The Wild spent a good portion of Wednesday practicing its power play. Now the team hopes it actually gets to practice the power play in games.
Whether the standard of officiating by NHL referees has softened or the Wild is just not doing a good enough job drawing penalties, the team has drawn only 22 power plays in the past 10 games and 11 in the past six.
Over that six-game stretch heading into Thursday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Wild hasn’t scored a power-play goal.
“We haven’t had a lot of power plays. We haven’t had a lot of practice either,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “It’s tough when you only get one or two a game or [in the case of] Colorado [on Saturday] you get none. You have to get into a rhythm out there.
“We haven’t had a lot of success, so it’s tough to have confidence when you don’t have success on it or get a lot of chances in games to get into that rhythm.”
Wednesday’s focus was on creating multiple gamelike situations, feeling the puck, moving it quickly and gaining confidence by actually scoring a goal or two.
The Wild has scored only six power-play goals in the past 17 games yet still ranks tied for eighth in the NHL at a 20.2 percent success rate. The reason it still even ranks that high is because the Wild has earned only 44 power plays in that stretch (2.6 a game, three or fewer in 15 of the 17 games) and because it got off to a scorching start.
In the first 12 games of the season, the Wild was 13-for-50 on the power play (26 percent) compared with 3-for-31 (9.6 percent) in the past 12 games.
“We’re getting maybe two power-plays a game right now, so it’s tough to get these guys a chance to work out of it,” coach Mike Yeo said. “But no excuse … we have to make sure we get it trending upward by having the right focus and making sure we’re executing the right way.”
After Friday’s loss to Colorado, Yeo said the Wild lacked an attack mentality and looked “slow and deliberate with everything we do,” both carrying the puck up ice to the way the power-play units play inside the zone.
The comments came after the Wild, with a chance to rally, registered one shot on a five-minute major. In Monday’s victory over Philadelphia, the Wild failed to register a shot on two momentum-killing power plays.
Yeo wants less predictability, less stationary play and crisper, faster puck movement. One personnel switch was putting Dany Heatley back onto the top unit. Heatley’s 142 power-play goals are the most in the NHL since 2001, but earlier this season, Yeo said having four lefties was problematic with its power-play setup.
“We put him [back] there to give a bit of a change to the fact that we haven’t been scoring with that unit, but also because we needed some help on the second unit as well,” Yeo said.
Up front, Justin Fontaine, scratched in two of the past three games, was moved onto the second unit with Charlie Coyle, downgraded from the top unit, and Nino Niederreiter. Earlier this season, the Wild’s second unit was running hot, but it’s had a complete power outage for weeks.
It’s not easy playing the second unit. Often, the unit gets 30 or 40 seconds of ice time a power play and the line change almost always comes after the penalty kill clears the zone.
“We haven’t been sharp enough,” Niederreiter said. “Last game, we hardly got into the zone. I think we’re all trying to be too cute. We just need to get back to more shots at the net and creating scrums and not just looking only for tap-in goals.”
It would help if the Wild got more pucks through to the net, and not just on the power play.
This season, the Wild’s defensemen have scored only six goals (four by Jonas Brodin), 49 points and registered 200 shots on goal. Other than Brodin, a Wild defensemen hasn’t scored since rookie Matt Dumba on Oct. 12. By comparison, Thursday’s opponent, Chicago, has gotten 13 goals, 82 points and 291 shots from its defensemen.
“Teams are doing a good job getting in lanes,” said Suter, who has no goals despite leading all NHL players in total ice time (857 minutes, 29 seconds) and average ice time per game (29:34). “We’re getting shots. They’re not hitting the net though. A lot of times when we’re taking shots, we have to miss the net purposely because guys are in the line. It’s also easier to get tips by shooting to the outside.
“But this is a problem. We’re aware of it and looking for ways to improve on it.”