The Wild is off to a strong start this season, much to the surprise of some — perhaps many? — of us who looked at its quiet offseason and thought this year would be a struggle. Even after a loss Tuesday, Minnesota (11-5-2, 24 points) entered Wednesday with the third-best points percentage in the NHL. So this seems to be a good time to examine why the Wild has been successful. To do that, let’s look at three things: One is an area that was a strength last year and still is this year; one is a weakness that the Wild is cleaning up; and one is a factor that can be either a strength or weakness for a team and seems to be the former for Minnesota.
THE DANGER ZONE
Not all shots are created equal in hockey, and few teams have this figured out on both ends of the ice better than the Wild. A shot from close range — labeled a “high-danger” shot — is better than a non-screened slapshot from the point — a “low-danger” shot.
Successful teams are really good at burying golden chances, really good at creating enough chances that they’ll score enough regardless — or some combination of both. And the same holds true on the other end of the ice, just in reverse: A good team will limit those really good looks or be particularly adept (likely via strong goaltending) at keeping those chances out of the net.
According to naturalstattrick.com, the Wild last season had 173 more high-danger chances of its own than it allowed, finishing with the best differential percentage in the league.
This year, the Wild has continued to excel in that area and has the fifth-best percentage of high-danger chances for vs. chances against in the league. The Wild has converted those chances into 33 goals on high-danger shots, tied for fourth best in the league.
By continuing to hunt for quality chances instead of settling for lesser ones and by filtering opponents to the fringes — the Wild is allowing the second-most low-danger chances in the NHL, which is a good thing — things like total shot volume are less important.
FLIPPING SCRIPT ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Wild had a slow start, going 1-1-2 in its first four games. A big culprit was a negative carry-over from last year: too many penalties.
Minnesota gave opponents 20 power plays in those first four games and had just 12 of its own. Last year, the Wild gave up 272 power plays — sixth most in the NHL — and had just 240 of its own (only six teams had fewer).
But in 14 games since then, the Wild has been on the power play 49 times and been shorthanded just 43 times. Staying out of the box will continue to be important.
AGE HAS BEEN AN ASSET
According to hockey-reference.com, which calculates the average age of a team by giving weight to ice time, the Wild is the oldest team in the NHL this season at an average of 29.4 years.
That can be an asset, given that older teams have experience on their side. Five of the eight oldest teams made the playoffs last year, and six of eight made the postseason two years ago.
For the Wild, it has been an asset thanks to the continued strong play of its veterans. The Wild’s four oldest regulars — Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal and Ryan Suter — are in the top six on the team in points. As long as they continue to avoid a decline, age can be a strength for the Wild.