Wild’s Penalty Issues Have a Bright Spot

The Minnesota Wild are officially a quarter of the way through the season and they have a record of 13-10-2. They’ve had their ups and downs this season, especially when it comes to injuries, but they’ve persevered and found ways to win. Lately, however, they’ve found ways to give up leads, even ones that seemed safe like when they led the Dallas Stars 5-1 in the third period and gave up four straight goals, but pulled out the win in a shootout.

While there are a couple of things that have led to their leads disappearing, one of the main issues is the amount of time they spend in the penalty box. It’s becoming a problem and as of Dec. 8, the Wild are the most penalized team in the NHL.

The Wild have been undisciplined this season and that’s led to a lot of penalties, but thankfully the news isn’t all bad. Despite playing shorthanded a lot, they’ve found a way to score goals while being a man down, and fortunately for them that has turned out to be the one bright spot amongst all the penalty minutes.

Wild Lack Discipline

The Wild have already accumulated 341 penalty minutes in the first 25 games of the season, spending an average of 13:38 in the box per game, and lead the NHL in both areas. They haven’t gone a single game without a penalty this entire season, and the lowest number of penalties they’ve taken in a game is two, which has happened just once.

Dean Evason Minnesota Wild
Dean Evason, head coach of the Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s normal for a team to take one or two penalties per game but the Wild have averaged almost five per game. They’re lucky that their lack of discipline has not led to more than 17 goals scored against them while shorthanded. Thankfully other than a few hiccups here and there, their penalty kill has been quite reliable this season and has recorded a 79.8 percent kill rate which has them tied for 11th in the NHL.

Some penalties are good to take, especially if it prevents a goal, but the majority of the penalties the Wild have taken have been unnecessary and usually at horrible times. In the last few games, it seems they’ll get a power play and then throw it away by taking a penalty a short time into their man advantage.

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They’ve even taken a handful of too many men on the ice penalties, which are rare in the NHL and are typically the result of not paying attention or bad communication. The Wild have taken at least three of those penalties already this season and that’s too many. They need to figure out where their communication breaks down so it doesn’t continue to happen because it should be an easy penalty to prevent when all the players know what’s going on.

Wild’s Most Penalized

It’s obvious that Marcus Foligno would lead the Wild in penalty minutes, with Jacob Middleton, Mason Shaw, and Connor Dewar not far behind. What’s more shocking is Kirill Kaprizov being fifth on the team in penalties, wasting his time in the penalty box when he should be out on the ice scoring goals. Of his 526:49 of ice time this season, he’s spent 25 of those minutes in the sin bin plus he was also ejected from a game for the first and hopefully only time in his NHL career just a few weeks ago.

Kaprizov needs to have more discipline as the season goes on, but he’s not the only one. There is one other player in the top-10 penalty minutes for the Wild who shouldn’t be there and that’s Joel Eriksson Ek. He’s taken 16 minutes in penalties this season, which doesn’t seem like much but he rarely takes penalties with his career-high being 28.

Joel Eriksson-Ek Minnesota Wild
Joel Eriksson-Ek, Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Eriksson Ek, like Kaprizov, should be spending all of his time on the ice and not in the penalty box. When Eriksson Ek gets a penalty it also takes away one of the Wild’s best penalty-killers. As the season continues, both Kaprizov and Eriksson Ek need to stay away from the penalty box as much as they can so they can contribute on the ice.

Wild’s Penalties Not All Bad

Most of the time taking a penalty is not a good thing unless, as stated before, it’s to prevent a goal. However, while most of the penalty news regarding the Wild is not good, there is one bit that is and that’s their shorthanded goals. They’ve scored five goals while on the penalty kill so far this season and as of Dec. 8, that led the NHL. They’re also nearly halfway to the most shorthanded goals they’ve scored in a season, which is 13 from their inaugural year in 2000-01.

Related: Wild’s Special Teams Spoil Kaprizov’s Record-Breaking Night

One player, in particular, has been doing very well on the penalty kill and that is Dewar. He’s scored two of the Wild’s five shorthanded goals, the first was a two-on-one with Shaw while the other was a breakaway he was able to convert on. He’s been a great addition to the Wild’s penalty kill, as his aggressive style of play has helped them score while being a man down. They do need to avoid taking more penalties but if they can continue to convert while shorthanded, it’s not all bad.

Wild’s Season Ahead

The Wild still have three-quarters of the season to go and that’s a lot of time to spend in the penalty box if this trend continues. It’s expected they’ll take penalties but it would be great if they could keep Kaprizov and Eriksson Ek away from the box as much as possible. They need them on the ice doing what they do best between scoring goals and killing off teammates’ penalties.

However, when they do take penalties, they’ll need Dewar on the ice to help kill them off and hopefully continue his goal production shorthanded. Regardless of what happens, taking fewer penalties means a better chance of winning and that’s what the Wild need to focus on as games become more important down the stretch.

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