Special Teams in sports are not always at the forefront of one’s thinking when talking about their favorite teams at the water cooler. That is, unless they’re below average, or downright awful. No one thinks about he punter until he shanks one for a five yard net, just like no one thinks about a penalty kill or a power play unless it’s really bad.
If you’re a Wild fan, it’s likely you’ve thought about the middling, and sometimes terrible, power play and penalty kill these past four seasons. Under the tutledge of Mike Yeo the Minnesota Wild finished the season in the power play percentage as the best of the lousiest, and the lousiest of the best. Never once in the four seasons that Yeo was here, did the Wild break into the top half of the league in the power play stats.
Sure, there are parts of the season where the Wild could show brilliance and go on a streak of a few games where they could notch a series of power play goals. Conversely, the team would go on elongated stretches of failing to score with the man-advantage. Thus leading to the vastly mediocre power play.
Each year, I’ve written about the Wild’s need to improve the power play in order to make the jump from fringe Wild Card team, to top three team in the Central Division. This will be Bruce Boudreau’s biggest repair item on his to-do list for the Wild in 2015-16. Good teams take advantage of the opportunities given to them, and the Wild just haven't done enough of it.
So far in the preseason, granted it’s been just two games, the Wild have gone 1-for-8 in power play tries. With five opportunities in game one versus the Sabres, and three more in the game in a 4-1 loss to the Avalanche on Tuesday, Minnesota had times where entering the zone was an issue and allowed the opposition easy clearing attempts.
It’s likely that the power play hasn’t been covered extensively in training camp yet as Bourdeau and Staff has covered the defensive zone and neutral zone prior to game action. The preseason games themselves are the only simulated game environment the team is getting at this point because, rather than scrimmaging, the coaches are hitting systems and positioning hard early in camp.
What to watch for as camp and the preseason progresses is the power play and just how it plays as a cohesive team for both the first and second units. At times in past years, the Wild would get stuck standing still and become a very easy-to-defend, predictable team that led to ineptitude. What Boudreau will need to concentrate on is movement without the puck, and, like a basketball team in a half-court offense using cuts and slashes, the team will need to use movement to open up shooting and passing lanes.
It will also need an adjustment from the forward groups as well. If you watch a power play from nine months ago, you’d likely see the forwards retrieve the puck on a dump-in, and immediately try and move the puck back up to the point. It was almost as if the offense was forced to come from the blue liners on the power play. The forwards will need to take it upon themselves to keep the puck down low and work it to the open man on the weak side. By keeping the puck low, this opens up the passes to a pinching defenseman for a shot. If the play is consistently along the blue line, the defensemen will get pressured into making mistakes and the puck will go the other way with one or no players back to defend.
Boudreau won't have to just adjust the X's and O's of the man-advantage. He will also have to change the mindframe of the players on the ice. Creating more shots, more movement and hopefully seeing early success will serve as a launching point for even more success this season.