A couple of Wild fans had meltdowns in the comments of the Edmonton-Minnesota postgame because I called the Wild the "Best/worst team in the West", wrote "the Minnesota Wild aren't a good hockey team", and "their record is a house of cards".
Like the the Avalanche and Stars before them, Minnesota is playing well above their heads thanks to unsustainable percentages and out-of-this-world goaltending. But the team struggles at even strength.
The following numbers come from the amazing data set made available by the venerable and terrifying Gabriel Desjardins from behindthenet.ca.
||Pct||Conf. Rank||League Rank|
|Fenwick Tied Home||44.78||13||28|
|Fenwick Tied Road||34.57||15||30|
|Fenwick Up 2||35.33||14||28|
|Fenwick Up 1||39.75||12||26|
|Fenwick Down 1||53.29||10||20|
|Fenwick Down 2||50||14||28|
|Shots on goal Close||42.12||15||29|
|Shots on goal||45.39||14||29|
"Struggles" is an understatement. This is a terrible team at even strength, so bad, in fact, that the 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers are a very close comparable to this year's Wild team:
|Category||Wild 2011-12||Edmonton 2010-11|
|Fenwick Tied Home||44.78||43.42|
|Fenwick Tied Road||34.57||44.8|
|Fenwick Up 2||35.33||45.92|
|Fenwick Up 1||39.75||38.9|
|Fenwick Down 1||53.29||46.39|
|Fenwick Down 2||50||56.2|
|Shots on goal Tied||42.12||43.92|
|Shots on goal||45.39||45.71|
They're worse than the Dallas Stars of 2010-11 by the possession metrics. In February, when I handicapped the Pacific Division race, I noted Dallas was sliding fast and probably wouldn't hang on - they didn't. The '09 Avs were also better at even strength play, but the Avs hung on to make the playoffs. Both of these teams were poor even strength teams who got off to fast starts thanks to goaltending and percentages.
Minnesota sits in a similar situation as November comes to a close.
To keep pace with their comparables, Minnesota needs 19 points in the next 16 games, and that's simply to keep pace with two teams with better underlying numbers who collapsed down the stretch. Even though the Avs collapsed and played like a 79 point team from January 28th on, Colorado banked enough points in the early part of the season to hang on to the 8th spot in the playoffs. Dallas also collapsed and played like a 75 point team from January 21st on, but didn't have enough points banked and missed the playoffs by two points.
So there are three questions at the heart of the matter:
- Are the Wild going to make changes (trade, system) that will allow them to be competitive at even strength?
- If the Wild continue as one of the worst teams in the league at even strength, can they outplay the numbers and get Thomas-level goaltending from Backstrom and Harding?
- If the Wild follow the lead of other bad even strength teams with good starts, will they be able to bank enough points to make the playoffs?