October is a great month for professional sports. The NFL season is gaining steam, the MLB playoffs come to fruition, the NBA season gets under-way and of course the NHL season begins. The NHL season is a grueling eighty-two game marathon. The teams that are successful will put forth a consistent effort and keep pace with their division foes. This is easier said than done over the course of a long season that plays out for the better part of seven months.
The Minnesota Wild currently sit in fourth place in the Central Division after the first month of games. They are one point behind the St. Louis Blues but St. Louis has three games in hand. Minnesota has managed to earn seventeen points during the first month of play. They are just five points out of the division lead set this year by the Colorado Avalanche who earned twenty-two points.
A Streaky Start in Minnesota
It has been a wild October in Minnesota for Wild fans. The Wild have been a very streaky team out of the gate. Throughout the month, the club either won three games in a row or lost three in a row until they closed out the month with a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Wild started the season off on a sour note with three consecutive losses. While this sounds depressing, each loss was only decided by a single goal. The Wild dropped their home opener against the Los Angeles Kings by a 3-2 score in a shootout. They lost their second game against Anaheim in overtime and their third to Nashville in regulation 3-2. After this losing skid, the Wild brass made some lineup changes that would launch a three-game winning streak.
Minnesota Wild's winless start brings new lines, sense of urgency: http://t.co/zxqXkr4CGz
— Pioneer Press (@PioneerPress) October 10, 2013
After retooling the lines, Minnesota won their next three games against the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabres. Six games into the season, the Wild had out-scored their opponents sixteen to thirteen and were beginning to establish themselves as a team with a strong power play. Minnesota currently has the fourth-best power play in the NHL at a 24.1% efficiency rate.
The Wild split the remaining portion of the month of October with three losses in a row to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. They followed up to this stretch with another three-game winning streak against the Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes and Chicago Blackhawks. They dropped their final game against Chicago to cap the month of October with a 6-4-3 record.
The Minnesota Wild Bright Spots
Despite the club’s slow start, the Wild had some bright spots in the early phase of the season. Forward Zach Parise has played a solid offensive game for the Wild. He currently has six goals and four assists which ties him for the team lead in points. Four of his six goals have come on the much improved Wild power play.
Parise also has a game winning goal to his credit. He has logged 20:16 total ice time per game ranking him second among forwards on the Wild. Parise has logged much of his time on the top line for Minnesota.
Another forward who has excelled for the Wild is Jason Pominville. Pominville currently leads the team in goals with nine and he is fourth overall in the NHL. He also has notched one assist for a total of ten points. Most importantly, the sniper has tallied three game winners so his offense has directly contributed to Wild wins. Pominville has also logged 17:56 total ice time per game and he’s scored three power play goals for the club.
On the blue line, defensemen Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin are also having solid years in Minnesota. Suter has seven helpers and is continuing his impressive play on the ice. His 28:44 total ice time per game leads the league. Suter continues to log key minutes and is heavily relied upon by head coach Mike Yeo.
Ryan Suter's streak leading EVERY skater in TOI in EVERY #mnwild game this year ended yesterday. Some guy named Jonas Brodin beat him by :19
— Minnesota Wild PR (@mnwildPR) November 2, 2013
Jonas Brodin has picked right up where he left off during his rookie campaign last season. His three goals has already surpassed his career high and he also has three assists. While Brodin is not near Suter’s ice time, his 23:34 total ice time per game is in the top thirty among NHL defensemen. Both Brodin and Suter have become the cornerstones of the Wild defense and they look to continue these roles going forward.
Finally, after Niklas Backstrom went down with an injury Josh Harding stepped in and excelled. Harding has six wins in ten games. He currently leads the league with a 1.22 goals against average and a .946 save percentage. He has a shutout to his credit and has given Minnesota a chance to win in every game he’s played. Harding’s solid play this season has many analysts and fans calling for him to be the starter in the state of hockey.
Areas Needing Improvement
Despite the ascension of the Wild power play, all is not well with Minnesota’s special teams. The penalty kill is among the league worst so far this season ranking twenty-eighth overall. The Wild have allowed fourteen power play goals which is dead last in the league.
The Minnesota penalty kill efficiency stands at 75% which will definitely need to improve if the club is to again qualify for the playoffs. As demonstrated by the Wild in the early going of the season, the difference between a win and a loss is often just one goal. Improving the efficiency of the penalty kill would lower the total goals against. This could result in some more wins for the club.
Another area of weakness is the goal differential especially on the road. The Wild currently have three more goals scored than goals scored against. The club is a plus five at home but is a minus two on the road. With a slim margin of error between a win and a loss, this explains the Wild’s 5-1-2 record at home and 2-3-1 record on the road.
Particularly alarming is the Wild’s overall decline in goals from start to finish. The Wild have scored thirteen goals in the first period, twelve in the second, and only nine in the third period. This suggests a decline in offensive production as the game goes on. The Wild have also allowed eleven goals in the third period that trumps their goal total in the final frame. Again, with a razor thin difference between winning and losing the Wild will need to improve in this area to beef up their win total.
The Wild Bottom Line
This season has been streaky for the Minnesota Wild. An encouraging sign has been the club’s ability to compete on a night-to-night basis. On the whole, October will be looked at as a time when the Wild won and lost many close games. The early success on the power play has helped Minnesota capture some wins in the young season.
The Wild will need to improve their penalty kill and goal differential to continue to capture wins in close games. In order for Minnesota to emerge among the elite NHL clubs this year, it will need to iron out some of the kinks and play more consistently. Improvements on the penalty kill and scoring in the later phases of games will need to happen in order for Minnesota to remain competitive with its Central Division foes.
Minnesota started the month of November on the right foot with a 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens in which forward Jason Pominville scored twice. Today they will battle the New Jersey Devils in Zach Parise’s first return to New Jersey since departing for St. Paul. Parise scored four hundred ten points in five hundred and two career games with the Devils.
Zach Parise says it will be 'weird' facing Devils Sunday. http://t.co/lsQomZLJRi
— Rich Chere (@Ledger_NJDevils) November 2, 2013
This will be an emotional contest for Parise where he and his new teammates will look for a victory against his former club. The Wild hope to build on the strengths that they’ve established in the month of October as they work towards clinching another playoff berth at the end of the regular season.
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW