The Minnesota Wild have advertised themselves as a gritty team, citing their willingness to play physically and finish their checks. The Wild are a physical team, but they also play with finesse.
That isn’t a bad idea with a top line that includes Mats Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprizov, elite puck-handlers. However, Minnesota often gives up decent shot opportunities in search of the perfect play rather than returning to the hockey basics that would complement the metrics they excelled in last season.
The Wild aren’t the only team in the NHL guilty of this, of course. Still, it’s something they can improve upon. The Wild finished this past season with a -17 negative shot differential. The number only equals around 0.2 fewer shots per game, but it’s worth magnifying given Minnesota’s third-best overall 91.85% save percentage between goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson. They also posted the seventh-highest amount of blocked shots in the NHL, with 1,318.
To further support the point, goalies facing the Wild saved 91.22% of their shots on goal, the sixth-worst in the NHL. Inversely, that means that Minnesota has had the sixth-highest shooting percentage. That high-percentage shooting came on their 18th-highest shooting frequency, with 30.9 shots on goal per game.
The numbers highlight that Minnesota was one of the best teams in the league in terms of goaltending and shooting when they shot. A welcome change of pace to the Wild offense would be a focus centered more on putting the puck on the net. That would let their accurate shooters be snipers instead of looking for the perfect pass and open net, no matter how aesthetically pleasing it would be.
Some, if not most, of the plays that the top line draws up are works of hockey art. The unparalleled chemistry between Kaprizov and Zuccarello produces some of the best displays of team hockey you can see across the NHL. Still, there are plenty of times for them to be more selfish when they have the puck. Kaprizov is the obvious candidate, being the best player on the team and one of the best offensive weapons in the entire world. However, there is plenty of room for more emphasis on letting him throw some pucks on.
There’s a general saying in sports that shooters shoot, and Minnesota undoubtedly has shooters. The Wild have seven returning skaters from last year who posted a shooting percentage of over ten percent. Giving them more shots alone isn’t going to pan out as easy as it sounds. But the sixth most efficient shooting unit in the league must be shooting more than the 18th most frequent, all while having a top-three goaltending situation.
Silky passes and the perfect play are fun to watch when it does happen. But for the Wild to reach their scoring potential, especially under cap restrictions, there needs to be more of an emphasis on getting the puck on the goaltender. A nice little drop pass from Zuccy to Kirill for a top-shelf goal off a dangle doesn’t hurt occasionally, though.