Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin dismissed head coach Bruce Boudreau on Friday, citing it was time for a new voice to reinvigorate his team. The Wild followed that up on Saturday with a lifeless showing against the San Jose Sharks in a 2-0 loss.
News flash to Mr. Guerin: Boudreau was not the problem. Wild goaltending has been and will continue to be the problem.
But as such is life as a coach in the NHL, most continue to live and die on the strength of their goaltending.
If anything, in the weeks leading up to Boudreau's dismissal, the Wild were starting to put it together on the ice in front of their goaltending. In 11 games before Friday's announcement, the Wild had gone 7-3-1 and were just four points out of the last Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Goaltending had, in fact, been doing so well in that stretch, which is a big reason why they climbed back into the race.
The Wild have statistically been one of the worst goaltending teams in the league this season. They do so while having one of the better defenses in front of them in terms of shot quality, as seen in the following charts.
As mentioned, however, the Wild had gotten a string of solid goaltending in the 11 games leading up to Boudreau's dismissal. Between Alex Stalock and Devan Dubnyk, the tandem had posted a .936 save percentage at five on five in those 11 games, which was the ninth-best mark in the NHL.
But the 11 game stretch has yet to make up for the whole body of work from Wild goaltending this season. They are still one of the worst in the league when it comes to getting good goaltending, despite the recent stretch of play.
Alex Stalock leads the lead in average goal distance, at 26.52 feet. Devan Dubnyk is 13th worst in the same category, at 22.15 feet. No tandem in the league averages a worse distance than those two.
While the Wild have enjoyed decent success as of late, they will need it to continue now under interim head coach Dean Evason if they want to continue their climb back into the playoff race. While the small sample gives one hope they can continue their ascent, the body of work tends to make one think that they will fall back to earth.
Analytics say the Wild -- in front of the goaltenders -- are having an otherwise fine season. Corsi and Fenwick are hovering right around the league average. Their expected goals against (defense) remains the best in the league. The team had scored the fourth-most goals in the league in those 11 games leading up to Boudreau's firing. Things were suddenly starting to click, but yet, the Wild were still on the outside looking in and Guerin felt a change was needed.
But the change didn't come in goal, where the team had been suffering dearly all season.
There's a lot of window dressing that might be said should the Wild not make the playoffs. However, don't let that fool you. Goaltending has been leaky all year, and those leaks may just end up sinking the season altogether.
Center depth absolutely needs to be addressed, but goaltending needs to be a big point of emphasis for the Wild and Guerin in the upcoming offseason. This will now have been a second straight year of poor goaltending, and if they want to truly right the ship they cannot afford to make it a third.
With plenty of big names out there in free agency and some more younger options available (possibly) on the trade market, there will be options to make an upgrade next year. The question is, how do they jettison one of the existing goaltenders on the roster?
That's a question only the general manager can answer.
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