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  • Early Season Thoughts on the Minnesota Wild


    It takes about 20-25 games before some of the underlying numbers can have any predictive value on what we might see from the Wild through the rest of the season. And I would posit that it will probably take this team a little longer than that with all of the “old” players adapting to the “new” coach. The Wild is only 11 games into the season, so we don’t really know what we have yet.


    Last week, three of our fabulous HW writers and/or editors took a stab at what to make of the Wild’s hot start and some of the underlying numbers: Adam, Joe and Barry. Each contributor discussed the Wild’s unsustainable PDO and poor shot metrics as reasons why the Wild’s record wasn’t sustainable. Since those articles, the Wild has lost two in a row to fall back from the top of the Central, but I just wanted to make a couple points about some of the Wild’s early season success that I haven’t read yet.


    First, I just wanted to add score effects to the discussion. Score effects have to do with how teams play when leading and/or trailing during a game. This is a really interesting read, but I’ll do my best to summarize. Teams typically shoot less when they have the lead and those shots have a higher percentage of going in. Teams that are trailing typically shoot more and the team’s shooting percentage goes down. Now it makes a lot of sense that a trailing team would take more shots than the leading team. The trailing team may be down, but that team is still a roster of NHL players and those players might have incentive to pour more shots on net being down a goal or two. There are also strategic reasons why a leading team might get fewer shots. That team might see it as a useful tactic to send fewer fore checkers aggressively into the offensive zone, since the team already has the lead.


    Getting back to the Wild, one of the weirdest aspects of this season for me has how frequently the Wild has been playing with the lead. I started this last week when the Wild were in the top five. Since then, the Wild has played two games without having the lead once. But the Wild is still 13th in the league in 5v5 minutes played with the lead at 202 minutes. Moreover, every team ahead of them has played at least one and, at the most, three more games than the Wild. And with the lead the Wild’s CF% is 41.9, ninth worst in the league. When the Wild is trailing, the team CF% is 56.4. That sounds good, but it’s only middle of the pack, 16th in the NHL. But as discussed in the article linked to above about score effect, NHL teams get more of the shot share when down. The problem (not really a problem, but I think you can follow me) is that the Wild have only trailed for 112 minutes of 5v5 play so far this season, the fourth fewest minutes in the league.


    The point is that the Wild’s strong shooting and save percentage has led to them having the (cough) lead a lot this season, and that is pushing the team CF% down. Of course, the Wild is also fourth worst with a 46.7% CF when the score is tied at 5v5. So, as the other authors mentioned, Coach BB still has some work to do.


    The second thing I wanted to mention is goaltending and how it relates to PDO. Adam pointed out that the highest PDO from last season was from the New York Rangers and Barry discussed in his piece the fact that PDO isn’t just luck, but there’s some skill involved as well. At the team level, it is hard to maintain a high shooting percentage from year to year. But a good goalie can raise a team’s PDO above 100 and sustain it there. Obviously, Adam’s NYR example included Lundqvist, who is beautiful and amazing and we all love him. But, since coming to the Wild, Dubnyk has been awfully good as well, even if you don’t include Dubnyk’s amazing second half two years ago.


    Last season, of the 23 goalies that played at least 2000 minutes at 5v5, Dubnyk finished fifth (93.3%) behind Lundqvist, Mason, Luongo and Crawford, and ahead of Fleury, Holtby, Mrazek, Bishop, Miller, Schneider, Quick and Allen. Dubnyk’s overall numbers were undermined by an awful save percentage on the penalty kill (83.7%), but one could argue that a goalie’s save percentage on the PK has less to do with the goalie and more to do with what is going on in front of him. And this season of the 37 goaltenders who have played at least 200 minutes at 5v5, Dubnyk sits fifth again (96.8%), behind Crawford, Price, Howard and Rask. The point is, the Wild’s team shooting percentage is going to go down, but Dubnyk’s goaltending isn’t likely to crater.


    As discussed last week, the Wild is going to need to get a higher percentage of shot attempts to have any hope of contending for the Central this season. But, early in the season, score effects have played a part in the Wild’s “struggles.” And it’s still too soon to have an idea of where this team might finish. The team’s PDO isn’t sustainable, but Dubnyk should be able to hold up the goaltending half of the equation.

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