A friend of mine recently suggested that I write an article taking a big picture look at how the Wild are stacking up against the rest of the NHL. He’s a smart guy, for a Bruins fan, so I took his suggestion to heart.
Let’s start with some good news. The Wild’s save percentage in 5v5 hockey is second in the league at 94.48%. In all situations, it climbs up to the top spot with a save percentage of 93.40%. Interestingly, the Wild’s all situations save percentage this season is actually higher than their 5v5 save percentage last season that was sixth in the league. The Wild’s key strength is all thanks to Devan Dubnyk and his outrageous all situations save percentage of 94.60% that leads the league.
Dubnyk also leads the league in goals against average (GAA) for all goalies that have played at least 10 games. He’s currently enjoying a gaudy 1.63 GAA that is surely boosted by his (also league-leading) four shutouts. Unfortunately, the Wild’s backup netminder has been up and down with a little more down than up and is 62nd of 72 goaltenders in the league in GAA at 3.49. At least he’s in no danger of falling into last place.
Seeing how well the Dub is playing makes it understandable why Boudreau is leaning hard on him. Still, Dubnyk is in an eight-way tie for 10th in the league for games played. Granted, only one team has played less than the Wild (the Colorado Avalanche), but it looks like Dubnyk’s workload will be down just a little bit compared to last season.
The Wild’s offense is unlikely to melt the ice, but outside of underperforming in the first period, it’s about league average. The Wild are 23rd in Goals For (GF) during the first period of the game, but they jump in the rankings to 12th and 13th in the second and third periods respectively. Overall, they enjoy a highly competitive overall goal differential of +17 and do not have a negative goal differential in any period of the game. So the Wild might not light the lamp as often as fans would like, but the average offense is combining with a stingy defense to good effect. The Wild are averaging 2.75 team goals per game, which is 10th in the league and second best in the Central Division, behind only the Nashville Predators.
If you’ve been waiting for the typical caveats that follow any sort of good news when it comes to the Wild’s offense, well... you’re very astute. The Wild are still riding a high PDO of 102.28 (3rd overall) which consists of the above mentioned save percentage of 94.48 and a team shooting percentage of 7.80 (10th overall). That’s actually a reasonable shooting percentage and Dubnyk’s stellar play is likely going to keep the team save percentage well above average. What this means is that while the Wild’s PDO is likely to regress towards the mean, the team could end up on the “luckier” side of 100 at the end of the season. It also means the Wild have less margin for error in any given game.
In terms of goals allowed by period, the Wild rank 4th, 1st, and 15th in the first, second, and third period respectively. Bizarrely, the Wild have allowed nearly the same number of goals in the third period (23) as in the first two periods combined (12 and 12 for 24). What this suggests is perhaps the Wild players are struggling to maintain the pace and effort level Boudreau and Scott Stevens are demanding, resulting in more defensive lapses late in the game. Still, the defense is looking dominant in the first two frames and average at worst in the third. The overall performance is obviously bolstered by Dubnyk here, but preventing goals is a team effort.
Faceoff win percentage (FOW%) isn’t a defensive stat, but I wanted to include it somewhere in the article. The Wild are tied for fourth in the league with the Carolina Hurricanes at 51.9%. The only Central Division team ahead of them in this stat are the Avalanche. Winning faceoffs will open up opportunities on both ends of the rink, but having Mikko Koivu (55.8%) available to take a critical puck drop late in the game provides a measure of confidence.
The Wild are not great in overtime and shootout situations. They’ve won only two of the six games that went into overtime and have lost both times they’ve ended up in a shootout. Still, that’s better than five teams in the NHL that have yet to win an overtime game (New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Ducks, Predators, and the Buffalo Sabres). The Rangers, Ducks, and Predators haven’t won in the shootout either.
The Wild’s special teams are fairly average. A typical measurement of overall special teams success is to take the power play conversion rate and add it to the penalty kill rate. The NHL as a whole averages 100% exactly, so if a team is above or below that mark, it is an indicator of their success. The Wild sit at 15th in the league with 100.48. Despite being right in the median of the league, their special teams number is above the NHL average mostly thanks to the Chicago Blackhawks’ historically bad penalty kill at the start of the season. Even now, it is still at 70.73%. The Wild’s position is disappointing after the hot start their penalty kill had enjoyed, even leading the league for a time. Nevertheless, at this stage, the Wild’s special teams aren’t winning or losing them any games, but an uptick in their 17.1% powerplay (16th overall) would be nice if they continue the recent trend of one goal games.
This section is just for fun as it is way too early to predict end of season awards. Ryan Suter is a dark horse candidate for the Norris Trophy. His performance on ice has been very good, but points scored is usually a key indicator for the winner and Suter is tied for ninth overall. The resurgence of his old teammate Shea Weber in Montreal is a more compelling storyline and I’d look there first for the likely winner of the Norris.
Dubnyk already appears to be headed for at least another Vezina finalist finish this season. He leads the league in save percentage, GAA, and shutouts. His wins total may bring him down slightly as he currently trails Tuuka Rask, who has also been sensational, by four wins in that category. Even if Dubnyk returns to earth sometime this season, which he almost certainly has to, he should be a strong candidate to take home some hardware this coming offseason.
The Wild are third in the Central Division and sixth in the Western Conference. Most teams have played at least one more game than the Wild and no teams have played fewer, meaning the Wild may actually sit a little higher than it appears. Although their 28 standings points are enough for sixth in the West, that score would leave them in 10th in the surprisingly strong Eastern Conference. More encouraging than their standings position is that the Wild have the greatest goal differential in the Western Conference (+17). Goal differential is among the statistical measure that is highly correlated with reaching the playoffs, so at least in this measure the Wild are looking good.
The Wild have been going through a string of close, one-goal games, and most of them have gone the way of the other guys. It’s a bit disheartening, especially to fans all too sensitive to signs that the Wild might be entering the dreaded annual winter slump. It’s been a bit of a misleading trend though. In the last five games, the Wild are actually 2-1-2. Not great, but not the kind of slump that derails your season. Looking at the big picture, the Wild are actually doing well. They are average at worst by some measures, and a good deal better than average by others. The Wild aren’t in the conversation for Stanley Cup contenders, but they look like a playoff team with room to grow and plenty of season left with which to do it.