The Minnesota Wild season is underway but briefly on pause due to Covid-19, which has been spread amongst the team. The Wild have played 11 games so far and are 6-5. Let’s look at the biggest observations early in this critical transition season.
Make sure to check out my January report cards!
1. One of the underlying themes this season so far has been the Wild’s power-play which has become problematic real fast. The Wild’s 7.1 percentage ranks 30th in the NHL, just above the last place Anaheim Ducks.
The issue is that it is not because of a lack of attempts. The Wild’s roughly 83 minutes of power-play time ranks 4th in the NHL. The struggles on the man advantage aren’t even necessarily the deployment, it is more so of how the Wild run their power-play.
The Wild are a perimeter team on the man advantage, meaning they tend to shoot more from the outside instead of the center of the ice and close to the net.
This is evident as the Wild shoot less from in front of the net and in the slot than league-average according to Hockey-Viz’s shot maps. Volume and quality are two elements that are lacking on the Wild’s power-play.
The distinct reason why the Wild are unsuccessful on the man advantage is because of the lack of high-danger chances and shots. The Wild rank 18th on the power-play with 18 high-danger chances. Likewise, the Wild are struggling to finish on their opportunities too.
The Wild rank 28th in the NHL in expected goals for per hour on the power-play. While finishing is an issue, the lack of offense generated – partly because of the lack of high-danger chances – on the power-play is becoming a real obstacle.
2. If you read my January report cards article, you know that Nick Bonino has been the worst player on the Wild this season by a considerable margin. One facet he does bring to the table is his ability to win face-offs which happens to be one of the Wild’s weaknesses that has been on full display this season.
The Wild have won 46.5 percent of their draws which is 3rd worst mark in the NHL. This is one of the facets that a center is responsible for and the Wild’s abysmal center depth contributes to their horrible mark. Joel Eriksson Ek – currently the Wild’s best center – has many qualities, but winning face-offs isn’t one and hasn’t been in his career to date.
Bonino has won 55.9 percent of his attempts, a mark that would be the best of his career if he is able to sustain it in the 2020-21 shortened season.
The Wild have to figure this out before it haunts them.
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3. On the flip side, the Wild’s penalty kill has been satisfactory. The Wild’s 86.4 penalty kill success rate ranks 4th in the NHL. This isn’t surprising since the Wild are one of the best defensive teams in the league and have several elite defensive forwards.
The Wild are 4th in the NHL according to their penalty kill percentage, albeit they have the best penalty kill. The Wild are 1st in the NHL in expected goals against per hour while shorthanded. Likewise, they rank 1st in the NHL in Corsi against per hour. Not only do they allow a small volume of shots, but they allow few high-danger chances while shorthanded.
Furthermore, this is illustrated by Hockey-Viz’s shot maps which display the Wild force the opposition to the outsides and the perimeter. The Wild allow fewer shots than league average in the middle of the ice, the slot, and right in front of the net.
It is beneficial to have elite penalty-killing forwards Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno, and even Ryan Hartman. If you missed it, check out my case study on Foligno’s defensive game that also includes quotes from Foligno himself.
4. The Wild are currently 6-5-0 with 12 points and sit 5th in the realigned Honda West Division. The Wild will have to adapt and solve their early-season issues because outside of the Avalanche, the Wild have had easy opponents. The Wild have yet to play the Vegas Golden Knights, St. Louis Blues, or Arizona Coyotes (admittedly weaker than the prior two)
5. It is plain and simple, the Wild had one of the worst goaltending tandems in the NHL last season. While Kaapo Kahkonen has struggled, Cam Talbot has done everything that was expected of him. The veteran goaltender was brought in to be at least league average. Talbot has been a huge upgrade in net and has posted a .920 save percentage in 6 games this season.
Looking at Talbot’s GSAA, goals saved above average which measures the number of goals saved based on save percentage and shots against, his 2.93 ranks 12th in the NHL. Looking at GSAx, goals saved above expected which takes into account shot quality, his -0.24 ranks 24th. He’s been average this season and has stopped nearly everything he was expected to.
6. Budding star winger Kirill Kaprizov has had an excellent start to his rookie season. He’s legitimately got a chance to win the Calder Trophy this season. He has 3 goals, 6 assists, and 9 points in 11 games. One thing he hasn’t done enough of is shooting the puck. While his vision and playmaking has been on full display, we have only seen glimpses of his tantalizing shot.
7. The Wild’s youngsters have shined while the veterans have struggled to start the season. The Wild are seeing several forwards breakouts emerge including center Joel Eriksson Ek and winger Jordan Greenway. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have struggled at the beginning of the season. This is abnormal for a team that is usually is dependent on veterans.
8. The Wild are one of the best defensive teams in the league – if not the best – and that hasn’t changed. However, they weren’t as strong in January defensively – partly because of a small sample size – as they have been the past years. It speaks volumes when ranking 7th in the NHL in expected goals against per hour is considered struggling, but for the Wild standards, it is.
9. The Wild relied on their finishing ability last season as they were one of the worst teams at generating offensive opportunities and high-danger chances. It looks like it has translated into this season too, albeit without the finishing. The Wild rank 23rd in expected goals for per hour – which is on par for last season – but 13th in goals for per hour which is significantly down from last season where they ranked 4th.
10. The Wild have had a Covid-19 outbreak which has caused a halt to the Wild’s season. It was announced that two more games were being postponed. At least 11 players on the NHL’s Covid-19 protocol list and there could very well be more joining soon.
There are some more precautions being taken, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out and if the league can figure this out.