Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The 2014-14 Minnesota Wild: Special Teams

Photo: Jim Mone/AP
If Minnesota wants to take a bigger step towards the ultimate prize in 2014-15, their special teams will need to see some major improvement.

The Wild were middle of the pack on the Power Play last year (17.9%, 16th in NHL) and were one of the worst teams in the league on the Penalty Kill (79.0%, 27th in NHL). Their PK took the bigger hit in 2013-14, as they dropped from 80.9% to 79.0%.

Goaltending was outstanding for the Wild last year, but yet it could still not save the penalty kill. Nearly one out of every five penalty kills resulted in a goal. For a team that nearly had five penalties a night, its not a great thing to see them constantly in the sin bin.

Soft defense on zone entries, bad clearing attempts, and a lack of blocked shots doomed that penalty kill. Perhaps the subtraction of Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser (a healthy scratch for now) and a tweak or two to the positioning could change this for the better.

The penalty kill did rise to the occasion in the postseason, as the Wild killed 84% of their penalties off during their 13 game postseason run. It was a step in the right direction, but it needs to be done over a full 82 game season.

Meanwhile, the power play was the one getting more criticism last year. It was undeserved, but perhaps justified due to the firepower Minnesota threw out there on the top PP line.

At 17.9% they ranked just under the middle mark in the NHL. But when offensively challenged teams like Phoenix are doing better than you with the man advantage, its probably time to start wondering where you can make a change.

Problems for the Wild power play included bad zone entries (most due to just dumping the puck in), not being able to get the puck off the boards, and one too many passes. That last one, was seen far too often last year.

At 47.8 Shots For per 60 minutes at five on four, the Wild ranked 22nd in the NHL. So the message to fix the Wild power play is pretty simple: Don't dump the puck into the zone, and take more shots. The Wild have some outstanding puck handling players. They just need to get some of them to be a little more selfish.

Enter Thomas Vanek, a guy who loves to shoot the puck. He scored eight power play goals and added 10 assists while on the man advantage for his various teams last year. Vanek also is a great net front presence, something the Wild could use a bit more on not just on the power play but at even strength too.

While special teams was not all that was wrong with the Wild in 2013-14, a power play goal here and a penalty kill there could have made a difference. It definitely will in 2014-15 given how competitive the league is shaping up to be.

Make the special teams better, and the Wild hang around much longer in the Central Division race. Just you watch.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

No comments:

Post a Comment