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  • Minnesota’s Special Team Woes Made For Spooky Road Trip

    Image courtesy of © John Jones - USA TODAY Sports
    Brevan Bane


    It may be Halloween season, but we should be scared about what’s happening with the Minnesota Wild’s special teams unit.

    Through the first three games of the season, the Wild were converting at a respectable 30.7% rate on the power play, cashing in on 4 of 13 opportunities. Minnesota’s power play looked legitimately good in this span. They were taking good shots making the correct passes, and the Wild were using Joel Eriksson Ek in front of the net properly.

    But Minnesota has looked anemic after the third game of the season in Montreal. It’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t feel like they’re a man up on the power play. They have only cashed in 1 goal in their last 22 power-play opportunities. 

    It would be one thing if the Wild lacked talent. They should be able to fill out a power-play unit.

    Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello’s tendency as a tandem to over-pass gets maddening. They pass up many scoring opportunities looking for that perfect pass across the ice or into the slot when there’s a quality shot there if they’d just shoot. 

    Zuccarello and Kaprizov have proven time and again that they can pick a corner over a goalie’s shoulder or that they can fire a wrister low, allowing Eriksson Ek to punch in a rebound.

    The power play has been bad, but the penalty kill has been even worse statistically. Minnesota is only killing 67.9% of their penalties, good enough for the second-worst mark in the league. Opposing teams have consistently been able to find the soft spots in the penalty kill, leaving Filip Gustavsson and Marc-Andre Fleury exposed in an already difficult situation.

    On Minnesota’s three-game road trip, they went 1 for 13 on power-play opportunities and only killed 4 of 9 of their penalties. The Washington Capitals also scored a shorthanded goal on them.

    Minnesota has lost Matt Boldy and Frederick Gaudreau to injury, and they didn’t play on the three-game road trip. But the Wild still have most of their top-tier talent available. A unit with Kaprizov and Zuccarello on it should succeed on the man advantage. 

    It’s hard to even point to one thing from an analytic or statistical standpoint that the Wild need to improve upon to be more productive on special teams. The Wild have become persnickety on the power play. Instead of peppering opposing goaltenders, they’re standing flat-footed with the puck for 5-10 seconds and waiting for the perfect lane to open. Minnesota was managing the man advantage properly at the beginning of the year. They were shooting more frequently and getting pucks to rebound to Eriksson Ek in the low slot. 

    Fortunately, we’ve seen what the power play has the potential to be already. Many of Minnesota’s penalty kill woes might also have to do with being short-handed regarding health. For the recent road trip where Minnesota allowed a power-play goal 55.6% of the time on the kill, they were without Matt Boldy, Frederick Gaurdreau, Jared Spurgeon, and Alex Goligoski for all three games. Adding these key pieces back to a struggling special teams can only help the very low bar raise a bit.

    There isn’t a need to panic yet. Early-season woes aren’t anything new to the Wild. Things would be worse without a clear path to improving the special teams play. Ultimately, they need to commit to shooting the puck more. Boldy and Gaudreau’s return will not only boost the power play and penalty kill but Minnesota’s offense in general. 


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    Good summary of the problems. I've also noticed that other teams break down our PK box pretty easily. I wouldn't expect Goligoski to help any of that, he looks like he should be in the front office at this point. 

    On the PP, this needs to be a volume shooting unit that actually enjoys scoring greasy goals. They all count as 1. A few years ago, I posed the question, what do our players like better when scoring, the puck crossing the line, or the swish of the twine in back? For me, I love the twine splashing, but get most enjoyment out of seeing a +1 on the scoreboard. I think it should be the same way with the players, but I find that some of the stars are trying to get too pretty. 

    Your totals at the end of the season aren't "he had 25 pretty goals." They are, he scored X amount, no matter how they went in (even off your backside). So, Wild, start shooting the puck more and go to work after it's shot.

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