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  • Ghost of zone entries past still haunts the Minnesota Wild


    The early season hasn’t necessarily been a pretty one for the Minnesota Wild. While a 3-2-1 start seems to be promising for an organization with a brand new coach and system, the team has yet to look dominating in any of their six contests, and that includes a 6-3 win over the LA Kings.

    There are plenty of reasons why this is the case. As was mentioned above, the Wild are still acclimating to Bruce Boudreau, and having six key contributors miss a chunk of preseason to play in the World Cup of Hockey didn’t help that matter.

    With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a complete shock that this roster, who all but two played under the previous reign of Mike Yeo, tend to revert back to some of their less idealistic tendencies when things get tough.

    Let’s call this relapse the “simple hockey syndrome”. In previous years, when the Wild were met with a defensive scheme It couldn’t crack, they would turn towards playing “simple hockey”, which essentially meant playing a game of dump and chase.

    Countless studies have been conducted that make it very clear that this style of hockey doesn’t bring an organization very much success. What it does bring is low possession numbers and even lower offensive production.

    This is the system that has been beaten into the Wild over the course of the previous four and a half seasons, and it’s the system that it tends to revert back to when the going gets tough. Unsurprisingly, it has led to some less than ideal numbers.

    Thru the first six games of the season the Minnesota Wild have controlled 48.7% of the shot attempts at 5v5. That percentage, which is good for 19th in the NHL, is largely due to the team averaging 51.6 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-v-5, ranking them 22nd the league.

    There are a few different causes for this low number, but one of the biggest influences has been the tendency to revert back to the dump and chase technique.

    Thru Minnesota’s first five games they entered the offensive zone 318 times at 5-v-5, excluding the dump-ins that were meant to be line changes. Of those zone entries, 30.9% were classified as dump-ins. When the Minnesota Wild entered the zone this way they averaged 0.23 shot attempts per dump-in and 0.10 shots, which basically means one out of every four dump-ins resulted in a shot attempt while one out of 10 produced a shot.

    By comparison, when the Minnesota carried the puck into the zone, which they have done 37.7% of the time, they average 0.87 shot attempts and 0.47 shots per zone entry.

    The difference is staggering, but it isn’t just data that backs this up. There have been some very clear examples of why carrying the puck into the zone is more beneficial than trying to dump it in and pinning the opposition deep into their zone.

    Let’s take Eric Staal’s game winning goal vs the Toronto Maple Leafs as a prime illustration of this idea.

    As you can see above, with the puck cleared from Toronto’s zone Haula’s line goes off for a change while the Maple Leafs are able to switch out two forwards, giving them four skaters behind the blueline. It’s a situation tailor made for a clean and simple dump-in.

    Suter takes the open ice in front of him, but rather than pushing the puck down the boards he hits the breaks. The man covering him doesn’t expect the change in direction and over-skates the puck. This gives Suter a few free seconds to pick-up his head and find Zach Parise entering the zone across the ice.

    The play leads to an immediate shot attempt from Parise along the far side boards but more importantly it allows the Wild to get set up in the zone and the resulting forecheck turns into an Eric Staal goal a few seconds later.

    There are plenty of instances where dump-ins are completely necessary. Sometimes playing simple is the only thing that is going to work against a stout defense. It’s an indispensable part of the game. But, it cannot be the only aspect of your game, and it definitely won’t lead you to any amount of consistent success. That’s why if the Wild want to make that next step towards Cup contention with Boudreau, they have to leave behind the dump and chase mentality of the past. 

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