The Minnesota Wild haven’t got off to the start that was expected of them in the 2013 NHL season. They are stuck at .500 with a 6-6-1 record and their biggest concern once again is a floundering offense. The hype for the 2013 Wild roster started on July 4 when GM Chuck Fletcher announced the signings of major free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
If the expectation was that the Wild would be running one of the league’s strongest offenses in the 2013 NHL season, then that expectation was always misguided. However, the personnel upgrades should have been enough to lift the Wild from their 2.02 goals per game average (30th in NHL) from 2011-12. Instead, an offense that boasts Parise, Suter, Mikael Granlund and generally more stable depth than previous years is once again near the bottom of the league in scoring averaging just 1.92 goals per game (29th in NHL).
Based on last season’s averages, a middle of the road offense scoring around 2.6 goals per game would score 125 goals in 2013. There’s really no reason to think that an offense including Parise, Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikael Granlund, Suter, Tom Gilbert and Jared Spurgeon would not be able to score around 120 goals during a 48-game season. That list includes nine forwards and three defensemen, yes there are questions about many of those players, but realistically all but three of them are seriously under-performing offensively. The success of this offense is not dependent upon only a couple of individuals, at least not on paper anyway.
Parise, Koivu and Heatley Struggling
The concern only a week or two ago was the fact that Minnesota had a top heavy offense with the line featuring Parise, Koivu and Heatley doing all of the scoring. Head coach Mike Yeo might swap that situation for his current one with his team mustering just eight goals in six games since the start of February. The Wild needed more than 60 minutes of regulation to score a second goal in their two victories over Nashville and Calgary. The last time they scored more than one goal in regulation was on January 30 against Chicago.
The play of Parise, Koivu and Heatley is inseparable from the team’s scoring struggles. Zach Parise has just one goal in his past eight games after scoring nine points in the first five. Mikko Koivu has just one assist in the last seven games after scoring eight points through the first six. Meanwhile, Dany Heatley has been pointless since scoring four goals and six points in the first five games.
Yeo’s decision to break the trio up was eventually as much predicated upon the need for some offense as opposed to issues of top heavy offense. Yeo has shuffled his line combinations in just about every game in February with just about no impact so far.
If Minnesota’s ‘big three’ don’t pick their games up, then the Wild’s offensive woes are unlikely to get sorted any time soon.
Brodziak Promotion To Second Line?
This may seem like a surprising suggestion considering the fact that Brodziak has just one goal and one assist in the opening 13 games of the season. Add to that the fact that Brodziak hasn’t impressed defensively turning the puck over and losing battles in the defensive end.
However, Brodziak might still be Yeo’s best option to play between Setoguchi and Heatley instead of Granlund on the team’s second line. The 28-year old has performed solidly in three consecutive seasons getting better with each one. He is significantly better in the faceoff circle than Granlund and is a bigger body to battle and compete for pucks. While his offensive numbers are not flattering, he has the same number of goals as his young team mate and only two less points. He also has the boost of a 22-goal, 44-point season under his belt from 2011-12.
An Offense Without An Identity
The biggest problem for the Wild right now is that they are struggling to forge an identity offensively. This is pretty much the de facto problem that can be found with any NHL offense when it is misfiring and it can certainly take the blame in this case. Yeo has certainly spoken about the problem on a number of occasions, but Minnesota are not getting enough shots or bodies to the net. They are not establishing any offensive zone pressure and they are not executing on the fundamentals.
Yeo has definitely attempted to address that issue with his line shuffling over recent games, but he hasn’t found combinations that are willing to do enough grinding to earn goals yet. For now, this team is still struggling to establish any offensive zone presence and is still trying to create far too much from the periphery.
What Next For Wild Offense?
The good news for Yeo and Minnesota is that their line-up is not stagnant. Young blue liner Spurgeon returned to the line-up on Tuesday night and didn’t look too off the pace while playing 20:15 minutes of ice time. There is hope that Spurgeon can find his all-round game, can give the offense a boost and also help the power-play performance. That is perhaps asking a lot of a 23-year old who scored just 23 points last season, but the hopes are very high for Spurgeon in Hockey Town, and deservedly so. Spurgeon perhaps will help to balance a defensive corps in the transition game with Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella and Justin Falk arguably struggling in that department.
Meanwhile, this organization does have some young depth as well. 20-year old Charlie Coyle has played decently well in five games and even skated alongside Parise and Koivu on Tuesday night. Coyle has size and skill; his stay in the NHL may not be long on this occasion, but he has shown plenty of potential during the five-game span so far.
Jason Zucker is also making some noise in the AHL. He got a taste of the NHL at the end of last year and has found his stride with the Houston Aeros scoring 19 goals and 41 points. Zucker could be a strong option in this line-up as a player who can fill a number of roles and might be a spark if the team decides to send Coyle back down to Houston.
The other good news for Mike Yeo and the Wild is that the schedule through the next five games should perhaps be easier for their offense. The offensive struggles in February have come against the flying Canucks and Ducks, as well as against defensively stingy teams in the Predators and Coyotes.
The GA/G average of the teams they faced in their previous six games was 2.35, and that average was significantly lifted by Calgary’s 3.20 goals against per game, and included a Phoenix team with a 2.62 GA/G inflated by early game struggles.
The schedule looks significantly easier for the next five games. They face a Colorado team trying to figure things out defensively, a Detroit team with a blue line that still looks vulnerable despite improved recent play, they then play a young Edmonton team and Calgary twice more. The goals against average of the teams in those next five games is 2.85. This is the chance for Minnesota to pick up a few more quality chances per game and maybe get some better form from their top offensive players.
It’s pretty hard to easily explain Minnesota’s offensive woes, but Yeo and co really have no other option but to stick to the program that has already been set out. They have to get bodies and pucks to the net and they will have to keep trying to find the right line combinations.
Seb has been writing about the NHL and ice hockey online for over a decade. A long-time passionate Bruins fan, it’s a dream of his to be writing about this team, but don’t expect him to hold back from telling some hard truths when necessary. Follow him on twitter @seberead