The Minnesota Wild ended a disappointing two-game road trip against Pacific division opposition still searching for a first win away from the Xcel Energy center. They struggled to a 3-1 defeat against the Anaheim Ducks, and were once again sporadic and stunted offensively on Monday night in a 2-1 loss against the Phoenix Coyotes. Mike Yeo’s frustration in his post-game interview was quite apparent, he knows that he and his team have a lot of work to do before taking on the Vancouver Canucks at home on Thursday, and especially before back-to-back road games against Vancouver and the Calgary Flames at the beginning of next week.
In his interview, Yeo decided to focus on the team’s goal-scoring problems directly. Minnesota ranks 22nd in the NHL scoring just 2.22 goals per game. Undoubtedly, some of the problems have been based on the team’s inability to play in the dirty areas, and Yeo is right to point out that the Wild need to find ways to score and need to sacrifice more in the offensive end. 12 of the team’s 21 goals have come from the top line of Zach Parise, Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu, and only one other player on the team (Tom Gilbert) has been scoring at more than half a point per game pace.
However, maybe the biggest concern for Yeo and his coaching staff at this point at both ends of the ice is the transition game. The Minnesota Wild have been pretty much abysmal at consistently breaking the puck out of their own end turning the puck over far too often in their own end. It feel like if the NHL tracked icing call quantities, the Wild would be leading the league in that category in the young 2013 NHL season.
Those icing calls are coming because Yeo’s team are not putting together an effective breakout and are all too often missing long desperate passes or are just being forced to clear the puck down the ice with no other options.
Two excellent examples of this were scarily apparent in the game against Phoenix. Right off of the opening second period face-off Jonas Brodin picked up the puck and was effectively forced into a long pass off the boards, which missed and resulted in an icing call in the opening seconds of that period. The Wild actually put together a pretty decent period in the second, even pulling back the score to 2-1 at the game’s midway point. However, their icing problems came back to haunt them spectacularly again in the closing 10 minutes of the game as they iced the puck five or six times in those final minutes.
A part of the problem is a personnel issue. An inexperienced not particularly mobile bottom pairing of Marco Scandella and Justin Falk has struggled at some points. Ryan Suter is still trying to bring a consistent game, while Tom Gilbert has been erratic in terms of the transition game, and Clayton Stoner isn’t a reliable breakout player. The placing of Jared Spurgeon on injured reserve is a concern, because the 23-year old could be a valuable asset in terms of his skating game and passing vision.
The other part of the problem is systemic. Short training camps were always going to pose problems in certain areas for teams, and Minnesota’s problem has been organizing an effective breakout. There isn’t enough moving the puck away from pressure, the defensemen are not making good reads, and forwards are not coming back and making themselves available for shorter breakout passes.
The Minnesota Wild spend the next six days at home playing two games during that span. Yeo and his coaching staff will need to spend at least a little bit of time during that period working on a team breakout that can prevent this team getting locked into their zone for large parts of the game as has been happening so far in the 2013 NHL season.
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