The Minnesota Wild were able to escape the month of March with a 9-5-2 record despite being inconsistent and outplayed. While they had some strong games and displayed signs of life, they were ultimately saved from strong goaltending and finishing. Part of the struggles that the Wild became accustomed to during this month was due to Dean Evason’s poor lineup combinations that resulted in their best center in Joel Eriksson Ek being deployed in a third-line forechecking role instead of utilizing him in the top-six to help the wingers flourish.
The Wild’s power play continues to be a burden on this team. It has become a barrier and there aren’t any signs of life as it hasn’t improved much over the past month. They scored five goals on 42 chances which is a measly 11.9%. This has been an issue all season and the month of March is not an outlier. The biggest issue remains the system because they haven’t been able to generate high-danger chances. Instead, they remain a perimeter team on the man advantage.
The special teams are really headed in opposite directions as their penalty kill has been as good as ever. They have an 85.3 penalty kill percentage (PK%) which is the fifth-best in the league. Over the month of March, they allowed six power-play goals on 45 attempts for an 88.6 PK%. This is very impressive given top defensive forward and penalty-killing specialist Marcus Foligno has been sidelined since the middle of March.
One of the bright spots is the Wild’s continued superior play at home. They are currently riding an 11-game win streak at home which is the longest streak in franchise history. With fans returning to the Xcel Energy Center on Monday, it will hopefully continue with fans now back in the building which will inevitably help raise the intensity.
The month of March featured records being broken, Ryan Suter’s milestone, Matt Boldy being signed to his entry-level contract, and most importantly, Kirill Kaprizov scoring his first career hat trick.
The Numbers Behind the Wild’s Play in March
The Wild were fortunate to get the results in March as they won more games than they should have. The Wild have been dominant at 5-on-5 this season, albeit the numbers fell in the second half of the month of March which resulted in unfavorable underlying numbers compared to usual.
When examining the numbers, the Wild ranked in the bottom ten of the league in three different categories, but also ranked top ten in four.
|44.69 (28th)||54.10 (10th)||48.57 (21st)||45.74 (24th)||51.82 (7th)||.932 (6th)||9.68 (6th)|
The Wild ranked 28th league-wide with a 44.69 Corsi for percentage (CF%) which is a metric that looks at shot attempts (goals, shots on net, misses, blocks, etc). This really isn’t surprising given their shots-per-game fell towards the middle of the month. Corsi can be an effective representation of puck possession which was often supported by the eye-test in the month of March in regards to the Wild who was limited to just 20 shots in a game against the Colorado Avalanche and 11 against the St. Louis Blues as just two examples. The opposing teams lived off strong possession against the Wild last month.
The Wild’s 54.10 goals for percentage – 33 goals scored compared to 28 from the opposing team’s – ranked 10th league-wide. Part of this was due to some strong finishing which really benefited the team. Given the Wild’s low CF%, it is somewhat surprising they were able to escape the month being a top ten team in this regard. This was due to their 33 goals scored at 5-on-5 which was the 6th highest in the league.
The Wild’s 48.57 expected goals for percentage ranked 21st league-wide at 5-on-5 in the month of March which is very poor, especially for a team that has been built on being dominant at 5-on-5. It is important to note the numbers fell towards the middle of the month. The low number is due to the fact that the Wild – a team built on a defensive identity – were actually poor defensively. They were expected to allow 29.63 goals which was the eighth-worst mark in the league which is the polar opposite of a normal month.
Not only were they outshot and had a lower share of expected goals, but they were also out-chanced at 5-on-5. Their 45.74 scoring chances for percentage ranked 24th in the league. They didn’t generate enough scoring chances, but to make matters worse, they were allowing an uncharacteristically high number of scoring chances too. These numbers are just not good enough for a team trying to contend for the top spot in the West.
The Wild did finish seventh league-wide in high-danger chances for percentage which is positive. However, this was due to a high number of high-danger chances manufactured offensively. They surrendered 119 high-danger chances which were 15th league-wide which is very poor in the Wild’s standards as they have been one of the best teams in this regard for years. If the Wild can return to their defensive dominance and still create a high rate of high-danger chances, they’re in good shape moving forward.
The Wild were sixth in save percentage (SV%) and shooting percentage (S%) alike which really helped propelled them to nine victories in the month. Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen saved nearly nine goals above expected when looking at the quality of shots they faced when taking out four poor games. A very strong number to go with their .932 SV%. Another huge factor was their finishing which was very strong as they heavily outscored what they were expected to score which went along with a respectable 9.68 S%.
Given the Wild’s underlying numbers were not as strong, it should be considered a positive because if they return to the team they were before this rough stretch (highly likely), they will be a dangerous team. The most important thing for them to do is to return to their defensive identity. The team struggled in the month of March, but it likely is an outlier.
It will be essential for the team to continue to get strong goaltending from their strong tandem of Talbot and Kahkonen. The biggest question surrounding the team is if they can continue to finish at a high rate as they heavily outperformed their expected goals.
Aaron Heckmann covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.