Minnesota Wild Third Quarter Review

Pre-season projection: Playoff team

Current stock: Holding

Cal Clutterbuck Wild

Cal Clutterbuck (Vincent Muzik/Icon SMI)

Team record: 21-13-2 (3rd in Western Conference, 1st in Northwest Division)

Surprisingly, the Minnesota Wild held their grip to the top of the Northwest, putting six points between themselves and ninth place with an 8-4 push that was punctuated by a franchise-best seven-game winning streak.

Secondary scoring and goaltending have stayed hot longer than anticipated.  Star forward Jason Pominville is arriving at no cost to the current starting lineup.

However, some leaks have sprung.  In their last six games, the Wild has been mostly outplayed, giving up 23 goals.  In related news, the team’s second pairing has kept film rolling on their horror reel.  Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley have just gone down for indefinite periods of time, a fortunate squad’s first key injuries.

The stretch run has arrived, and Minnesota’s first playoff appearance in five seasons is in their hands.  Will they give their frustrated fanbase reason to wild out?

 

KEY STATS

*************

Current, as of April 3rd (league ranking)

After 24 games (league ranking)

2.67 goals/game (16th)

2.29 goals/game (26th)

24 first period goals (25th)

13 first period goals (30th)

28.7 shots/game (16th)

27.9 shots/game (21st)

36.5 Fenwick For/60 (5-on-5, Shots + shots attempts that missed the net/60) (27th)

35.6 Fenwick For/60 (5-on-5, Shots + shots attempts that missed the net/60) (28th)

13-8 record when outshooting/equaling opposition shots, 8-5-2 when outshot

10-4 record when outshooting/equaling opposition shots, 3-5-2 when outshot

33.1 DZFO% (Percentage of face offs that took place in the defensive zone ) (8th)

 

52.3 Faceoff% (4th)

53.0 FO% (4th)

+0 (5v5 overall goal differential) (63 GF-63 GA)

 

+10 (5v5 trailing, goal differential) (23 GF-13 GA)

 

17.5 % PP (21st)

16.3 % PP (20th)

14.5 % Home PP (26th), 21.0 % Road PP (8th)

 

126 PP Opportunities (16th)

86 PP Opportunities (20th)

2.58 goals/against (14th)

2.42 goals/against (7th)

81.4% PK (14th)

86.5% PK (4th)

113 Times Shorthanded (6)

74 Times Shorthanded (1)

The goal-starved squad from the first quarter of the season is stuffing nets with 40 goals in the last dozen and has turned themselves into a league-average scoring attack.  Cullen and Devin Setoguchi are still powering the Wild, while Kyle Brodziak and Mikko Koivu have found their shot.

A team that excelled when outshooting opponents has also reeled off five straight wins when outshot.  However, they could stand to take a few less defensive zone faceoffs as Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, and Tom Gilbert keep coughing up the puck.  This flaw is somewhat mitigated by being terrific on the draw.

A very good penalty kill unit has been victimized by eight goals in the last six.  Special teams excellence is a particular area of concern for Minnesota because they’re behind six Western conference playoff teams in 5v5 goal differential.  They have helped themselves by not visiting the penalty box a lot.

Niklas Backstrom just reeled off a personal eight-game winning streak, starting talk of Vezina candidacy.

 

OUTLOOK

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After riding the crest of a seven-game winning streak, the Wild have given up an uncharacteristic number of goals.  They’ll need to get back to playing the best team defense possible, especially with the Trade Deadline failure to improve their core of defensemen.  The strategy of trotting out Suter and Brodin and close your eyes or scream depends on conscientious two-way team play and a hot Backstrom.

However, the Finnish netminder is not known for his consistency, and there doesn’t seem to be much hope that he’ll get much protection in front of him when he’s off his game.  That combination may prove fatal.

However, things are looking up offensively if Cullen isn’t out for long.  While I was against trading top prospects, Pominville will help with the loss of Heatley and expected drop-off in production from Setoguchi and Cullen.

There might be a few high-scoring games during the stretch run, but Minnesota is not good enough offensively to rely strictly on that.  They have a dozen games to get their house back in order.  With sportsclubstats.com projecting 53 points as the Western Conference playoff cutoff, just four wins and a little more should get the Wild over the hump.

As for the division, Minnesota is tied with Vancouver in points and games played, but hold the edge in the first tie-breaker with a 17-15 advantage in non-shootout wins.  If it comes down to a shootout, the Wild have been better with a 4-1 record (the Canucks are 4-5).

The Wild and the Canucks have finished their season series at a 2-2 standstill.  Vancouver has a less stressful stretch run with four games remaining against Dallas, Calgary, and Colorado, and season-ending tilts versus Anaheim and Chicago, both whom may be resting players.  Minnesota has three games against Calgary and Colorado, but face Los Angeles twice and Chicago next week.

 

PLAYER-BY-PLAYER BREAKDOWN, ORDERED BY CAP HIT:

***************************************************************

Zach Parise

Cap hit: $7,538,462

Pre-season projection: Franchise star

Current stock: Holding

Parise continues to doggedly lead by example, second in the team with a 51.9 CF% (Corsi For) (5v5 Zone-Start Adjusted), also helping to reverse his linemate Koivu’s relatively poor 46.2 CF% over the last two seasons (generally, better than 50% is good, meaning you have the puck more than your opponents with stats courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com).  His dozen points in the last dozen are the reward for his efforts.

 

Ryan Suter

Cap hit: $7,538,462

Pre-season projection: Franchise defenseman

Current stock: Holding

Suter recently entered Norris discussion with his 28 points and league-leading 27:17 ATOI (Average Time on Ice/game).  However, as the Wild’s most important position player, the team’s recent defensive problems can be attributed to some slippage in his game.  Hopefully, it’s just a lull and not a sign that he’s cracking from having to carry a regularly overmatched defense.  He can make his reputation as a true franchise defenseman with a strong conclusion to the season.

 

Dany Heatley

Cap hit: $7,500,000

Pre-season projection: First line scorer

Current stock: Dropping

With his 13.3 shooting percentage, Heatley can still score, but little else.  Yet, he was placed on a third line with teammates who start a tremendous amount of time in the defensive zone (Brodziak is second among Wild forwards with 42.2 DZFO% and Cal Clutterbuck is fourth with 38.4 DZFO%) and not so often in the offensive zone (Brodziak is 12th among Wild forwards with 19.3 OZFO% and Cal Clutterbuck is fourth with 21.6 OZFO%).  I’m not sure why anyone thought that putting a late-career Luc Robitaille on a “stopper” line would be a good idea, but the point is moot because the future buyout candidate may have played his last game in Iron Range red after serious injury last night.

 

Mikko Koivu

Cap hit: $6,750,000

Pre-season projection: First line center

Current stock: Holding

The goalscoring has come for “Kommander Koivu,” highlighted by three game-winning goals.  Like Suter, he has a chance to obliterate any doubts about whether or not his cap hit is deserved with a resounding finish to the season.

 

Niklas Backstrom

Cap hit: $6,000,000

Pre-season projection: Top-10 goalie

Current stock: Holding

Backstrom has enjoyed a 13-4 streak, but he’s also given up 18 goals in his last five starts.  He faced a lot of shots during the Wild winning streak, suggesting that he covered up his team’s defensive deficiencies with a hot hand.  He’ll need to continue that to earn a big payday and ensure that Minnesota sails into the playoffs.

 

Jason Pominville

Cap hit: $5,300,000

Pre-season projection: First line playmaker

Current stock: Holding

Pominville has been a complete player, the most-used special teams forward on Buffalo over the last two seasons.  He’s averaged over five minutes of special teams play per game in that time.  Of course, Buffalo hasn’t made the playoffs, but it’s been suggested that he’ll flourish in a more secondary role.

 

Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Cap hit: $4,080,000

Pre-season projection: Top-six playmaker

Current stock: Holding

On the verge of being forgotten, when Jason Zucker’s injury opened the door.  With 10 points in 11 games, it’s no exaggeration to say that Bouchard has revived his career.  However, he’s still playing for his Wild future.

 

Tom Gilbert

Cap hit: $4,000,000

Pre-season projection: Top-four, two-way defenseman

Current stock: Dropping

San Jose announcer Randy Hahn summarized his game well, if unintentionally: “Gilbert changes sides quickly.”  His awful turnovers and coverage have caused him to be demoted to the team’s bottom pairing where he’s still being exposed, despite just 15:53 ATOI in his last 10 games.  While far from ideal defensive partners have contributed to his demise, four million a year ought to buy far more personal responsibility.  Without a quick turnaround, he stands to be one of Chuck Fletcher’s most grievous mistakes.  Did I mention that this noted offensive defenseman has scored three points in the last 26 games?

 

Matt Cullen

Cap hit: $3,500,000

Pre-season projection: Top-six playmaker

Current stock: Rising

Mike Yeo has cut the 36-year-old’s playing time this season from 18:34 ATOI over the last three years to 15:59 ATOI.  Is that the reason for Cullen’s inexplicable surge?  He leads the team with 22 ESP (Even Strength Points), and shockingly, his 3.29 ESP/60 minutes is fifth in the entire league, doubling his 1.614 ESP/60 average over the last five years.  Everything suggests that his production is unsustainable.

 

Devin Setoguchi

Cap hit: $3,000,000

Pre-season projection: Top-six scorer

Current stock: Rising

After launching 52 hits in the first half of the season, Setoguchi has only had 14 in the last dozen games.  Coincidentally or not, he also notched seven goals in that period.  Perhaps the 26-year-old is raising his game; just as likely, the consistently inconsistent sniper is just teasing us once again as his one goal in the last seven suggests.  He’s had a nine-game or more goalless streak in every season of his career, including this campaign.  Also, his career-average 11.6 shooting percentage entering this year doesn’t support his current 16.0%.

 

Kyle Brodziak

Cap hit: $2,833,333

Pre-season projection: Two-way, third line center

Current stock: Holding

A popular whipping boy, Brodziak has stepped up his production in March.  He’s scored five goals and has raised his ATOI to 18:28 from February’s 16:32, suggesting that perhaps he had to play himself into shape after a late start to the season.

 

Josh Harding

Cap hit: $1,900,000

Pre-season projection: Strong backup goalie

Current stock: Dropping

On IR.

 

Torrey Mitchell

Cap hit: $1,900,000

Pre-season projection: Third line grinder

Current stock: Holding

After an up-and-down start to his Wild career, Mitchell has helped spark the fourth line, notching three recent goals.  Brought in to shore up the third line, that may happen yet.

 

Mike Rupp

Cap hit: $1,500,000

Pre-season projection: Fourth line center

Current stock: Holding

Rupp is unspectacular and slow, but plays a heavy and smart game.

 

Jonas Brodin

Cap hit: $1,444,167

Pre-season projection: AHL star

Current stock: Rising

Brodin has flashed some offense, scoring the first two goals of his very promising NHL career.  The teenager continues to bear the responsibility of being a divison leader’s number-two defenseman with 22:44 ATOI.  However, the team has flagged defensively, so I’m looking forward to seeing how he will wrap up his Calder candidacy.

 

Cal Clutterbuck

Cap hit: $1,400,000

Pre-season projection: Third line, two-way pest

Current stock: Holding

Clutterbuck has suffered defensively from being grouped with Heatley, but that doesn’t explain his lack of production despite being fourth on the team with 2.2 shots/game.  While not a natural goal scorer, there’s every reason to believe that luck should begin to find his stick.  The recent win against the Kings showcased the inspirational elan that he can bring to the Wild.

 

Clayton Stoner

Cap hit: $1,050,000

Pre-season projection: Top-four defenseman

Current stock: Dropping

Stoner handles the puck like Lurch, and his defensive coverage is constantly exposed by either his top-four mispairing with Spurgeon or just pure ineptitude.  Unfortunately, there’s no reason to believe that a turnaround in his game is coming at this most critical juncture of the season.

 

Charlie Coyle

Cap hit: $975,000

Pre-season projection: AHL star

Current stock: Rising

I was wrong.  Coyle belongs with the big club now.  His hands are still suspect, but he’s proven that he can make space and hold the puck on the first line of a playoff-bound team, an incredible accomplishment for a 21-year-old who was ticketed for the AHL.  Just as impressive is how he raised the possession numbers of Koivu and Parise: Koivu has a 53.5 CF% with him and a 50.8% without, while Parise has a 53.2 CF% with and a 50.7% without.

 

Zenon Konopka

Cap hit: $925,000

Pre-season projection: Fourth line center, enforcer

Current stock: Holding

A fine team player, Konopka is very limited, especially with his team-worst 38.5 CF%.  He’s great at the couple of things that he’s good at.

 

Brett Clark

Cap hit: $900,000

Pre-season projection: Bottom-six, two-way defenseman

Current stock: Dropping

He’s played only two games for a team desperate for defense and was scratched after the second.

 

Darcy Kuemper

Cap hit: $900,000

Pre-season projection: AHL backup

Current stock: Rising

Hasn’t played much recently but may be called on to start an upcoming Calgary-Edmonton back-to-back.  May also come in relief if Backstrom continues his uneven play.

 

Jason Zucker

Cap hit: $833,000

Pre-season projection: AHL star

Current stock: Holding

Lost his job to Bouchard after an injury.  His two-way game and strength still need much improvement, so Houston is the best place for him.

 

Justin Falk

Cap hit: $825,000

Pre-season projection: Bottom-six defenseman

Current stock: Dropping

More highly regarded than Prosser and Clark, but that’s hardly a compliment.

 

Nate Prosser

Cap hit: $825,000

Pre-season projection: Seventh defenseman

Current stock: Holding

Useful because he can also play forward.

 

Jared Spurgeon

Cap hit: $526,667

Pre-season projection: Top-four defenseman

Current stock: Holding

He’s the Wild’s number-three defenseman with 21:37 ATOI.  Although he’s scored seven points in the last 12 games, his defensive shortcomings have been increasingly exposed the more the league sees him with Stoner.  He may be destined to be a superb bottom-pairing defenseman.

Sheng Peng
Sheng Peng plants ideas like Wilt Chamberlain on Twitter and Google+. He covers the Los Angeles Kings for The Hockey Writers.
Sheng Peng
RT @langluy: wrote an unnecessarily long comment about some people's objections to my earlier article re voynov: http://t.co/jOfCUaXKA4 - 11 hours ago

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