Jan 16, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild celebrate a goal by forward Justin Fontaine (14) in the second period against the Edmonton Oilers at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Wild Analysis: Better To Be Lucky Than Good?


(This post features some advanced statistics, so if you want a quick guide to the metrics I use, read this)

 

After a 6 game losing streak in December, it looked like there was no way Mike Yeo would be able to hang onto his job. The Wild’s issues were compounded with injuries to the team’s two best forwards, Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, their Vezina candidate goalie, Josh Harding, along with, arguably the team’s most consistent defensive player, Jared Spurgeon. Yet somehow, even with a very youth-orientated lineup, the Wild managed to go 8-3-1 over the next 12 games to put themselves back in the playoff race and keep Mike Yeo’s job safe for a little bit longer.

While it’s great that they’ve been winning games and picking up some much needed points, especially considering the big roles that have had to be undertaken by young and inexperienced players, the performances haven’t always been very convincing and they’ve had to rely on some great goaltending and some (way overdue) puck luck.

The reason I’m looking at this is because it’s a good example of how the better team doesn’t always win, something which the Wild are all too familiar with after the run they had at the start of the season.

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-Here are some of their underlying numbers over the last 12 games:

GAME

CF%*

FF%*

Sh%**

Sv%**

PDO**

4-1 @BUF

57.90%

62.10%

13.60%

100.00%

113.60

5-3 vs WSH

23.10%

27.60%

25.00%

90.50%

115.50

2-1 (S0) @ Kings

30.00%

27.30%

9.10%

96.70%

105.80

4-1 @PHX

36.60%

33.30%

10.00%

100.00%

110.00

2-4 vs COL

60.90%

57.10%

8.00%

75.00%

83.00

4-0 @NSH

53.80%

60.00%

19.00%

100.00%

119.00

0-3 vs OTT

43.90%

39.50%

0.00%

96.00%

96.00

4-1 vs EDM

62.70%

63.60%

14.80%

94.40%

109.20

3-2 (OT) vs DAL

35.20%

31.30%

18.20%

95.50%

113.70

0-4 @DAL

25.00%

25.00%

0.00%

95.50%

95.50

2-1 vs CHI

52.90%

61.50%

13.30%

100.00%

113.30

2-3 (OT) @SJS

36.30%

38.70%

11.80%

92.90%

104.70

43.19%

43.92%

11.90%

94.71%

106.61

*=5v5 Close
**=5v5
  • The likely reason for the team’s recent success is their very high PDO of 106.61. This is a result of them shooting with an abnormally high success rate and their goaltending, namely Darcy Kuemper, being outstanding to an unsustainable degree.
  • While it’s no surprise that the Wild out-possessed the Sabres, Oilers and, to a lesser extent, the Avalanche, it’s impressive that they managed to do it against the Blackhawks. Though, admittedly, they seemed to catch the Hawks on an off-night.

 

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Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that the Wild managed to pull off these wins against the odds, but in the context of their overall performance, there are some worrying trends. Of course, these numbers definitely wouldn’t have been as bad if Koivu, Parise and Spurgeon had been healthy, but even before the injury bug hit, the team was trending in the wrong direction in terms of their possession numbers.

 

-This graph shows the Wild’s cumulative Fenwick For% at 5v5 Close game-by-game. The red line is this season, and the blue is last season (right click > open link in new tab to enlarge):

13 vs 14

  • Like I said above,  a team’s Fenwick% in close situations over the course of a season is the best predictor of success. Teams on the right side of 50% usually make the playoffs, teams that aren’t usually don’t.
  • As you can see, the Wild started the season brilliantly, but are slowly declining towards last year’s numbers.
  • The recent downward trend has obviously been partly due to the injuries, as I said before, but that negative trend has been consistent since early in the season. While some regression was expected, the team has now slipped below 50%, which is worrying.

 

-It’s amazing how far the Wild have fallen down the Fenwick rankings since early in the season:

 # Team FF% PDO
1 Los Angeles Kings 56.20% 99.2
2 Chicago Blackhawks 55.10% 100.9
3 San Jose Sharks 54.60% 99.8
4 Boston Bruins 53.60% 102.4
5 New Jersey Devils 53.40% 97.2
6 St. Louis Blues 53.20% 101.2
7 Dallas Stars 53.10% 99.2
8 New York Rangers 52.50% 98.5
9 Vancouver Canucks 52.40% 100.8
10 Tampa Bay Lightning 51.90% 102.2
11 Pittsburgh Penguins 51.90% 101.6
12 Columbus Blue Jackets 50.90% 100.9
13 Anaheim Ducks 50.80% 103.7
14 Florida Panthers 50.60% 97.3
15 Detroit Red Wings 50.50% 101.9
16 Ottawa Senators 50.30% 99.5
17 Nashville Predators 49.60% 98.2
18 Phoenix Coyotes 49.40% 99.3
19 Winnipeg Jets 48.80% 100
20 Minnesota Wild 48.70% 100.2
21 Washington Capitals 48.40% 99.4
22 Colorado Avalanche 48.40% 103
23 New York Islanders 47.90% 98.8
24 Montréal Canadiens 47.90% 99.4
25 Philadelphia Flyers 47.70% 100.5
26 Carolina Hurricanes 47.70% 99.6
27 Calgary Flames 46.00% 97.7
28 Edmonton Oilers 44.60% 98.9
29 Toronto Maple Leafs 42.80% 101.6
30 Buffalo Sabres 41.60% 97.8

 

  •  They’ve now fallen into the bottom 1/3 of the league and below, Conference III rivals, the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators. It’s unbelievable that the Wild are now the worst puck possession team in the division after such a strong start. Hopefully they can recover once Koivu and Spurgeon return.

 

To summarise, while it’s been good to see the Wild win a few games lately, there is a lot to be concerned about in terms of how far this team has slipped since their puck possession dominance early in the season. The Wild want to become one of the league’s elite over the next 2-3 years, and to do so they will need to keep improving their puck possession numbers. It’s no coincidence that the likes of LA, Chicago, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Boston, St.Louis, Detroit, Vancouver and Boston are usually towards the top of the above table by the end of the season.

I would see it as a huge positive for next season if the Wild can finish with a better FenClose% than last season. They’ve taken a step in the right direction with the conscious shift towards a more possession-focused system that has been acknowledged by Chuck Fletcher and Mike Yeo, and it will become easier to implement that system as the young talent matures and some pressure is taken off the veterans. Adding someone like Thomas Vanek in the offseason will help too.

In the short term, it’s still highly possible that this team will make the playoffs, but their chances are much slimmer if they keep being outshot and hope that their goalie has a stellar performance ever night.

 

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For a more in depth guide to advanced stats (they’re really not that advanced), check out this database.

 

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Tags: 5v5 Close Advanced Stats Corsi Darcy Kuemper Fancystats Featured Fenwick Gone Puck Wild Jared Spurgeon Josh Harding Mike Yeo Mikko Koivu Minnesota Wild Pdo Popular Regression Sh% Sv% Wild Zach Parise