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  • Penalty kill leading the way for resurgent Wild


    The special team struggles for the Minnesota Wild over the past few seasons have been well-documented. Despite an influx of creative and elite scoring talent over the years, we’ve witnessed the ups and downs of a frustratingly ineffective powerplay.

    We’ve seen a powerplay ranked 18th, 24th and 11th in the last three seasons. The Wild have the seventh-ranked unit with a 23.5 percent success rate. Adding a high-end puck-moving defenseman as the quarterback will do that for you, even if Calen Addison has been a hot topic lately.

    Despite the powerplay seemingly on the rise, the penalty kill garners attention, and rightfully so. It’s been on an absolute tear of late, shutting down nearly every poor “powerplay” unit that crosses its path. Since Feb. 1, the Wild have only allowed one powerplay goal against them. Going back to Feb. 7, that number dwindles to zero and at a rate of two penalty kills a game. In that same span, the Wild have gone 7-3-2, good for a league-best 16 points in the ever-tightening playoff race.

    That success undoubtedly stems from the net, as Filip Gustavsson has been on an absolute heater since the beginning of 2023. “New year, new me” might best describe what is happening because no one foresaw the “Gus Bus” leading the NHL in save percentage, with a mighty .940 save percentage over his last 14 games.

    Gustavsson hasn’t been the key to the success of the penalty kill, though. Mason Shaw and Connor “Dewey2” Dewar deserve much of that credit. Despite getting fourth-line minutes, they’ve led the way on the penalty kill. The two are paragons of hustle and effort.

    Both fleet of foot, the pair have put pressure on opposing teams and have the skill to create opportunities. They have a combined 17 shots while shorthanded, while the Wild’s other unit of Joel Eriksson Ek and Frederick Gaudreau has just 15 in nearly 100 more minutes of shorthanded time together. Dewar and Shaw are an elite penalty-kill pairing on this team and, frankly, around the league.

    Amongst pairings who have played more than 50 minutes of shorthanded time together, Dewar and Shaw have the fourth-best shot attempt share — 22 percent — in the league, according to Evolving Hockey. On the penalty kill, their hustle and speed limit the opposing units at an elite rate. Only Sebastian Aho/Teuvo Teraivanen for the Carolina Hurricanes and the four-headed beast of Trevor Lewis/Blake Coleman and Dillon Dubé/Andrew Mangiapane for the Calgary Flames limit shots at a better rate.

    They are an underrated pairing and perfectly fit the mould of bottom-six players that can contribute to the penalty kill. With the addition of Gustav Nyquist from the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Wild’s penalty kill has the chance to become ever more formidable. When healthy, Nyquist will undoubtedly add to the already strong group, as he has averaged a bit above 1:20 of shorthanded ice time during his time in Columbus.

    Special teams’ success has contributed significantly to winning in the playoffs. It can provide back-breaking goals or momentum-stealing kills, regardless of who has been controlling the flow of play up until that moment.

    For the Wild, they are finding their groove —and leaders— in that category at the right time.

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