Am I jumping the gun on this article? Maybe. There are still 16 games left in the season. But if the Wild go just .500 in those games, they'll be at 95 points, which should be enough for a playoff spot, meaning that if they miss the playoffs, it'll be because they collapsed down the stretch.
The first chart is of the Wild's playoff odds over the course of this season, the second chart represents the Wild's playoff odds throughout the 2013-14 season. As you can see, they're remarkably similar, from cracking the 80% playoff chance barrier in late November, to a complete collapse into the single digits in December, and then a remarkable rebound to excellent playoff odds by March. Incredible.
But are these two versions of the Wild the same? How on Earth did the Wild manage to overcome such large odds two seasons in a row?
(All stats courtesy of War on Ice, and are for all Even Strength 5v5 situations, and score-adjusted)
On the surface, these teams might look pretty similar. Their record follows a quite similar pattern- Do well enough early, tank in the middle, and get hot late. Both versions of the Wild also had great early underlying numbers, saw a their team play and goaltending collapse in the middle of the season, and rode red-hot goaltending back into contention. All that said, there are some notable differences between last year's team and this year's.
As you can see, the 13-14 Minnesota Wild lived and died with their goaltending much more than the Wild have this season. When the 13-14 Wild went into their mid-season slump, it was due to their goaltending falling back to earth with a 91.1 5v5 Sv%. This year's version of the Wild were actually able to put up a winning record in the first part of their season with worse goaltending.
As for this season's team? It's true that the Wild's underlying numbers took a dip from their early season dominance- they only broke even in shot attempts, while their opponents got the slightly better end of scoring chances. And it's also true that they've been propelled into the stratosphere by the excellent play of Devan Dubnyk.
But while the 13-14 Wild's early-season dominance was just an aberration, since trading for Dubnyk, the 14-15 Wild have proven that it was their mid-season sluggishness was the fluke. The Wild have re-bounded into a Top-10, if not Top-5, possession team in the league since the Dubnyk trade, and have been getting a higher percentage of scoring chances than anyone in the NHL except for St. Louis.
All of the evidence is pointing towards the fact that we're seeing a much better Minnesota Wild team than we saw last season. While it's unreasonable for the Wild to remain this hot down the stretch, we can reasonably expect that they will be good enough to overcome whatever adversity strikes them between now and the playoffs.
The Wild are a better team than the one we saw last season. And despite the obstacles that stood (and still stand) in Minnesota's way, that should be a terrifying thought for the rest of the Western Conference.
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