet in any direction. With the entire 85 foot width if the ice, and the tall glass to use at its disposal, getting a clear shouldn't be as difficult as the Wild seem to make it look.

When a player has time to settle the puck, assess where the defenders are, and then fail to send a good, hard shot down the ice to relieve the pressure, it's one of the most frustrating things to watch for a person trying to analyze the game. Mikko Koivu had such a play that led to Buffalo scoring their second power play goal of the night. The puck was in the corner, but squirted loose up to the half wall. Koivu made a good effort to get to the puck first.

Mikkoflub

He has no one around him within five feet. But instead of settling the puck down, turning and firing the puck down the length of the ice, he hurries the clearing attempt. In one motion, he tries clearing up the boards. Mikko partially fanned on it, and the zone clear was blocked at the blue line, keeping tired penalty killers on the ice longer.

BUFPPG2

As the play rolls on, you see a ton of reaching because players are out of position. Why? Because their shift should be over with. They're gassed. Stoll was caught out of position, which means Brodin had to compensate for him by coming out to block Cal O'Reilly's shot. This then leaves Reinhart alone by the net. Marco Scandella doesn't have his stick in the passing lane, and the pass easily gets through to Eichel, who has a yawning net to shoot at.

Tired players lead to goals against...period. We see it on 3-on-3. We see it 5-on-5, and it really takes a toll when a team isn't at full strength.The Wild is 3rd worst in Goals Against per 60 when down a man. Extended shifts don't help that.

Your goalie needs to be your best penalty killer

Penalty killing requires four main things:

  • Good sticks in passing and shooting lanes
  • Good positioning and just the right amount of aggressiveness
  • Executing the small plays to make big plays
  • Solid, timely goaltending

Breaks in the Levee

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Devan Dubnyk's role in the floundering penalty kill. As the old saying goes, "Your goalie needs to be your best penalty killer." As the last line of defense in a clear player strength disadvantage, the goaltender must make some key saves. The penalty killers can do just about everything right, but there is going to be a shot on goal at some point. And it will likely come from someone that is unguarded, as what happened with the Iginla goal, or with traffic in front meaning the goalie will not always see the puck when it is shot.

When the Wild had the league's best PK last season, make no mistake that Dubnyk had plenty to do with it. Dubnyk had a 92.81% save percentage...while short-handed after he joined Minnesota. Most goalies would love to have that kind of save percentage in all situations for an entire year. When you take a deeper dive, Dubnyk was also stopping all the shots he should have been. With a 97% save percentage on just low-danger shots, you can see how difficult he made it for other teams to score.

This season has seen quite the dip in short-handed save percentage. Of the goalies this season with more than 200 short-handed minutes, Dubnyk has the 3rd lowest save percentage in the league at 84.2 percent. He is also the second worst in the league in save percentage on low-danger shots with 89.16 percent. That is quite the drop off from the 97% percent he posted last season. Dubnyk simply isn't stopping the shots that he should be stopping. While overall, Dubnyk is having a good, though not great, season (which was to be expected), being able to stand tall in net would go a long way to fostering confidence for the penalty killers in front of him.

***   ***   ***

The Wild coaching staff needs to go back to the drawing board when it comes to the penalty kill. Break it down piece by piece, and you can see a need for change of personnel, systems, and an attention to the finer details. Penalty killing, like most defending, requires effort and tenacity. However, miscues can go a long way to derailing that effort. After seeing the numbers and the on-ice play bare it out, no one should be surprised with the results. Bad process equals bad results. For the Wild to go from first to worst in just under a calendar year, something has clearly gone a-miss. The system is clearly broken.