It took far too long for the Minnesota Wild power play to show up this season. 10K Rinks has begged for personnel changes, the calling up (and installment) of Matt Boldy, and even attempted to diagnose what was wrong. It seemed impossible for a power play loaded with as much talent as the Wild’s not to frequently find the back of the net. There is good news, though. The Wild’s once 28th-ranked power play is slowly, ploddingly creeping its way out of the cellar.
Currenty ranked 20th with an 18.9% conversion rate, Minnesota still has issues scoring consistently. Still, Boldy has improved the puck movement and retrieval since his arrival. His ability to find the open shooter and place the puck on their stick with a dime of a pass is uncanny. He’s been a huge addition to what’s otherwise been the Wild’s biggest weakness.
However, Joel Eriksson Ek has been remarkably consistent all season long on the man-advantage. Eriksson Ek isn’t a flashy type. He possesses a nice wrist shot that can fool goaltenders. Or rather, he would if he ever shot from beyond an eight-foot radius from the goal crease. Instead, all of No. 14’s power-play goals have come from the blue paint.
Eriksson Ek has Minnesota’s fourth-most individual shots on goal per hour behind Kirill Kaprizov, Boldy, and Kevin Fiala. It’s an astonishing number considering he is neither the focal point of the power play nor is he in a position where he faces the net enough to shoot that frequently.
However, Eriksson converts on the highest percentage of his shots. He is currently shooting almost 31% on the power play and has the same amount of power-play goals as Kaprizov, Fiala, Boldy, Frederick Gaudreau, Jordan Greenway, and Ryan Hartman combined.
Furthermore, Eriksson Ek’s team-leading power-play goals (PPG) have come at a regular pace in each of the last four months. He has scored 2 PPGs from October to January. Halfway through February (3 games), he’s looking for his first of the month. The schedule was interrupted due to the All-Star break, but the schedule is about to change.
Starting with Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Wild are in a stretch of games where they’ll play 40 games in 77 days. Minnesota has Florida on the horizon and a trip to Toronto coming up in the next two weeks. Then the calendar will lean more heavily towards the Western Conference and the Wild’s Central Division foes. These upcoming games will not be easy, even for a contending team like Minnesota.
It’s not a huge leap to think the Wild won’t always be at their best for all 40 down the stretch. That’s where Minnesota must count on the power play. The man advantage can be an equalizing weapon in a game where the team struggles to score at 5-on-5.
You can bet the Wild will have issues, especially at the latter half of a back-to-back. We’ve seen it already when Minnesota took on the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights in a back-to-back in December, and it didn’t end well. But if they could turn the power play into something that can keep them in games long enough to allow the game-breaking talent of Kaprizov or Fiala to come through, the Wild could find more wins when the odds are against them.
Kaprizov, Boldy, and Fiala can zip the puck around in an umbrella formation and make dazzling plays to score in an ideal world. It’s not only aesthetically pleasing but amazingly effective to score goals in that fashion. But the Wild need wins down the stretch to remain one of the top teams to beat in this league. Come playoff time, they’ll need to figure out how to crack the defensive shells in the middle of the ice.
Ironically, they have a guy who has figured that part out this season. Eriksson Ek’s eight power-play goals are no fluke. It’s a completely repeatable skill and mindset. Zach Parise played this exact style for years, and it paid dividends for Minnesota. Eriksson Ek is bigger and willing to do all the things that Parise did in the same area of the ice. Dean Evason and the rest of the Wild need to figure out how to get more pucks to the top of the crease to allow Eriksson Ek to go to work.
If the Wild can manage to score more of the greasy, hard-working goals on the power play by changing from their current strategy, everyone’s stats improve by default, and the Wild have a chance to win more games. The Wild better get used to scoring goals that way, too, because that’s how they’ll have to come no matter who their opponent is in the postseason. It’s time to let Eriksson Ek ply his craft.