Are the Wild Stanley Cup Contenders? Recent Bovada odds give the Wild a 16/1 shot at a Cup. Not bad, but that still leaves seven arguably better teams ahead of them. The Wild are an up and coming solid playoff team, but not yet a contender. How can this change? Step 1: Win on the road.
The best teams in this league find ways to play hard and win on the road. At first glance, last year's 17-17-7 road record may seem passable, but a closer look shows differently. Bottom line, the Wild were terrible on the road last year.
Let's look at some numbers. First here's a chart of every team's home and away Fenwick% (Even Strength, Score Close). The teams are ranked by the point change between the two.
It's no surprise that teams are worse on the road. All but three teams (Tampa Bay, Calgary, and Montreal) had worse Fenwick percentages on the road. However the scary thing is how much the numbers drop for the Wild. With the exception of Colorado, no other team had such a drastic change between home and away games. The Wild's home Fenwick% is good for 11th in the league. Its road percentage is back at 25th in the league. Elite teams like LA, Chicago, and Boston find ways to be in the top 5 in both categories.
So what went wrong on the road last year? Surprisingly, it wasn't special teams. The power play percentages for home and away were almost the same (17.8% and 17.9%), as were the penalty kill percentages (78.8% and 78.8%). The team also got about the same number of power play opportunities.
Goaltending was also fairly consistent between home and road games. Bryzgalov and Backstrom actually had better save percentages on the road. Harding's save percentage only dipped by .002 points. Kuemper was the only goalie to see a sizable dip, going from .929 at home to .902 on the road. Looking at all goaltenders, the combined save percentage of all unblocked shots was .960 at home, .953 on the road. It's a .007 dip, but that doesn't really tell the full story of the road troubles.
The bottom line is that the Wild simply gave up too many shots that led to goals on the road and couldn't find the back of the net when they needed to. Put it this way: the Wild's home even strength close goal differential was +25, good for fourth best in the league. On the road it was -13, all the way back at 21st in the league.
So is this a team or individual problem? Here's a chart of Wild players' Fenwick percentages for home and away. They are ranked by the total difference in percentage points between the two.
It's hard to put the blame on Koivu, who still put up positive possession numbers even with an 8.83 point drop. Same goes with Parise. The curious players, in my opinion, are Niederreiter and Coyle. They both go from solid possession players at home to very mediocre on the road. On defense, it looks like addition by subtraction by letting Prosser and Stoner go. It's worth noting that no defenseman had positive possession numbers on the road last year.
The other answer rests in point production. Here's a chart showing forwards and defensemen's even strength points per 60 minutes for home and away games. They are ranked by the percentage change between the two.
Every forward saw a dip in their production on the road with exception of Fontaine and Granlund. Haula's change was the most drastic, but Coyle, Cooke, Parise, and Niederreiter all had significant change. A team should expect it's top 6 forwards to be around 2 even strength points per 60 minutes. No forward other than Granlund reached that plateau on the road. It's harder to analyze the defensemen, since point totals were so low in both situations.
So how do you fix the problem for the coming year? Losing Prosser, Stoner, and Heatley is a step forward. Allowing the young players to have another year under their belts should help as well. In the end someone has to step up, whether it's the young kids, the veterans, or the coaching staff. Playing on the road is tough. You're away from your family, you have to deal with an odd traveling schedule, and you don't have the support of the home crowd. If the Wild want to become a Cup contender, they have to find a way to rise above the distractions and win away from the X.
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