Minnesota Wild Early Season Report Card!

Marc Elliott

DANBURY… After their first 11 games the Minnesota Wild are off to a 6-4-1 start coming off of Saturdays 1-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. Obviously this means they were 6-3-1 in their first 10 tilts. Some analysts are hailing the club for a “good start” and while 6 out of 11 wins is solid in today’s NHL, I am just one of those fans who has to throw it under the microscope and give it a bit more scrutiny. But please, make no mistake, there are some good factors to be satisfied with the team about and then, if the ultimate goal is to hoist the Stanley Cup at the conclusion of each season, there are things of concern. Here is some data to contemplate and I’ll follow up with some thoughts.

From a team viewpoint the club is 1st overall on the penalty kill with a 93.5% on the PK. The Wild are 10th in Goals For at 33. The team has the 6th least (tied) amount of Penalties in Minutes (PIMS) with 106. The team has had struggles with Power Play opportunities and are 20th with a 14.7% PP average. The team is 2nd best in Goals Against Average having given up only 22 on the strength of 3 straight shutouts by Devan Dubnyk. Speaking of “Duby”, his 3 straight shutout streak has propelled him statistically as well, he is tied for 1st overall in Shutouts with the aforementioned 3, he is 1st in Goals Against Average at 1.46% per game and is 2ndin Save Percentage with a .951. Based on the roller coaster we saw from Duby last year it is nice to see him off to a solid start.

 In other individual type stats, the club is making a strong showing in plus/minus ranking with Jason Zucker tied for 5th overall at +9, Christian Folin is tied for 6th at +8 and Jonas Brodin is tied for 8th with a +6. Mikko Koivu is 7th in Face Off wins with 137. Ryan Suter is tied for 8thin the points race on 3 Goals and 7 Assists for 10 points and is the only Wild player in the top 50. This is where the individual glory kind of comes to a halt. But that’s not all bad in this case. There are currently 16 skaters who have made points contributions on offense and it would be a big positive if the team made it through the season with the scoring spread out amongst several players instead of just a handful.

 The team has zero players in the top 50 goal scorers, none in the top 50 for PP goals or assists scoring, zero in the top 50 for hits, (Cal Clutterbuck, where are ye?) and zero in the top 50 for blocked shots.

 The 6-4-1 record is good for 13 points and the team has a 4-1 Home record while posting a 2-3-1 record on the Road. This appears to be a continuum of previous seasons trends. My go-to quick snapshot of up to date hockey information form a team standpoint, the Sagarin NHL Rank, is interesting to say the least. It refreshes everyday during the season, it also ranks a teams strength of schedule on an ongoing basis, which in my view helps to develop a more accurate picture of where a team really is at when they win or when they lose. It has also made me believe that ranking strength of schedule after said schedule comes out and before real competition is pointless. Those are usually based on prior seasons data. Too many factors change in the off-season to go with that.

 So, the Sagarin NHL rank, after the Saturday 11/5 competitions were concluded had the Wild ranked 7th on a 6-5 record. Note that the Sagarin doesn’t play games with the tie/OT loss bologna, a loss is a loss in their program. Their strength of schedule rank was 26th. They are 1-1 versus teams in the top 10. They are 2-2 versus teams in the top 16. Please note that those two numbers can and do change throughout the season as opponents filter in and out of the top 10 and 16. If the top 16 represents the potential Stanley Cup tournament field, the Wild are .500 versus that competition. By comparison, who would my top 5 teams in the show be right now?

 I look at the NY Rangers who are 6-1 versus the top 10, and 7-1 against the top 16 on a 10-3 record. Montreal is 3-0 against the top 10 and 5-1 versus the top 16. The Penguins are a mere 1-1 versus the top 10 but a healthy 7-2 versus the top 16. Chicago started rough but now have a 9-4 record and are on a 6 tilt win streak, however, they are 0-1 versus the top 10 and 2-2 against the top 16. A closer exam will reveal a record built against lesser teams or teams with major injury problems. Oddly, the Wild do not play the Hawks until mid-January, and then twice in February and once in March. My other top 5 club, believe it or not, are the Edmonton Oilers at 9-4. They are 2-1 versus top 10 and 16 clubs. After years of futility they are turning the corner.

 One other team of note that isn’t in my top 5 are the Washington Capitals. They are 8-3 but have no wins versus top 10 teams and only 2-3 versus top 16 clubs. They are 2ndin the current Sagarin but I can’t buy in. They look beatable to me if up against a real good team. How would the Wild match up against any of these teams if the playoffs started this week? Their defensive and possession play coupled with their experience would probably best Edmonton, but none of the others. That’s how I see it right now.

The only challenging team they have played, the Blues, beat them, and they have no major wins over anyone else. Winnipeg, still struggling. LA Kings, starting goalie out. Toronto, young and developing. Losses to NJ Devils and NY Islanders? Those aren’t SC contenders. Boston? They were playing their AHL goalie. Buffalo, young and learning the ropes. Dallas, injuries galore. We know what happened when they had their roster intact last year, excepting Seguin. A loss to Buffalo at home? Good teams don’t do that. A loss to the up and down Avalanche in Denver? I must say that 1stperiod was their best of the young season, but for naught. They could not finish and got shutout. Thursday eve they get the Penguins at Pittsburgh. This will be a great test against the defending SC Champs who haven‘t missed a beat. Lets get it on! PEACE