When the bar for the Wild’s performance this season was already set so low, making it interesting in Nashville feels like a moral victory, all things considering. Except they don’t reward points in the standings for making it interesting, and not one team is going to feel bad about the Wild stumbling out of the gate. Poor execution making passes and overall terrible puck support from the defensive zone to the offensive zone has really been the story for every game thus far. So let’s get into it. Here’s three big things we learned following the Wild’s 4-2 loss in Nashville to the rival Predators.
Protecting the puck
With puck possession being the name of the game in today’s NHL, too often the Minnesota Wild are being too cavalier with the little black disc. The zone exits are all wrong. Wes Walz went through a lengthy breakdown of the breakouts on Fox Sports North prior to the game that took the words out of my mouth. Think of it like the field position game in football. If the team can’t advance the ball, they have to punt it away. Soon enough after feeble attempts to move the ball, they’ll eventually keep getting backed up into their own territory giving the other team a short field to score.
That analogy is essentially what the Wild are doing in the defensive zone. Even with the Wild having time to skate the puck out, or make a pass, the default option has been to chip the puck off the boards and into the neutral zone, or tip it deep for a line change. The chip out of the zone with zero chance of possession is akin to the punt. Pretty soon the other team just has to go D-to-D, and come back on the attack. That’s how the Wild keep getting hemmed into their own zone for extended periods of time. Against a team like the Predators and their mobile defensemen, well the end result of that is too obvious to require elaboration.
That’s how the Wild started this game. And when that changed, the Wild got more offense going. The offense always starts in the defensive zone, and the Wild haven’t clicked on the breakout as often as they absolutely must to be a good team.
Puck possession and creating shots is incredibly important. Instead, they chased the game. It wasn’t until they were down by two where it the score effects took place.
This team is going to get torched in transition all season
I’ve harped on this since the first game of the season, but the team speed just can’t compete with the fast teams in the league. Turning the puck over at either blue line is costly. At best, it just kills the offensive chance. At worst, it heads back the other way and in the back of your own net.
Eric Staal made a drop-pass to Jordan Greenway on the wing just inside the Predators’ line. Only, Greenway never cut behind Staal or slowed up to receive the puck. Instead, the Ky;e Turris turned it immediately around and found Filip freaking Forsberg alone at the Wild line for a breakaway goal. Clearly, the two Wild forwards didn’t read each other well on the play, but it’s nonchalance near the blue line that will get you burned.
Speaking of nonchalance near the blue line, it must be a detail of which the Wild pay attention. Since the offense runs through the defensemen, and the default play from the forwards is to cycle along the boards until they can get it to a defenseman to set up the offense, weak passes, or just plain inaccurate passes to the point can end up in the back of the net. Like the Predators’ second goal. A look to the point and fanned pass ended up going the other way. Poor coverage on the back check and Mattias Ekholm had all kinds of daylight to shoot from the slot. Passing without a purpose or failing to keep the puck down low in the offensive zone by the forwards hurt the Wild over and over in this game.
The Wild finally had a game where they did what they normally do - get outshot, but still rack up scoring chances. The Wild have been one of the more baffling teams to the advanced stats community because of their propensity to give up loads of shots and shot attempts but limit scoring chances while getting to the high percentage areas themselves.
Now, Minnesota hasn’t done much of that AT ALL this season; expect for Monday night against Nashville. Sure, when the Preds got the two goal lead in the 2nd period, they were content with playing with the lead and playing back on defense. That allowed the Wild the chance to get back into the game. So while when the game was in flux, Nashville may have had the shot attempt edge by a decent margin, the Wild still ways to stay close to even or better in the scoring chance for category with the Preds for all three periods.
This is a big deal considering they had not come close to that in the previous four games, including the win against the Blackhawks.
Minnesota was getting to the slot and at least trying to make something happen.
The heat map shows that Wild were doing work around the net and in the slot to beat Pekka Rinne. At 5-on-5 the Wild were also better in their own end. Aside from giving up the odd-man chance and the breakaway, Minnesota did have a much better effort in all three zones.
The problem is, this team has almost zero margin for error and the mistake cannot happen. Clean up the mistakes, be better at exiting and entering the zone, this Wild team may be able to put together some quality wins at some point this season. The real question is if they have the talent to get it done?