The Minnesota Wild just wrapped up a six-game homestand Saturday night, in which they took six of a possible 12 points. There were times on that homestand when the offense looked stagnant, and a big reason for that was the team’s lack of success on the power play.
Entering Monday’s game in Boston, the Wild power play sits at 18th in the NHL with a 17.5 percent rate. The power play had been having moderate success early on in the season, but in the past six games, the Wild’s man advantage has suffered a power outage, going 1-for-22 in that time.
So what exactly has been killing the Wild power play? Let’s examine the areas in which they need some tending.
Wes Walz was very blunt on Tuesday’s FSN broadcast against the Jets when he said the Wild need to quit trying to be too cute with the puck and just get shots on goal. With just 59 shots on the power play entering Monday’s game, the Wild are tied for fourth-worst in the NHL at getting the puck on net.
When they have been getting the puck on net, the shot selection has not been exactly been stellar either.
As you can see in the charts above, the measured shot locations were both on the power play and penalty kill. But since there are very few shots on the penalty kill, it is essentially a power-play chart.
What the charts are telling us is that the Wild are not getting good looks at the net. They are getting almost next to no shots from the slot area — between the circles — which is somewhere you generally want to get a shot off from while up a man. They are often settling for shots from the perimeter, which haven’t proven to be effective for the struggling team.
But with the return of Nino Niederreiter at the end of the homestand, the Wild did start to generate a few more chances from quality areas with the man advantage.
While the power play was a bit lacking in general Saturday night, the Wild were able to at least generate a couple — literally, a couple — of good looks out front.
This is the area that the Wild badly need to get better at, and it will improve the above shot selection area. If you watch some of the NHL’s better power plays, you will see that quick puck movement is a staple of those units. For instance, the Tampa Bay Lightning enter Monday as the league’s second-best power play, and as you can see below, their puck movement is incredible (gif from Saturday’s game against Columbus).
Moving the puck like that gets the defense scrambling, and it gets goaltenders off their angles as they have little time to adapt to where the puck now is. The Wild during this time have not exactly been a shining example of puck movement.
There’s just way too much time being taken by the Wild here with the puck. The Jets PK was able to shuffle over, and a hot goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck is able to get in position at all times for a potential shot. The Jets PK here is very passive, allowing the Wild to take their sweet time. The Jets strategy worked, as they were able to kill off the penalty.
Or you could be like the Chicago Blackhawks and take advantage of Minnesota’s lack of puck movement by being a bit more aggressive. Not moving the puck quicker allowed the Blackhawks to box in Niederreiter and the puck was jarred loose and cleared out of the zone.
This is a better example of what the Wild need to do. Rapid passes leads to a back-door feed from Koivu to Granlund, and Granlund gets a shot on goal that hits the goaltender in the mask. It did not result in a goal, but the Wild will have more success if they can replicate this kind of puck movement on the power play. It also would help if the puck was not shot directly into the goaltender’s face.
Net front presence
Another area that needs improvement that Walz hammered the Wild on was getting bodies out front of the net. However, Charlie Coyle and Zach Parise are two guys who fall into this category, and they currently remain out with injuries. They were also without another big body guy in Niederreiter, who was out for a couple of weeks in addition to Coyle and Parise.
But while those three were out, the Wild power play didn’t exactly do a good job of filling their shoes. In fact, there was time when Mikael Granlund was the guy standing out front. All 5-foot-10, 185 pounds of Granlund standing out front of the net, imagine that. Typically, you want him out on the wing, not the body attempting to screen the goalie.
With no one even close to Hellebuyck here, he is able to get a good look at the incoming shot. As Walz said on the broadcast, “NHL goaltenders are going to stop the puck if they have a clear view of the shot.”
Corey Crawford is off to a blazing start for Chicago, and the Wild could probably build a house in the area they have between them and the Blackhawks goaltender here. Niederreiter needs to get parked out front of Crawford here, plain and simple. Giving a hot goaltender — especially when he plays the Wild — like him a clear view of the puck will not do your power play any good.
Ask and you shall receive! This is what the Wild need to do more of, especially now as their man advantage is in a slump. Giving the goaltender obstructed views of the puck could help an otherwise average shot find its way into the net.
Wild fans may experience shortness of breath with the pair out there, but it’s time for Mike Reilly and Matt Dumba to get a good long look on the power play.
While Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon are tied for the defense lead in power-play points — three — they are also joined by Reilly who has done so in considerable less ice time.
Wild power play time on ice by defensemen:
Ryan Suter: 40:12 TOI
Jared Spurgeon: 31:48 TOI
Matt Dumba: 28:20 TOI
Mike Reilly: 19:01 TOI
Dumba has not quite gotten going on the scoresheet, just one point, but he does have the skill set that would make for a great defenseman with the man advantage along with Reilly. The problem has been that the Wild will often get sustained possession in the offensive zone with Suter and Spurgeon out on the ice. By the time Reilly and Dumba get out there, they usually only see about 30 seconds and change before the power play ends.
Whether it’s giving the pair of Reilly-Dumba more time or just switching the pairs (pending approval of Mr. Suter), it is time to shake things up on the Wild blue line. The forward power play lines underwent a change, its time to make a switch on defense now too.
With the Wild seemingly struggling to score goals, they need the power play to sharpen up and provide some offensive relief. Five-on-five offense has really been hit or miss for the Wild, so it further adds to them needing a more effective power play. The power play hasn’t exactly been a strong suit for this team, but they have the tools in the locker room for it to be.
They just have to find the right mix and sharpen a few things up. Or as Boudreau said, they need five guys thinking as one — not five guys thinking as five guys.
You know, a unit.