Shhhhhh! We don’t want to spook the league! The Wild are ripping through the NHL right now, somewhat under the radar. It makes it tough when you spend a lot of your time thinking about what is wrong with the franchise today. Each time they find a way to win a game, I lose a way to rip this team apart. It’s disgusting.
This is somewhat new territory for me. They go down early and often against the San Jose Sharks but still come back to win. They find a loose point laying around against the LA Kings and top the Anaheim Ducks in regulation the very next day.
In my brief tenure here, the list of complaints seemed almost endless. Sitting down to plot the course often falls off the trail, derailing like an annual Wild mid-season disaster. A world where Mike Yeo is the coach, and even getting out of the California stretch with 2 or 3 points feels like a win.
But here we are approaching the downhill slope of the season and this team continues to fight, they continue to find ways to win, and where one aspect of their game might be sliding, another has been propped up to keep the Wild riding the wave of success.
In 5 of the past 8 games, the Wild have given up 4 goals. They have lost just 2 of those 5 games. Darcy Kuemper has given up 4 goals in each of his starts on that stretch, going 1-0-1. Devan Dubnyk takes the remaining 3 games with 4 goals, and he's gone 2-1 in those games.
How can this be? The Wild are certainly not a goal scoring machine right? That’s just not in their DNA.
Nearly the entire month of December, right up until the game on the 23rd against the New York Rangers, the Wild had not allowed over 3 goals, and only allowed 3 goals once, in a loss against the Calgary Flames on December 2nd. That's some fantastic goaltending.
December 1st through the 22nd, Dubnyk played in 8 games, won 7, had a .952 Sv%, and a red hot 1.34 GAA. In his 6 games since December 23rd, hes dropped nearly 5 percentage points, .903 Sv%, and added well over a goal against at 2.83 GAA. That unsustainable goaltending... well it's starting to regress.
Ah ha! Regression! That cruel fickle beast strikes again! Queue the collapse!
In an odd twist of events, the Wild seem to have exploded offensively at just the right time. December 1st through the 22nd, the Wild were good for 3.04 goals per 60 minutes. In those 9 games they averaged 27 shots on goal per game. As the goalies start slipping in the 8 games since the 23rd, they're up to 30 shots on goal per game and 3.95 goals per 60 minutes. That's good 32 goals in 8 games since the 23rd, over just 28 goals in the 9 games prior.
The penalty kill has dropped off a bit since it's pre-22nd rate of a 90% kill, I'd like to believe most of us can live with the 89.5% kill rate though. The difference maker has been the power play coming to life. In December, up to the 22nd, the power play was hitting at just a 13.6% rate. Since then, their power play is hitting at a 26.1% rate, a 12 1/2 point rise in their percentage.
Mikael Granlund has gone from 2.42 to 4.04 P/60. Zach Parise has jumped from 1.44 to 3.86 P/60. You can find similar trends throughout the lineup, with a handful of exceptions like Nino Niederreiter, who has seen his points-per-60 production take a hit of late. All-be-told, the world is coming together for the Wild and it’s doing so at the perfect time. While the idea that no goaltender would be able to maintain such incredible numbers over the course of a season has been drilled into our heads, it’s also reasonable to assume the decline of late would also be “unsustainable” as well and Dubnyk will bounce back to something a little more reasonable.
It is also reasonable to assume this offense will come back to Earth at some point. Yet even with that fact you have to remember, the Wild are ranked 5th in scoring, on the season. That’s not a typo ladies and gentlemen. Their 122 goals on the season have them just 2 goals behind the 4th place Montreal Canadiens. Whats more is their 83 goals against on the season has them ranked 2nd in the NHL for defense.
We’re nearly at the midpoint on the season being through 39 games as of publication. With the Wild ranked in the top 5 in the NHL in both scoring offense and defense, having been able to maintain that course through nearly half a season, it might be time to start taking this team seriously. The Boudreau magic seems to be pushing all the right buttons right now. The team is playing confident, inspired hockey and fans across the State of Hockey are taking notice.
We’re not yet through January, and there are still plenty of games yet to be played. The Minnesota sports fan in all of us has conditioned our emotions to not get too high here. Yet, the world always seems just a little bit brighter though when your favorite hockey team is playing well. And it’s OK if the Columbus Blue Jackets are the darlings of the NHL right now, let them have the limelight. I’m perfectly fine with quietly sitting here, hoarding our points, and trying to figure out how a Boudreau led team will get us anywhere in the playoffs.
Ah, the negativity! It’s just around the corner!