The Minnesota Wild have given up 65 goals this season, the second-most of any team in the NHL. The San Jose Sharks are the only team to let up more goals than the Wild, and they are on pace to end the season with 19 points.
Losing Jared Spurgeon on defense has led to a lack of cohesion, which has allowed opponents to score goals on the Wild. The other part is that the Wild goaltenders have been incredibly inconsistent and inadequate.
The season is still young. The Wild have a 5-8-2 record through 15 games, barely a 66-point pace. That’s certainly not enough to make the playoffs this year and a stark contrast from the 103-point team we saw last season. Minnesota will have to make some changes in their play sooner than later if they want a chance to be competitive when the calendar turns to 2024.
Last year, the Wild were 13th in the league in shots against per 60 minutes. They weren’t world-beaters, but that’s enough to get by if their goalies were playing well. And they were! Gustavsson and Fleury were 7th and 22nd in GSAx (Goals saved above expected), respectively. Minnesota had a team save percentage of 91.39%, good enough to finish third in the league, and they only allowed 2.61 goals per game, good enough for sixth-best in the NHL.
The Wild are largely the same team that had that 103-point season last year. So, what has happened to that team that had a sound structure and got superior goaltending most nights?
Currently, The Wild has the worst team save percentage in the league (87.15%). As brutal as that may be, it only gets worse. Minnesota has two of the three worst goalies in the NHL in terms of GSAx: Gus at -7.3 and Fleury at -5.9.
The Wild's goalies have been dreadful, and they’ve been from almost every area of the ice. The Wild goalies have been poor against shots in front of the net, between the dots, and even at the blue line.
Gustavsson has had a slow start after breaking out last year. In the offseason, the Wild re-signed Gustavsson to a three-year deal that paid the Swede $3.75 million per year after he had a near-Vezina Trophy-level season.
But Gustavsson has the highest GAA average in the league at 4.64 this year. That’s worse than Edmonton Oilers goaltender Jack Campbell, who’s now in the AHL after passing through waivers. As mentioned above, Gus has the worst GSAx in the NHL and finds himself at the bottom of almost every goaltending statistic.
In the offseason, there were concerns that the young goaltender was just riding the high of a breakout season and that the Wild should make him prove it with a short-term deal. But right now, the only thing Gustavsson is proving is the doubters right.
Gustavsson is not the only goaltender following up last season with a subpar performance. Fleury, the future Hall of Fame netminder, is playing below his usual standard. While not quite as bad as Gustavsson, Fleury is not necessarily providing the Wild with a boost.
It’s easier to make excuses for Fleury. The former first-overall pick is 38 years old. While he’s put up some good numbers that contradict typical goalie aging models, this may be the year Father Time finally catches up with Fleury.
Fleury’s -0.745 goals saved above expected per hour are the sixth-worst in the NHL, as is his Save % above expected. The 3.41 GAA he’s recorded is only the 13th worst in the league. A scarier stat is that Fleury’s xGAA is amongst the NHL's best at 2.66. The problem is that he’s letting up almost a goal per game more on average than he’s expected to.
Before I pile more blame onto the goalies, let’s see if we can absolve them of some blame. Two of the better goaltenders in the league nosediving to the bottom of the barrel cannot solely be on them, can it?
The Wild’s defense has been a lot leakier this year. They are letting up over 33 shots per game, which is sixth-worst in the NHL. The Wild are also in the middle of the pack in terms of Corsi%, a good indicator of possession. Minnesota is pinned in their own end much more than last season.
Minnesota’s defense has been poor, but it has done a decent job of not allowing high-danger shot attempts. They’re 16th in the league in high-danger shots against, with 32. It’s just that both goaltenders are in the bottom third of the league in terms of save percentage on those shots.
Gustavsson has faced 54.32% of the shots are on unblocked shot attempts. That’s the seventh most in the NHL among qualified goaltenders. Fleury is not far behind at 51.85%. The Wild are not doing a great job at limiting clean shots by their opponents, and their goalies are not doing a great job of saving pucks off those shots. That has all accumulated in the Wild having the second worst goals against per 60 minutes in the NHL at 4.24.
There are nights when your goalie needs to be the best defender. The Wild are making Fleury and Gustavsson do that every night, and it’s not going swimmingly.
Goaltending can be impossible to predict and has much to do with the players and team around a goalie. The Wild have issues all over the team, and it’s not just in net. But their masked men are not doing their part when it comes to limiting the leaks.
All stats and data via Evolving Hockey, HockeyDB, Capfriendly, and Moneypuck.com unless otherwise noted.