Three weeks ago, I wrote about the opening 12 days of the Wild’s season. Through those first six games, the Wild had but two wins, against the Blackhawks and the Coyotes. They had lost to the Avalanche, Golden Knights, Predators, and Hurricanes. Amongst fans and media there was no small amount of concern and consternation around the Wild... who responded by defeating the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning on both ends of a back-to-back.
Those two wins put the Wild at 4-2-2 on the season... a .500 team if you looks strictly at wins and losses. You could argue that OT and (especially) shootout losses are more random and shouldn’t play such a big role in deciding the quality of a team; you could argue that you need to look at quality of play rather than strictly outcome (and you’d be right).
That also eliminates two wins for the Wild, though: against the Blackhawks and the Lightning.
So now, the Wild are 2-2; two wins, against the Stars and Coyotes, and two losses, against the Avalanche and Predators.
All this to say: the Wild have a weird record so far, and our earlier assertion that the quality of play is more important than wins/losses is correct.
Last week I looked at some of the Wild’s underlying numbers to try to diagnose the quality of their play. My conclusion was that the Wild’s defense was OK but the offense lacked spark. Since I wrote that, the Wild have won three straight games, scoring nine goals.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Wild controlled more shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, shots, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances in two of the three games. Against the Coyotes, the Wild broke even on shots and were only out-shot-attempted by seven; it was a tight game that the Wild won.
Against the Stars, the Wild were stellar, controlling play for the entire game and turning the heat on after going down early in the third period. Against the Lightning (on the second day of a back-to-back), the Wild started slow, but controlled the second and third periods.
More revealing than the numbers, though, is where those shots for the Wild were coming from.
Here is the Wild’s 5v5 shots against the Coyotes:
Here are the Wild’s 5v5 shots against Dallas
And here are the Wild’s shots against Tampa Bay:
There’s one big difference between the map against Arizona and the maps against Dallas and Tampa: the cluster of shots at the goalmouth and in the low slot just outside the crease.
Arizona either did a great job clearing the crease, or the Wild didn’t go to the net front. Either way, against both Dallas and the Bolts the Wild did much better of crashing the net and shooting from up close.
The spread in the Dallas graph is beautiful; a massive cluster around the crease and shots from range and both sides of the net. Against the Bolts Dumba, Staal, Spurgeon, and Pateryn all took shots from the right point, but the left side is blank.
One thing the Wild did against the Bolts that was so effective was getting shots from wide angles; Dumba has three from low and near the net. At that sharp angle, the goalie isn’t likely to trap the puck, so the rebound can be knocked in by a crashing forward. Combining the ranged shooting seen against Tampa and Dallas with the net-front presence the Wild had against the Stars will make the Wild’s offense much more potent.
Perhaps the best news for the Wild: neither the Stars nor Lightning are a particularly bad defensive team. Dallas is near the middle of the league in shot attempts allowed, Unblocked shot attempts, and shots allowed. Tampa are even better, in the bottom 5 for both shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts allowed (and both have played 7 or more games, so this isn’t a result of simply not playing).
A caveat: Dallas is among the bottom of the league in goals allowed; either they are allowing particularly good shots or their net minder needs to improve.
Either way, the problems seen last week in the Wild’s offense are looking much brighter. Better, the Wild’s defensive record is due both to Devan Dubnyk’s wonderful performances and the ability of the Wild to limit shots from good locations on the ice.
If the Wild can continue this offense, they should find success against the Kings, who have not been convincing defensively this season, allowing more than two goals per game at 5v5 and not especially effective at suppressing shots.