The offensive challenges of the Minnesota Wild this season are more than well documented. There are a lot of people (yes me included most times) around the State of Hockey that are on verge of pressing the panic button as they watch the Wild loose a couple of contests due to lack of goal scoring.
But then you look at the other side of the puck and see a team that is defensively one of the best squads in the NHL. The most telling stat for a team’s defensive performance is their total goals against. The Wild after last night’s game in Edmonton are tied for the league lead in goals against with the San Jose Sharks at 51.
The Wild are doing so well defensively this season that they are making up for a lack of goal scoring and are currently 4th in the league in goal differential with a +15. That’s impressive considering that many times that the tops in the league in goal differential are the teams that score a ton like the Rangers who have the most goals for in the NHL with 95 and are a +30 goal differential. Moreover, if a team has that good of a goal differential it almost always means they will make the playoffs.
Oct 29, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon (46) waits for the faceoff in the second period against the Dallas Stars at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Take the defensive stats a bit further and dig into the individuals on the Wild. Right now the Wild have three players in the top ten in the NHL in Plus/Minus with Jason Zucker and Ryan Suter tied for 5th at +13, and Jared Spurgeon tied for 10th at +11.
Most of all though is the play of Devan Dubnyk has been the strongest individual contribution to the Wild’s defensive command this season. The Wild’s netminder is first in the NHL in shutouts with 4, first in save percentage with .947, and second in goals against average 1.63. That’s a Veznia worthy season thus far for sure.
So with all these good defensive numbers why have there not been even more wins than 12, not taking in the lack scoring of course?
Lots of reasons really, but when you make a broad stroke you can find two big reasons.
Nov 21, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper (35) faces the Dallas Stars attack during the first period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
First is that for as good as Dubs has been in net his counterpart Darcy Kuemper has not been anywhere as good. Kuemper is 2-2-1 in net, and while that’s not massively bad it’s just not as good as Dubs. To put it in more of a perspective in the 5 games that Kuemper has played in he has given up 3 goals or more in 4 of those contests. For a team that struggles to score, allowing that many goals makes for a challenging night.
Second is that the Wild are actually the second best team in the league 5-on-5, but on they’ve given up the 10th most Power Play Goals in the League and in 3-on-3 overtime are tied for 17th in goals allowed. The Wild are boasting a 5-on-5 Save Percentage of .945 which is second to Chicago’s .950, so you can see if the Wild stay out of the box and win the game in regulation they have their best chance from a defensive stand point.
Sure the scoring needs to be better considering for all these great defensive stats the Wild are 16th in the league in 5-on-5 goals for. And add to that the Wild thru 24 games this season are averaging 2.75 goals for a game and it looks bad. But consider this, the New Jersey Devils team that won the cup in 2002 averaged only 2.6 goals a game….maybe we can ask Wild assistant coach Scott Stevens about that.