The Minnesota Wild’s transformation over the last few seasons has been dramatic. Ryan Suter is no longer eating all of the minutes, challenging Drew Doughty for the league lead in time on ice. Jared Spurgeon is no longer the most underrated player in the league now. He dons a “C” on his sweater. Older vets no longer have control of the team, with Bill Guerin handing it over to a younger, faster, more dynamic locker room.
The old guys also no longer have a stranglehold on the top defensive pairing. Dean Evason and Co. would never come out and say it, but it’s clearly articulated in the stats and match-ups: Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba are the Wild's top defensive duo.
That's not to take away from Spurgeon and Alex Goligoski's outstanding play this year when both have been healthy. The Wild captain and the Minnesota native are as good of a shutdown pairing as there is in the league. Among the 109 defensive pairs with 100 or more minutes together, Goligoski and Spurgeon have surrendered only 1.74 expected goals against per hour to rank sixth in the league. When this veteran tandem has been together and healthy, they’ve created a scoring abyss for the opposition in the Wild defensive zone.
[caption id=attachment_112518" align="aligncenter" width="564] Courtesy of HockeyViz.com[/caption]
But while the defensive side is elite, the offensive side is only so-so. With a 2.18 xGF/60, the pair still tips the ice in Minnesota’s favor, but not as much as their high point totals might indicate.
That’s a fantastic asset to have at your disposal if you’re Evason -- especially when you have the Dumba and Brodin pair succeeding against the top competition. On the road, it’s much more difficult to get desirable match-ups with the home team getting last change. However, it’s clear who Evason and assistant coach Bob Woods are deploying against the other team's best players at home.
Going back to the start of the season through Nov. 20th, when Spurgeon got injured in Florida, the Dumba-Brodin duo took most of the 5-on-5 minutes. They averaged nearly 16 minutes per game and got match-ups against some of the top-scoring lines. Evason lined them up against the Anaheim Ducks' Trevor Zegras eight of their 14 5-on-5 shifts. Against the Winnipeg Jets, they took on the Mark Scheifele line 21 out of the 27 shifts the entire game. They clashed with the Mathew Barzal line when they played the New York Islanders. In all, those two defensemen had the most demanding assignments in each game.
Their workload further increased once Spurgeon was out. Again, Dumba and Brodin thrived, owning 70% of the goal share and 54% of the xG. Looking at Micah Blake McCurdy’s HockeyViz, the Jimmy & Dums combo locks down the dangerous parts of the ice and gives their goalies an easier go of it.
[caption id=attachment_112519" align="aligncenter" width="606] Courtesy of HockeyViz.com[/caption]
Though not nearly as dominant in their own end as Goligoski and Spurgeon, they make up for on the other end of the ice. The two compadres are second on the team in expected goals for per hour with 2.47, right behind Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill. But remember, Dumba and Brodin are locking horns with the other team’s best while Evason deploys Kulikov and Merrill more selectively.
[caption id=attachment_112520" align="aligncenter" width="580] Courtesy of HockeyViz.com[/caption]
Minnesota likes to have their defensemen jumping up into the play. And, as a result, their defense factors into the offense. They launch more shots on net than any other pair on the team. Dumba generates 5.91 shots per 60, followed by Brodin’s 5.31. Their offensive prowess helps keep the pressure on the opposing goalies while leading to more extended zone time for Joel Eriksson Ek, Kirill Kaprizov, and Ryan Hartman to work their craft.
Minnesota’s defensive group is among the best in the league, and it's been that way for many seasons now. Regardless of the major facelift that the defense had undergone last summer, it appears they haven't missed a beat. It helps when the Wild can deploy perhaps one the best and most-agile skating defensemen in Brodin while placing a speedy puck shooter like Dumba at his side. All it took was ripping the band-aid off by buying out Ryan Suter and a culture change inside the locker room for the cream that is the Wild’s best pairing to rise to get top minutes.
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