Minnesota Wild: Five Thoughts at Mid-Season

It’s been another tough January for the Minnesota Wild.  As the team heads into the All-Star break lets take a minute to reflect on Five things that have shaped the first half of the season.

It’s been a hard run to the All-Star break for the Minnesota Wild.  Losing 10 of 13 in the month of January is something that many would have never predicted.  Right now the Wild are out of the playoffs one point behind a surging Nashville team who has played significantly better in January.  Not exactly where the position the Wild faithful saw this team being at this point when the season started, but sadly here they sit. 

At times like this it’s easy to sit back and talk only about what is wrong, but now that we head into the All-Star break I’d like to take a minute to look at the Wild’s season as a whole.  The road to this mid-point has been a rollercoaster full of ups and downs.  So let’s take a minute on this break to size up the Wild with five storylines currently affecting the team. 

1) The Offense is Struggling, but the D is Awesome!:  Okay this one was predictable, but currently the offensive production of the Wild is reaching a fever pitch of underachievement, yet the defense is among the best in the NHL.   Heading into the All-Star break the Wild are currently 20th in the NHL in goals for with 121.

On the other side of the puck the Wild are currently 6th best in the NHL with 113 goals against.  The team may have lost ten games in January, but in those ten losses the Wild only gave up an average of 2.7 goals game.  That’s pretty stingy for a team that has had that bad of a month.  It just furthers the point that lack of offensive output is the culprit right now.

How do you fix the offense?  Two things really need to happen more quality shots, and the slumps have to stop.   The players like Granlund, Vanek, Koivu, Pominville, and Niederreiter are all under preforming right now in the scoring department, and as I’ve pointed out before are not really shooting the puck very much either.  Right now Charile Coyle and Jarret Stoll are the best offensive players on the squad with five of the last nine goals scored going to those two players.  They can’t carry the team offensively it needs to be the players who play the top two lines and are expected to score.

minnesota wild

Dec 17, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter (20) brings the puck from behind the Wild net during the third period against the New York Rangers at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild win 5-2 over the Rangers. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

2) Ryan Suter is The Team’s Halfway MVP:  No doubt right now on this one.  The most complete player on the Wild’s roster is Suter.  He’s 2nd in the NHL in average Ice Time, currently tied for second on the team’s plus minus list with a +8, he’s tied for the Wild’s lead in assists with 25, and he currently second on the team in points with 31. 

He’s playing both sides of the puck well and keeping focused even when the team around him may not be.  If a turnaround is to happen it’ll be Suter leading the charge with his solid play on the ice and his no-nonsense words of leadership off of it.  In the previous skids this year it’s been Suter who’s led the charge calling out the team and making sure that everyone is held accountable.  As I’ve said before the NHL needs to take a good look at him for the Norris Trophy…he’s been that good.

3) Devan Dubnyk Isn’t a Fluke and the Goaltending is Solid:  This offseason when Dubs was signing his long-term deal with the Wild, the discussion would ultimately turn to if his half season was a fluke and that the Wild could be walking into a mistake.  Well fast-forward to today and we see Devan is an All-Star and boasting a solid year with numbers near the top of NHL goaltenders.  Dubs is boasting a 2.27 GAA and a .921 Save Percentage well within the realm of “solid” goaltender numbers.

Perhaps more shocking, especially to this writer, is the turnaround performance of Darcy Kuemper.  Kuemper has stepped his game up over the last two to three months.  His current numbers are even better than Dubs right now with a GAA of 2.10 and Save Percentage of .926.  Granted Darcy has only played 12 games, but he has certainly proved he can step in as the back-up and give the Wild a chance to win.

4) The Central Division is Crazy Good Again:  I don’t think there is anyone who follows the NHL who would disagree with me or say they didn’t see this one coming in the offseason.  At the All-Star break the Central currently has the top team in the Western Conference the Chicago Blackhawks, and both Wild Card teams for the Western Conference Nashville and Colorado.

The numbers don’t lie either…three of the top ten scoring teams in the NHL are from the Central, and the there’s one team in the top ten of goals against which is actually the Wild at 7th best.  As of today the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best records belong to the Blackhawks, Stars, and Blues.  Now that’s a tough pace to keep up with, and the Wild can’t have another January if they want to have a chance to stay in the Central Division hunt.

5) The Special Teams are Struggling:   So if it wasn’t bad enough that the Wild are having issues scoring at even-strength they seem to have the same problem with the man advantage.  The Power Play this year has had flashes of brilliance, but especially as of late has been every bit as bad at as the lack of goal scoring and I might even say it’s the number one issue they need to clear up on the scoring front.  Currently the Wild are 18st in the NHL in Power Play Percentage with only a 17 percent conversion rate.

Just as important but in many ways more stunning than the poor performance on the Power Play is the poor play when down a man.  Last year the Wild were the best team in the NHL on the PK, and this year they have regressed big time.  This I fear this is an issue that has been there all year and is not just a January thing.  Right now the Wild are sitting 21st in the NHL in Penalty Kill Percentage with 79 percent killed.  This team can play better than this on the PK…it’s just that simple they are able to be better than this performance.

So as you gathered it’s not been all bad this year.  I’d urge you to try to not let the past month cloud the good things this season.  Still it has to get better if this team wants to even make the playoffs.  If I were to assign a grade to this half season it’d be C+  (because of a bad essay section of the test).  It’s all about the fringes right now, the Wild have the knowledge and personnel to right this ship they just need to do it.  We’ll all be waiting to see if those who need to step up, or continue to blame it on dumb luck.   Either way I’ll be here to tell you what I think.