The Minnesota Wild end the month of October in the unexpected position as leaders of the Central Division. Their rise to the top has been nothing short of brilliant as the Wild are playing a complete game up and down the lineup.
When the Minnesota Wild started training camp this season there was a feeling that they would be a stronger team than the team that took the ice in the 2015-16 season. The hiring of Bruce Boudreau as head coach and signings of Eric Staal and Chris Stewart gave people the impression that this year could be different. Still there seemed to be this idea that while things could be different, the result would be the same.
Lots of people in and out of the State of Hockey seemed to be reluctant to think that the Wild would be anything other than a 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs that would be bounced in the first round of the playoffs. There were even some predictions that the Wild would not even make the playoffs.
It just seemed that many thought Eric Staal didn’t have anything left in the tank, and that even Boudreau would be unable to properly reach this group. So as Minnesota fans tend to, they approached this season with an air of pessimism as not to be totally crushed when the Wild let them down.
Oct 29, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal (12) celebrates his goal in the third period against the Dallas Stars at Xcel Energy Center. The Minnesota Wild beat the Dallas Stars 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Well here we are nine games into the new season heading into the month of November, and the Wild are sitting second in the Western Conference and tops in the Central Division. Only the surprise Edmonton Oilers have a better record heading into November in the Western Conference.
One thing the Wild are tops in the Western Conference is goal differential with a +13. That’s a great sign and perhaps is the best of indicators of how good a team actually is. The top down effort of the Wild has been greater than anyone could have expected and there’s been a lot to go into that +13 marker.
Goal scoring wise the Wild can’t really point to really any one player’s dominate performance that has driven that differential so far into the positive. The Wild’s leading goal scorer is Staal with 4 goals tallied, but more impressive than Staal is just how many goal scorers there has been. The balance of the Wild’s scoring can be found in the fact that 18 different Wild players have notched a goal this season. That’s up and down the lineup scoring where the when one part of the lineup isn’t scoring another one does.
Oct 29, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter (20) checks Dallas Stars forward Devin Shore (17) in the second period at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Defensively the Wild are protecting the puck and playing a responsible physical game. You may not have noticed, but all of the Wild defenders who have played a game this season except for Scandella and Reilly are all a plus in plus minus. On top of that the Wild are boasting three players in the top ten in plus minus in the NHL.
Goaltending might be the strongest factor to producing wins and the large goal differential. Darcy Kuemper may have struggled thus far, but as of late Devan Dubnyk has been perfect. Dubs had a somewhat rough start to the season, but since the game in New Jersey a little over a week ago he’s been the best goaltender in the NHL. Fueled by three shutouts in a row, Dubs in leading the league in shutouts, is third in wins (5), fifth in save percentage (.952), and fourth in goals against average (1.43). It’s been said the hardest thing to overcome is a hot goaltender, and as of late the Wild have had one helping them rack up wins and points.
Sure, this all could change as there are 73 more games left in the season, and we all know how the Wild have been over the last couple of years. But when you look at the balance of this team and the attitude of their new coach I’d be very encouraged by their early progress. Take the microcosm of Saturday’s win against the Stars, the Wild took the team that embarrassed them in the playoffs and regular season and made a statement that wasn’t going to happen again this season.