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  • The Wild Must Drop the Grit and Pick Up the Fundamentals


    Image courtesy of © Jerome Miron - USA TODAY Sports
    Brevan Bane

     

    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. 

     

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    Interesting stats, it sure seems like they pass too much and not shoot enough.

    The perfect setup is our failure as I would love them to put more rubber on the net. Can't have enough bouncing pucks in front if the D and goalies to get a bounce of puck luck and catch someone out of position.

    The drop pass killed us last year, other teams are just waiting to pounce on that entry technique.  They need to change it up once in awhile.

    GRIT is only needed to match the other team, not necessarily needed all the time or to set the bar always as the Grit Team.  I like to see physical in the corners and neutral zone on entries, otherwise it may be counterproductive and a waste of game productivity. 

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    24 minutes ago, Wild4Ever said:

    I say this enough while watching the game and I'll say it again.

    Shoot the damn puck!

    The young guys definitely either have that mentality or are bringing that to our team. Walker, Haight,  Heidt....

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    Watching Wild practice again today and each day I'm so impressed with Masters who I feel has really stood out based on where he has came from the past two years.

    3rd round pick, Red Deer to Kamloops, to turning his game around to almost a point per game last year. Gets injured in playoffs and comes into camp ready after 3 months off.

    The big stage here doesn't appear to be too much. He's relaxed, got a smile on his face, engages. Hanging with Lambos, great follow by the way. He's so smooth skating and deceptive fast up ice. His vision is obviously why he shed a point per game last year. I hope his teammates are ready to capitalize on those passes and recognize this kid is someone to pay attention to.

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    1 hour ago, vonlonster67 said:

    GRIT is only needed to match the other team, not necessarily needed all the time or to set the bar always as the Grit Team.  I like to see physical in the corners and neutral zone on entries, otherwise it may be counterproductive and a waste of game productivity. 

    Yes, so much this. Grit shouldn't be our priority, our PK is not top in the league and getting into grinding matches with our roster doesn't produce results later in the season. Out gritting other teams wins reg season games but leaves us banged up and hurting by the end of the season, something that has been a theme the past couple post season appearances. We are also not prone to resting guys down the stretch which some other teams implement, leaving them fresher for post season. 

    We're 6th in PIM/game during the regular season. You want to know who is 32nd? Vegas. Among the bottom are teams like Carolina, NJD and the Stars. 3/4 teams that made it to conference finals (including the SC winner) were in the bottom 7 teams in PIM. With the notable exception of Florida, none of the teams in the top 10 in PIM in the regular season went far in playoffs. There is a correlation there and it is healthier players due to the avoidance of going to the mat in regular season. It wins games in RS but doesn't further the ultimate goal in the PS. 

    This is the issue with Dean and Bill's "Grit First" policy. It may also be a contributing factor to why Dean has never won a playoff series.

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    1 hour ago, vonlonster67 said:

    Watching Wild practice again today and each day I'm so impressed with Masters who I feel has really stood out based on where he has came from the past two years.

    3rd round pick, Red Deer to Kamloops, to turning his game around to almost a point per game last year. Gets injured in playoffs and comes into camp ready after 3 months off.

    The big stage here doesn't appear to be too much. He's relaxed, got a smile on his face, engages. Hanging with Lambos, great follow by the way. He's so smooth skating and deceptive fast up ice. His vision is obviously why he shed a point per game last year. I hope his teammates are ready to capitalize on those passes and recognize this kid is someone to pay attention to.

    Big fan of Masters.

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    Two players missing from camp that I was looking forward to seeing this year. Caedan Bankier and Michael Milne.

    Milne showed well last year for his transition to IA, 200 ft game, nothing stupendous, but I was hoping to see what he was gonna show in camp. He was a 3rd round #89 from 2022 and was a key component for the Winnipeg Ice along with Lambos in 21'-22'. Just turned 22 year old. RFA after '24-'25.

    Bankier at 602, 200# (mnfaninnc size) also a center was a well over a point per game for the Kamloops and had 37 goals last year, had a great showing in the playoffs and played for Canada U20. That size and talent had me stoked for camp and his transition to IA. He's got time until his RFA after '25-26'.

    I saw Russo at the practice yesterday and asked him as I hadn't seen anything about either. He said they were hurt and didn't elaborate, but did ask DE after practice for updates and wrote about it in the athletic. 

    Bankier and Milne could be a big loss for IA to start the season and also limit Bankier's show before the posse (Yurov, Khusnutdinov, Öhgren, Haight, Stramel, Lorenz) arrives next year/after. He was a 3rd round pick at #86 in 2021 and at 20 year old has really impressed since draft day, but ya got to stay healthy and DE said their injuries happen away from the rink, so not sure what to think. More info is needed so will be watching the IA news.

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    19 hours ago, vonlonster67 said:

    Bankier and Milne could be a big loss for IA to start the season and also limit Bankier's show before the posse (Yurov, Khusnutdinov, Öhgren, Haight, Stramel, Lorenz) arrives next year/after. He was a 3rd round pick at #86 in 2021 and at 20 year old has really impressed since draft day, but ya got to stay healthy and DE said their injuries happen away from the rink, so not sure what to think. More info is needed so will be watching the IA news.

    I haven't heard anything on Milne, but Bankier was injured in a workout accident early in the summer. Not even sure where the injury was, but I do remember reading about it as a small blip. 

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    I totally agree with going back to fundamentals and building that solid foundation. But, a complete hockey player also takes the body and cancels out the opposition. I love seeing the big bomb hits, ones like Reaves did to Hronek last year. But, Gooses has a good point that it does wear down the team over an 82 game marathon. However, I cannot stand these flyby stick checks that somehow counts for a defensive play.

    Also, when we talk about the contact, it is much better on the body to be throwing the punishment than receiving it, and I would venture to say from the eye test, we were hurt more from receiving grit than dishing it out. (Hartman being the main casualty in dishing it out) 

    Fundamentals means closing your gaps, not letting anything through that is an easy shot on the goalie. It's also skating and playing fast, protecting pucks and not just straight line speed but also tight turns. Heavy shifts are not part of fundamentals, but a team needs that ability to have a big heavy shift during a game to wake up the skill players. 

    On the point of not shooting enough, I cannot stress that enough. Mooch points it out on the PP, where they do not like to shoot and then overwhelm the front of the net. It's 5v5 too. Honestly, we don't have enough very good rebounders/screeners on this team. Perhaps that is one reason why they wait to shoot? I love greasy goals and they count the same as beauties. 

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    2 hours ago, mnfaninnc said:

    I totally agree with going back to fundamentals and building that solid foundation. But, a complete hockey player also takes the body and cancels out the opposition. I love seeing the big bomb hits, ones like Reaves did to Hronek last year. But, Gooses has a good point that it does wear down the team over an 82 game marathon. However, I cannot stand these flyby stick checks that somehow counts for a defensive play.

    Also, when we talk about the contact, it is much better on the body to be throwing the punishment than receiving it, and I would venture to say from the eye test, we were hurt more from receiving grit than dishing it out. (Hartman being the main casualty in dishing it out) 

    What I was getting at (and it also shows in the stats) are that teams who play grittier tend to have more grit used against them. Teams high in PIM tend to see opponents have a high PIM in game as well because it devolves into a brawl. If we are making grit a priority, we will continue to see other teams respond in kind and that is where we watch our roster worn thin in the regular season. Vegas, NJD, Dallas and Carolina were all in the bottom ten of oPIM/G with teams like Minn, Boston, and Florida all in the top ten.

    That being said, we are far from the largest team (by the look of the prospect pool, not getting larger) and having games go that direction gives us the worse end of the stick. I'm not looking to have guys stop playing physical, that is important but the big blowups and brawling take their toll. Duhaime got a conc in a fight too last year, Hartman was hurt, Kap was hurt in a brawl of a game with WPG. More injuries come when we try to play that style of game.

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    45 minutes ago, TheGoosesAreLooses said:

    What I was getting at (and it also shows in the stats) are that teams who play grittier tend to have more grit used against them. Teams high in PIM tend to see opponents have a high PIM in game as well because it devolves into a brawl. If we are making grit a priority, we will continue to see other teams respond in kind and that is where we watch our roster worn thin in the regular season. Vegas, NJD, Dallas and Carolina were all in the bottom ten of oPIM/G with teams like Minn, Boston, and Florida all in the top ten.

    That being said, we are far from the largest team (by the look of the prospect pool, not getting larger) and having games go that direction gives us the worse end of the stick. I'm not looking to have guys stop playing physical, that is important but the big blowups and brawling take their toll. Duhaime got a conc in a fight too last year, Hartman was hurt, Kap was hurt in a brawl of a game with WPG. More injuries come when we try to play that style of game.

    Kap got crushed by the falling Stantree in Winnipeg, no brawl, just 250+ on top of awkward splits...but I feel ya!

    You forgot the angry Moose lost his f'n mind in Dallas.

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    On 9/27/2023 at 12:57 PM, TheGoosesAreLooses said:

    What I was getting at (and it also shows in the stats) are that teams who play grittier tend to have more grit used against them. Teams high in PIM tend to see opponents have a high PIM in game as well because it devolves into a brawl. If we are making grit a priority, we will continue to see other teams respond in kind and that is where we watch our roster worn thin in the regular season. Vegas, NJD, Dallas and Carolina were all in the bottom ten of oPIM/G with teams like Minn, Boston, and Florida all in the top ten.

    That being said, we are far from the largest team (by the look of the prospect pool, not getting larger) and having games go that direction gives us the worse end of the stick. I'm not looking to have guys stop playing physical, that is important but the big blowups and brawling take their toll. Duhaime got a conc in a fight too last year, Hartman was hurt, Kap was hurt in a brawl of a game with WPG. More injuries come when we try to play that style of game.

    I realize what you were getting at, however, I just don't agree that that is the right way to play hockey. Back in 2016-17, we had a really good year, but something about that bothered me. Instead of finishing our checks in the regular season, we started doing flybys. This continued for the full season. 

    With 20 games left I started warning that if we don't start taking the body now, we will not be able to flip the switch come playoff time, and playoff time is gritty (just ask Kaprizov's back). That team did not start taking the body and were quickly bounced in the 1st round because of it. They went up against tall trees for defenders and just played like they did in the regular season instead of driving the net and finishing their checks.

    I could probably compromise on this point if, after, say the All Star break, checking becomes a point of emphasis. They don't have to be bombs, they just have to be consistent and all flyby stick checks are eliminated. Players can't simply flip that switch in the playoffs, habits need time to become habits. And I say this with 1 exception.

    The exception is the meltdown. We've got to have a couple of meltdowns this season to show up some referees who don't seem to want to call the Wild games fair. These tend to be west coast officials. We need 1 at home and 1 on the road. The whole team needs to get involved. Referees and the league NEED to know our games can go there. Those referees who are targeted NEED to fill out the extra paperwork and have their full game reviewed by the league. The official who started handing out 10s for participation in the Dallas series is one I would target. 

    Right now, the league and the referees are pretty convinced that we will maintain our Minnesota nice. What they need in the back of their minds are that this team could completely lose their minds over a series of bad calls. This only works if their is a little doubt in their minds of what could happen and the repercussions that they will face if a game gets out of hand. 

    Does anyone remember the NYR-Washington saga that went on a few seasons ago? From the drop of the puck, that was all orchestrated. Those referees may not have been the ones that needed the extra work, but they got it. I'm not talking about this type of thing, I'm talking about a clear meltdown that gives someone like Maroon 30 PIMs at one time. It needs to be organic, and it needs to be a reaction to something that referee either called or missed that was unfair. 

    Referees are not there to police teams from being victimized. They are there to keep the peace. I realize a lot of long time referees retired and we've got a bunch of young guys, but they need to know we CAN meltdown. The best way to not be victimized is to police that ourselves. Someone takes a run at Kaprizov and we'll take out your best player. Same thing goes with Ek and Brodin, we'll take out your top center and top defender. And this is a full reputation change.

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    18 hours ago, mnfaninnc said:

    I realize what you were getting at, however, I just don't agree that that is the right way to play hockey. Back in 2016-17, we had a really good year, but something about that bothered me. Instead of finishing our checks in the regular season, we started doing flybys. This continued for the full season. 

    With 20 games left I started warning that if we don't start taking the body now, we will not be able to flip the switch come playoff time, and playoff time is gritty (just ask Kaprizov's back). That team did not start taking the body and were quickly bounced in the 1st round because of it. They went up against tall trees for defenders and just played like they did in the regular season instead of driving the net and finishing their checks.

    I could probably compromise on this point if, after, say the All Star break, checking becomes a point of emphasis. They don't have to be bombs, they just have to be consistent and all flyby stick checks are eliminated. Players can't simply flip that switch in the playoffs, habits need time to become habits. And I say this with 1 exception.

    The exception is the meltdown. We've got to have a couple of meltdowns this season to show up some referees who don't seem to want to call the Wild games fair. These tend to be west coast officials. We need 1 at home and 1 on the road. The whole team needs to get involved. Referees and the league NEED to know our games can go there. Those referees who are targeted NEED to fill out the extra paperwork and have their full game reviewed by the league. The official who started handing out 10s for participation in the Dallas series is one I would target. 

    Right now, the league and the referees are pretty convinced that we will maintain our Minnesota nice. What they need in the back of their minds are that this team could completely lose their minds over a series of bad calls. This only works if their is a little doubt in their minds of what could happen and the repercussions that they will face if a game gets out of hand. 

    Does anyone remember the NYR-Washington saga that went on a few seasons ago? From the drop of the puck, that was all orchestrated. Those referees may not have been the ones that needed the extra work, but they got it. I'm not talking about this type of thing, I'm talking about a clear meltdown that gives someone like Maroon 30 PIMs at one time. It needs to be organic, and it needs to be a reaction to something that referee either called or missed that was unfair. 

    Referees are not there to police teams from being victimized. They are there to keep the peace. I realize a lot of long time referees retired and we've got a bunch of young guys, but they need to know we CAN meltdown. The best way to not be victimized is to police that ourselves. Someone takes a run at Kaprizov and we'll take out your best player. Same thing goes with Ek and Brodin, we'll take out your top center and top defender. And this is a full reputation change.

    I generally do not disagree with anything you put forth here. I do think that the Wild can control things by just doing the basics of finishing checks and being the aggressor on the ice. They do not need to get down and dirty to do this. That said, if things go pear shape with the opponent and/or referees, you are correct to note that the team can demonstrate a full on slam, bam, thank you ma'am dust up. They need to show that they are not the "mild". I fear that with the team make-up the "stick check" will be more of a norm. Our D-corps is not big enough overall to to be confrontational. That leaves the rough stuff to guys like Maroon, Moose and Duhaime. They can dish but there is very little behind them to continue and onslaught.

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    15 minutes ago, Up North Guy said:

    That leaves the rough stuff to guys like Maroon, Moose and Duhaime. They can dish but there is very little behind them to continue and onslaught.

    For that heavy line, the one where we need a momentum change, this would be my line using Middleton on defense for that shift. You don't need this every game (though I would start my home games that way), but you need to pack it in your bag just in case. I wouldn't think you'd need to use this combination more than twice in a night....unless you are planning a meltdown. 

    Honestly, I do believe that Maroon has the ability to go into full meltdown mode if need be. This will be a good thing to have. Plus, it does have a bit of entertainment value!

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