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Narrative, schmarrative: the Minnesota Wild are fine

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despite the latest late-season swoon, most of the Wild’s underlying numbers look great

The Minnesota Wild finally won a hockey game 3-2 against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, bringing to an end the team’s longest losing skid of the year and the longest of Bruce Boudreau’s NHL coaching career at five games. In fact, the entire month of March has been a rough go with the Wild holding a 3-8 record over those 11 games. As Wild fans and Hockey Wilderness readers know, this team has seen more than its fair share of late-season swoons, so many were expecting more of the same.

But digging into the numbers shows that things aren’t really too bad for the local team. This is just a cold stretch, probably just unlucky, that doesn’t really affect the quality of the team. As we’ve talked about all season, the Wild at 5v5 look fantastic when we look at the percentage of scoring chances and expected goals it has put up against its opponents all year. The questions about this team revolve around its percentages of shot attempts and a high PDO. And I think all of those numbers paint a pretty good picture of what we’ve experienced through the first three weeks of this month.

Let’s start with the Wild’s strengths this season: xGF% and SCF%. Now, for some reason, I can’t get the SCF% rolling average to load on Corsica.hockey, so this will be one image. But what you’re looking at is this season’s xGF% at 5v5 score and venue adjusted with 10 games in the average. I arbitrarily used 10 games, because we’re talking about a 10-game swoon.

You all know that I’m not great with images, but I’m working on my game. If it’s too small to read, the ramp up on the far right starts after March 5. Regardless, the Wild’s game looks strong here, as it has all season. I would guess that, if I could get the image to load, the team’s percentage of scoring chances would look similar.

On to the Wild’s weaknesses this year. All season, the Wild’s Corsi percentage has been mediocre at best. That could be a function of the team not really being as good as its record indicates. We’ve pointed to evidence to suggest that the Wild gives up a lot of those shots from areas that wouldn’t qualify as good scoring chances. Perhaps, the Wild have broken the code and are able to sustain something we haven’t really seen before in the modern NHL. Whatever your theory might be, the Wild’s Corsi results have not been good. What about recently?

As above with xGF%, the Wild’s CF% this season at 5v5 score and venue adjusted on a rolling 10-game average.

Honestly, nothing about this team makes any sense. Again, if the text in the image is too small, the dramatic upswing comes just after March 5 and the checkered line through the middle is the breakeven point. The Wild have been speed-bagging teams during the worst period of losing this season. How is that even possible?

Oh… So, the above is this season’s PDO, shooting percentage plus save percentage, at 5v5 score and venue adjusted with a 10-game rolling average. Even with my weak skills in posting images, you can tell that it starts at the top and crashes down to the bottom right around the middle of February. Woof.

What’s going on here? Well, one of the cool new features over at Natural Stat Trick is the ability to look at slices of the season. We can take a look at the last 11 games and see where the Wild stack up at 5v5 against the rest of the NHL. Over the 11-game slide, the Wild is third in the league at CF% at 55.44, behind just the Boston Bruins and the Los Angeles Kings. The Wild is 2nd in the league at both Fenwick and shots percentage. The Wild is first in the league during this 11-game skid at SCF% at 56.43, something the Wild has been strong in all season. There’s no expected goals metric on NST, like there is at Corsica.

And how about PDO? Last in the league at .948, built off of a save percentage of .897 and a shooting percentage of 5.08. That save percentage is the second worst in the league, behind only the Dallas Stars. And the shooting percentage is third-worst in the league, behind those Kings and the Buffalo Sabres.

I’ve run out of time to write about goalies. Besides, Tony already nailed it last week. I’ll just point out that of 23 goaltenders that have played at least 2000 minutes, Devan Dubnyk’s 5v5 save percentage is fifth in the league behind Carey Price, Braden Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky and Cam Talbot. He’s a good goalie going through a rough spot.

But I will say something about shooting percentage. Over the course of this season, the Wild’s shooting percentage at 5v5 is second in the league behind the Washington Capitals. Last year it was 14th. The year before that it was sixth. On aggregate, over the last three seasons, the Wild’s 5v5 shooting percentage is third in the league behind the New York Rangers and the Caps. There are quality shooters on this team. While the national media focuses on the over-30 crowd on the roster with hefty salaries, we all know that the 2010 draft class stirs this drink.

Here’s my pet theory that I’m still working to prove out: the Wild are a good team in two ways that we’ve witnessed this season. When the Wild has the lead, it’s good at forcing teams to shoot from further out. When the team needs a goal, it’s able to press the issue and there are quality shooters that can finish.

It’s pretty unsatisfying to chalk up a bad string to not getting the breaks or puck luck. We all want to change up the lines for a better outcome or fix this sinking ship. But the underlying numbers suggest that this is likely just a blip in a long season. Hockey is a funny game, whether you’re a stat geek or a purist. A lot of times the best team doesn’t win the game. The Wild’s game is fine and, hopefully, this little swoon has run its course.

All stats courtesy of Corsica.hockey, NaturalStatTrick.com and ESPN.com.