Despite consistently good play at even strength, and a generally effective penalty kill, the Wild have struggled with the man advantage. The theories about this are rampant; it could be that the Wild aren't shooting enough, it could be that they're not passing fast enough, that the players are standing still... the ideas are endless.
And, if you don't have any ideas of your own, Alec broke down some of the systematic problems with the Wild's play earlier today. Check that out, if you haven't! I will be focusing more on numbers and whatnot, with a few observations at the end.
Minnesota has, as a team, spent a total of 119:30 on the ice with a man advantage (from Hockey Analysis). They have scored only 6 goals, which ties them for 2nd-worst in the league (Buffalo has only scored 4, Montreal and Winnipeg have each scored 6 as well). That doesn't tell the whole story, however. Let's dig deeper.
In looking at the shots per 60, the Wild actually fare well. Their 54.2 shots per 60 place them 7th overall. Their sh%, however, is a dismal 5.56- worse than their 5v5 rate 8.6. In the Sh% category, only Buffalo is worse, at 4.88.
In other words: the Wild are out-shooting a majority of the league on the power play, they just aren't scoring. Why? That's a good question. Statistics would tell us that there is virtually no way the Wild are as bad as that sh% indicates, and are due for some regression to the mean. We'll take a look at another possible reason for the Wild's failure on the PP after we look at...
Here is a table of all Wild forwards and defensemen who have played on the power play this season, as well as their shot rates.
(stats from Hockey Analysis)
This table comes with the caveat that only Suter, Pominville, Granlund, Parise, Koivu, and Vanek have played more than 50 minutes on the power play this season. Therefore, pretty much everyone is subject to a small sample size.
That said... for all the flak the Wild PP gets for not shooting, that doesn't seem to be the case. Mikko Koivu is out-shooting a number of big names on the power play, including Sidney Crosby (16.06), and is only a hair behind Steven Stamkos (17.21).
Fenwick Events (unblocked shots) is where the Wild start to struggle. The Wild leader in Fenwick/60 is Jason Pominville, with 20.1 per hour of power play. While that is far from terrible (and is ahead of Evegni Malkin), stars like Jakub Voracek and Stamkos are generating 24.27 and 22.95 unblocked shots per 60 minutes.
To be fair, the Wild are certainly getting some terrible luck; neither Parise nor Pominville are 0% shooters; the fact remains that there is a problem.
Quantity over Quality?
The last question I'll look at is: are the Minnesota Wild taking a lot of low-quality shots? This isn't an easy question to answer, and history tells us that "shot quality" is not really a repeatable statistic. As best statisticians can figure, the most easily measurable "quality" of a shot is its distance from goal.
With that in mind, let's take a look at Some Kind of Ninja's shot chart.
That is every shot Some Kind of Ninja has tracked that the Wild has taken with the man advantage. You can see, there's a clump of shots near the goal, but also a fair number from further out. The average distance is 29.9 feet. Alone, however, that doesn't tell us much. Let's compare it with a more effective power play; here is the same chart for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The first thing that I notice is: the average distance for the Penguins is not all that much different; 28.6 feet. The "clumping" of the shots is similar, though they certainly don't have the number of shots coming from the blue line that the Wild do. Indeed, without those two shots nearly from center ice, I would wager the average distance to be quite a bit shorter.
What you will find, if you look through every team's shot chart (I did), is that few of them vary in appearance. What's more, the Wild had one of the shorter average shot distances that I could find. Yet, Minnesota is not scoring goals.
So, What's the Story
My theory for why the powerplay is struggling so mightily has a few prongs.
Firstly, bad luck. The Wild, for whatever odd reason, just aren't getting the goals right now. Chalk it up to chance or hot goaltending, or a run of bad luck for the players individually. Few of the Wild's power-players really are as poor shooters as their Sh% indicates right now, and that is bound to even out. It stinks as a reason, but I honestly believe that the Wild should have quite a few more PPG's than they do right now, and luck has a part in that.
Secondly, the Wild's PP allows too much time for defenses to recover. The idea behind a man advantage, both in hockey and soccer, is to wear the other players out. The way to do that is to pass, quickly and efficiently. The Wild does pass a lot on the PP, but they pass slowly and methodically. This allows players on the PK to adjust and recover regularly. Quick passing not only tires the PK-ers out, but it gets them out of position and opens up other passing lanes to players with a good shot, or opens up a shooting lane.
Additionally, quick passing gets a goalie moving, and this creates a significantly lower Sv% for each goalie on the PK. The joke is that the Wild make any opposing goalie look like a Vezina candidate, and part of that is because on the PP the Wild allow goalies to get set up with lots of time between passes.
It's important to note- when I say "quick passes" I mean two things. I mean both that the puck travels quickly, but more importantly that each player passes shortly after receiving the puck. The Wild PP-ers tend to sit with the puck for an extended period of time, and that allows the defense time to adjust.
Furthermore, as Parise noted most recently in his post-game interviews, players without the puck need to move; moving the puck alone isn't going to get it done. Players need to move to get open, and need to be looking for what they will do with the puck when it comes to them.
Mike Yeo's teams have never been particular stellar. His 2010-2011 season with the Houston Aeros came in at just a little over 20%: sixth in the league that year. That was his high point; the Wild's was 15% in 2011-12, 17.9% in 2012-13, and 17.9 last year also. He was the assistant coach of the Wilkes-Barre Penguins in 2005-6, when they had a 21% powerplay, and that is his high point.
Perhaps Yeo needs to revisit that 2010-11 season and see what Houston was doing on the powerplay, as he has yet to match that success in the NHL. Under Yeo, Minnesota has yet to be in the top half of the league in PP success. The team seems to be shooting plenty, so it is either bad luck or a bad system; most likely a combination of the two.
If the team is able to pass more crisply as well as move without the puck, the power play is sure to turn around. In the meantime, The Wild's 5v5 play tends to be very good, and that will aid them in pursuit of Lord Stanley's Cup.
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