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Early Diagnosis: What’s Plaguing the Wild?

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Minnesota Wild Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild are four games into the season and have only one win. The Wild were fortunate to push two games to overtime to salvage some points before losing, but three losses and one win is not a great look to start the season.

Before we go any further, let’s be clear: the Wild are not yet in trouble; four games is less than 5% of the season total, and there is plenty of time to turn things around. Let’s also be clear that two overtime losses are not far off from two overtime wins, particularly when one of those is in the shootout.

In other words: The Wild could be at 3-1 with two OT/SO wins, in which case maybe we’re not concerned at all. Maybe. Let’s take a look at how the Wild are doing in the two basic phases of play.

Offense

The Wild sit at 89 shots taken this season, putting them 7th worst in the league so far. They’ve had around 30 blocked shots this season- 123 unblocked shot attempts. That’s still 8th worst in the league. Worst, in the largest category, shot attempts (blocked and unblocked) the Wild sit at 6th worst in the league with only 156 (all numbers here from Natural Stat Trick).

Point wise, the Wild have 11 players with at least one point. Parise leads with 5, Zucker and Suter each have 4, Staal has 3, Coyle, Dumba, Granlund, Spurgeon, and Koivu have 2, and Greenway and Niederreiter each have 1 point so far.

Of those, Nino should really be gaining more points; he is a play driver with skill who we can and should expect to turn around while also seeing time on the power play. Mikael Granlund and Jared Spurgeon too can be expected to be around the point leaders for the Wild, along with Matt Dumba.

The problem here is clear: shots. The Wild need to generate and take more shots. Only four players have double digit shots on the season (Zucker, Parise, Staal, and Niederreiter). Charlie Coyle and Jordan Greenway are two names who need to start creating more chances; Coyle has only taken 4 shots on the season and Greenway has only 2 (numbers from Hockey Reference).

But beyond these basics, the big concern for the Wild offensively is where they are or aren’t getting their shots from.

Micah Blake McCurdy @IneffectiveMath

This image shows the Wild’s shot rates across the offensive zone related to the rest of the league. Put simply: red areas are where the Wild are shooting a lot from, blue is where they’re not shooting from.

First, the good: the Wild are generating a lot of shots right in front of the net. This is a great area to shoot from simply because you are more likely to hit the net, score a goal, or create a rebound.

The bad: just about everything else. The Wild are creating virtually no shots from the center of the ice in the high slot, and the right wing is a big black hole of shots. The Wild need to start generating some offense from these areas to spread defenses out and make the goalie move more.

All this said: through just four games, the Wild have plenty of time to turn these trends around. Niederreiter in particular has taken 10 shots and only has one point; that number could easily be higher and we would have no concerns about him.

The other end of the ice holds even more concerns for the Wild:

Defense

Defensively speaking, the Wild initially seem to be in OK shape. They’re near the middle of the league in shot attempts allowed, both blocked and unblocked. The same holds true for shots allowed: the Wild are doing a good job of suppressing shots against Devan Dubnyk, which certainly helps the goaltenders’ early impressive form (numbers from Natural Stat Trick).

Micah Blake McCurdy (@Ineffective Math)

This is the same image from above, this time against the Wild. The Wild are doing a decent job of shutting down the low slot and goalmouth (the goal is at the bottom here, in the first chart it was at the top). The middle and high slot, however, are bright red; the Wild are allowing a high percentage of shots from right in front of the net. The left dot is also a point in which the Wild could improve. In short, the Wild’s forwards need to do more defensively at the top of defensive zone and the Wild’s left defenders are letting them down in terms of shot suppression.

Conclusions

Coming into this article I suspected the Wild’s offense was doing OK and the Wild’s defense needed work. Looking at the data (I haven’t had a chance to watch a game yet), it seems like the opposite is true. It’s not great that the Wild are allowing shots from the center of the zone, but their shot suppression numbers are good for a team that seems to be struggling early. Offensively the Wild need to do more. Changing up the lines, as Boudreau did before the Carolina game, may be the solution. Given that Bruce described the first two periods as “embarrassing,” he perhaps hasn’t quite solved that problem yet.

Regardless, the Wild need to start creating more shots and chances without sacrificing the defense. Meanwhile, the forwards could also do more to push attacking players to the wings to prevent shots from the center of the ice.

It’s still early, and we shouldn’t panic yet, but the Wild have some things to sort out before this season gets away from them.