Something is different with this Minnesota Wild team. Yeah, they’re tops in the West and it’s the last day of February, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s something else with this team. It’s not that there are 10 players with double digit goal totals, or the eight players with 30 or more points on the season, and it only just being February. It’s not even that the goaltending of Devan Dubnyk has been top one or two in the league for nearly the entire season.
No, I’m talking about the Wild’s 1st ranked power play going into Monday night's action against the LA Kings [now 3rd ranked after going 0-for-2]. The Wild power play has been a topic I’ve talked about many times. My first article ever written for Hockey Wilderness was on the Wild’s very mediocre man-advantage. For years, going back to when Mike Yeo took over the head coaching gig in Minnesota, the power play has been essentially toothless.
Wild Power Play by Season
But this season has been an outlier. For the first time in a long time, the Minnesota Wild has a power play convergence rate of something above 20 percent.
And it’s glorious!
Going back to the game versus the Chicago Blackhawks, the Wild only made that game close on the scoreboard because of their work on the power play. They held the Blackhawks to 0-for-2 on the PK, but also took full advantage of the two power play opportunities they received got two big-time goals from Mikael Granlund with the help of Nino Niederreiter.
The Wild, for the first time in a long time, are now able to use the power play to change the complexion of a game. I’ve looked too longingly at teams like the San Jose Sharks, Pittsburgh Penguins, or Washington Capitals that punish teams for being careless, or playing that style of game. And while the Wild still ended up losing to the Blackhawks last Tuesday, it was nice to have confidence in the Wild scoring and using the man-advantage as a weapon, for a change.
So what changed? Clearly, the head coach has a lot to do with the change. After leading the Ducks to the top of the league last year with a 23 percent power play, Bruce Boudreau has brought that kind of mind-set on the power play to the Minnesota Wild. Couple that with the Wild’s league-leading 56.79 5-on-5 scoring chance for percentage, the improvement on the power play should have been a natural positive side-effect. If they can control scoring chances at even strength, why wouldn’t the scoring chances, with room, and a team giving up the offensive zone result in more goals?
Personnel has changed a bit as well. You’re finding a guy like Nino Niederreiter finding the net-front, low slot area of the ice and having success there. From 2013 to 2016, number 22 saw just 435 minutes on ice, or roughly less than one and a half minutes per game. This season alone, in 59 games, Niederreiter has just a hair over 2 minutes per game on the power play. He’s getting more time to do his thing, and he’s in a much better position on the ice to use his quick hands, size, and skill to be the team leader in power play goals with eight. He’s also in the top three on the team in power play points with 14, behind Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund. Nino is becoming a PP staple, and had the coaching change never been made, he’s likely left on the bench rather than helping to make the Wild power play a factor for which teams have to account.
Speaking of Granlund, his emergence has absolutely accelerated this power play rise from mediocrity. He’s been less of a perimeter player (ie, his goals against Chicago), and lurking closer and closer to the net. He still takes up his spot on the half boards and looks to distribute to the middle of the ice. But what he’s doing more is winning the battle to the loose pucks off the end boards when shots go wide. He’s also looking to create more by driving to the net. His individual scoring chances for while on the power play numbers this season are well and above the highest he’s had since joining the Minnesota Wild after the 2012 lockout. His individual shot attempts are way up this season as well.
Mikael Granlund PP Chance Generation by Season
The right guys are in the right place on the power play this season and it’s all finally starting to come together. It did start slow, but in the last six games, Minnesota has scored eight power play goals. Minnesota has the fewest power play opportunities in the league and, yet, it’s becoming a weapon they can use all the way into what is shaping up to be a deep run through the post-season.