ST. PAUL, Minn. — Two aspects of the Minnesota Wild’s first-round playoff loss to the Chicago Blackhawks stood out when Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher assessed the series defeat: Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford and the Wild’s power play.
Fletcher gave Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford a lot of credit for his work in the series and Fletcher also noted the Wild’s struggling power play, which finished 0 for 17 in the playoffs.
The common theme? Minnesota’s inability to finish with goals.
“We have players who have been successful on the power play in their careers and again, for a lot of the year it was,” Fletcher said of the power play. “Coming down the stretch it faltered a bit and in the playoffs obviously we didn’t score, but I don’t see any smoking gun right off the get-go. We’ll have to look at it, but on the whole it was, I think, an 18 percent power play and we were up almost 2 percent over last year. Again, it certainly wasn’t a bad power play, but during the playoffs, we didn’t get the job done and we didn’t score.”
Getting shots and scoring was one focus for the Wild last offseason. Minnesota was coming off a 2011-12 season in which it was the lowest scoring team in the NHL since the 2004-05 lockout. The Wild signed Zach Parise to be the top goal-scorer the team has needed and also worked to increase the depth.
In the regular season, the moves paid off. Minnesota’s shooting was up to 28.8 shots-per-game, which was 17th in the league. The Wild outshot opponents by 83 total shots this season, but were outscored by five goals. The power-play was improved too, finishing 16th in the league at 17.9 percent (13.2 percent at home, 23.5 percent on the road).
Yet, when Minnesota ultimately needed scoring, it fell short. In the playoffs, the Wild were outshot 169-139 in the five games series. They were outscored 17-7. The lack of success on the power play only made the result more frustrating.
“When you don’t score on the power play, it can sometimes take momentum away from your team and I think clearly those of you that watch the playoffs, I’m sure you would agree that was a big part,” Fletcher said. “It’s a pretty glaring number,” Fletcher said of the power play in the playoffs. “We’re not going to put our heads in the sand, but I didn’t see any smoking gun like this guy clearly can’t do it or that guy can’t do it. We should have two pretty good units, and at times we did.”
Wild coach Mike Yeo won’t be hoping for magic solutions. While Minnesota could see more dramatic changes, he knows improvement has to come from within as well and he said it starts with the coaching staff analyzing what it can do better.
“From our standpoint, we’re not going to just sit here and hope that we all of a sudden sign 12 goal scorers and all is great,” Yeo said. “We have to do more on our side, when we talk about shooting percentage and we’re getting the shots, is there something we can do differently on our side of things, something we can do better and that’s what we’ll look at.”
Yeo believes opposing goaltenders felt too comfortable in their net.
“One area in particular, both on the power play and 5-on-5, we can do a better job with our net front presence,” Yeo said. “I find that we have to do a better job of making it more difficult for the opposition goalies. They see pucks too clearly and quite often when we have players around the net or loose pucks around the net, we don’t have another person there to capitalize on those. So, getting a little better in the net front area is obviously going to help us on the second chances, but it’s also going to make some of those first chances a little bit more difficult for opposition goalies as well.”
Parise, who had one goal in the playoffs, did provide the scoring boost in the regular season. He was third in the NHL in shots and his 18 goals put him on pace for 30.75 in a full season, which would have been the most for the Wild since Marian Gaborik scored 42 goals in the 2007-08 season. Parise tied for 18th in the league in goals, but was fifth in the more defensive-minded Western Conference.
Devin Setoguchi scored 13 goals, but the contributions of the second line with Setoguchi, Matt Cullen and either rookie Jason Zucker or Pierre-Marc Bouchard was derailed a bit by Cullen’s mid-season injury. Minnesota was also missing Jason Pominville — four goals in 10 games with the Wild before an upper-body injury — at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs and played without Dany Heatley (11 goals) for the final few weeks because of injury.
“We’re up half a goal a game,” Fletcher said. “I wish it was a goal a game but you know, we made a pretty dramatic improvement. But you keep working at it. We’ll have Jason Pominville for a whole year. Jason Zucker scored five goals counting the playoffs. My guess is he’ll score more than that next year. There’s going to be guys that bring more to the table next year. We got pretty good depth of scoring though . . . Usually guys do improve in the next couple of years (talking about Zucker and fellow rookie Charlie Coyle). So I think, we obviously don’t score as easily as Chicago, but we score better than what we did and there’s no reason why that won’t get better.”