Despite Monday night's shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks, the Minnesota Wild are still winners of seven of their past 10 games and just recently had a three-day layoff to have hopefully recharged their batteries after a grueling stretch of games.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Wild sit third in the Honda West Division with 44 points and are seven points clear of the fifth-place Arizona Coyotes with two games in hand. Four teams from each division will make the playoffs this year. MoneyPuck.com has Minnesota at 96.7% odds of making the postseason at this point, with 23 games remaining in the regular season. These are the eighth-best odds of making the playoffs in the entire NHL -- better than that of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators.
[caption id=attachment_84949" align="alignnone" width="1900] NHL playoff odds as of 3/31/21 via MoneyPuck.com[/caption]
This means the Wild are nearly approaching lock territory for making the playoffs. Yes, they still have to play the games, but as we have seen in today's NHL, making up points with that many games remaining is no easy task. You have to nearly win out the remaining games on your schedule to make up that ground.
Given the security they have, the time has come to try new things with their lineup to see if they can better optimize it down the stretch and into the postseason.
Here are a few suggestions:
Create A Super Line
So let's expand on this idea.
It's time to create a super line on the roster. Put Joel Eriksson Ek between Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala and see what happens. The trio has played less than five minutes together this season at 5-on-5, but all three have given the Wild reason for excitement moving forward. Three players on the Wild roster have scored 10-plus goals this season, and you guessed it, they are all Eriksson Ek, Kaprizov and Fiala.
The line could work, but also it might not. The point is that there needs to be an attempt to make this happen. At least give Eriksson Ek some talented linemates for a change.
Try Four Or Five Forwards On The Power Play
This starting to enter "beating a dead horse" territory, but the Wild power play continues to be abysmal and there have been no substantial changes. Again, we ask to try more forwards on the power play units, dumping the traditional three forwards-two defensemen set up.
A few years ago, Travis Yost wrote about this exact concept. In the piece, he noted that four forward power-play units scored more net goals per 60 minutes than the traditional three forward units, and this was a trend that was spreading across the league. Five forwards were not as popular, but they are more common than you think.
The Wild have not exactly been great at forward in recent years, but with the addition of Kaprizov and the emergence of the likes of Fiala, Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway this season, the time has come for the Wild to adopt this concept or at least give it a fair shot. The power play continues to be the worst in the league at just under a 10% success rate.
YOU LITERALLY CANNOT GET ANY WORSE BY TRYING THIS. WHY IS THERE SUCH A FEAR OF CHANGE?!
Find A Way To Get The Defensemen Back To Their Old Scoring Ways
Over the past few seasons, the Wild have been one of the best teams in hockey at scoring from the blue line. Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and even Jonas Brodin have all been big offensive contributors from the point for Minnesota. This probably was large in part to the Wild not having enough firepower up front, but they have been able to still manage despite that deficiency.
Whether it is by design or not, the Wild has seen dips in production from the point this season. Brodin is currently the blue-line leader with 15 points this season, with Dumba right behind him at 13 (Dumba missed some time this year with injury). The notables here are Suter and Spurgeon, who have not had the same type of production.
Suter is averaging 0.36 points per game this season, which is the lowest output in his career since he was a 22-year-old in the 2006-07 season. Spurgeon, the newly-appointed Wild captain, is averaging an even lower 0.28 points per game in 2021, which is the second-lowest mark of his career -- only besting his rookie season of 2010-11.
Trying to find a way to get these guys, and to a greater extent the defense, more involved offensively will be a key for the Wild down the stretch. It's a risk they should be willing to take because Minnesota continues to get stellar goaltending.