Most of the franchise records the Wild set during last season’s remarkable run are still standing.
The team hasn’t rattled off more than 12 wins in a row or orchestrated a point streak that eclipsed 13. It also has yet to top 12 wins in a single month to surpass the accomplishment from December 2016.
But one record from 2016-17 that didn’t last is the amount of points accrued by the defense.
The unit sat at 173 entering Saturday’s game against the Coyotes after exceeding the record of 169 in 68 games — an impressive leap that can be traced to more than just one factor.
“Our forwards trust the guys we have on the back end,” assistant coach Bob Woods said. “So they’re apt more to get them more involved.”
Surge from Suter
An active playmaker from the back end, Ryan Suter’s puck-moving ability has stood out this season.
Not only do his 41 assists pace the Wild, but they rank tied for sixth among all defensemen in the league. He was on pace for 47 helpers and 54 points, both of which would be career bests.
With an average ice time of 26 minutes, 47 seconds, tops in the NHL, Suter certainly has the most opportunity to create, but he capitalizes on it — chipping in 0.025 points per minute of play, a split that fits alongside the output of other No.1 defensemen who skate almost as much as Suter. Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty has 0.027 points per minute, while St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo is also at 0.025.
“Back when I first started, obviously you always wanted to get points and you always wanted to contribute,” Suter said. “But there wasn’t as much emphasis on it. You have your defensive defensemen, and you’d sit back and you’d play defense and you’d whack it up the wall and get up the ice. I think the game’s just evolved into a skating game where everyone can skate now, and you need to have those fourth and fifth guys up in the rush to help create offense.”
Power in their play
The Wild’s efficiency with the man advantage was at 20.6 percent after action Friday, and the setups from the point have helped ignite that production.
Of the 318 shots the Wild had taken on the power play, more than a third (36 percent) were courtesy of defensemen. Only the blue lines for the Kings (42 percent) and Predators (46 percent) have generated more shots; Nashville’s defense boasted the most points in the NHL at 180, with the Wild second.
At least one Wild defenseman has also had a hand in 37 of the Wild’s 44 power-play goals.
“They’re the quarterbacks,” Woods said. “They’re the guys that have everything in front of them, and I think they start everything. They’re the guys bringing the puck up on the breakouts. When we get in the zone, you usually want to try to get it up top to get the defense to spread out a little bit and that’s usually what opens up the other opportunities. We have some pretty intelligent players back there, and they know how to do that.”
Suter isn’t the only one in the process of assembling his best offensive season to date.
Matt Dumba has already surpassed previous career highs in assists and points with 28 and 39, respectively. He also tied his career-best goal output at 11 with his score in the 4-2 win Friday over the Golden Knights.
“Some of the looks I’m getting this year I didn’t see in the past,” said Dumba, who was averaging a career-high 23:22 in ice time. “I’m very grateful for that. I still have to work hard and make things happen and stay contributing.”
Before he was sidelined with a partial tear of his right hamstring, Jared Spurgeon was on pace to achieve the most points in his career after boasting 37 through 61 games.
And Jonas Brodin has already eclipsed his goal output from last season with five.
“You gotta shoot a lot,” Woods said. “A lot of times they don’t have to be ones that have a chance to score. Just get it through, it gets tipped. You get rebounds. You tell the forwards the same thing: You want points, shoot the puck because that’s the only way things happen.”
• Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin reached the 600-goal plateau Monday with a two-goal effort against the Jets, becoming the 20th player in NHL history to achieve the milestone. He was also the fourth fastest, scoring No. 600 in Game No. 990. The accomplishment further cements Ovechkin’s status as one of the greatest to ever play the game, and while younger players continue to steal the spotlight in today’s NHL, Ovechkin remains must-see TV.
• Ovechkin has competition for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, and the Winnipeg Jets’ Patrik Laine might be the best challenger. Laine entered the weekend just a goal shy of Ovechkin’s 42 and with the 19-year-old in a groove of late, Laine will be one to watch as the season wraps up. With an assist Thursday, he set the NHL record for points in consecutive games by a teenager at 14 — a span in which he’s corralled 16 goals and eight assists.
• The Wild isn’t the only team that recently lost a defenseman to injury. Anaheim will be without Kevin Bieksa for two to five weeks after he underwent surgery to remove scar tissue from his left hand. The Ducks entered the weekend a point out of a wild-card spot and just two behind the Kings for the third seed in the Pacific Division.
WILD'S WEEK AHEAD
Monday: 7 p.m. vs. Los Angeles
Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. Nashville
Sunday: 6:30 p.m. vs. Boston
Mon. and Sun. NBCSN, Sat. FNS Plus
Player to watch: Pekka Rinne, Predators
The Nashville goaltender is having a stellar season and since he ranks among NHL leaders in wins, save percentage, goals-against average and shutouts, Rinne has to be a front-runner for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie.
“The timing isn’t great. With the toughness of our schedule that’s coming up and where we are in the playoff push, we’d certainly love to have Jared Spurgeon with us. There’s no doubt about that. But he’s not, and we’re not going to use it as an excuse.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau on losing Spurgeon for at least a month while he recovers from a partial tear in his right hamstring.
Sarah McLellan covers the Wild and NHL hockey for the Star Tribune.