A lack of offensive proficiency has been an overarching narrative of the Wild’s existence as a franchise. So it feels strange to write the following sentence.
The Wild is one of the best scoring teams in the NHL this season.
(Quick pause here while you run to the window to make sure pigs aren’t flying by.)
Yes, it’s true. The goal scoring, not the pigs.
With 160 goals exiting the All-Star break, the Wild leads the Western Conference in scoring and is on pace to obliterate the team’s single-season record of 235 goals.
And the best offensive player has barely produced. Zach Parise, in fact, has scored two fewer goals than grinder Chris Stewart.
“We’re scoring a lot of goals and lot of guys are on pace for career years,” Parise said. “Hopefully everyone can keep it up. That will put us in a good spot.”
This is an unusual spot, for sure. The Bruce Boudreau effect has resulted in a stark transformation in the team’s ability to put the puck in the net.
In its history, the Wild never has finished higher than 14th in the league in goals. The team has scored the fewest goals in a season twice and finished 20th or worse in 11 of 15 seasons.
A 2-1 game served as an organizational template pre-Boudreau. The Wild has discovered a different way to win with basically the same roster.
Seven players have tallied 30 points, tops in the NHL. Eight players have reached double figures in goals, which also leads the league. The power play has jumped into the top 10 and looks more potent.
At this point last season, 48 games, the Wild had scored 120 goals — 40 fewer than this season.
The Wild has scored at least four goals 20 times this season, already matching last season’s total.
“We’re playing pretty fast,” Mikael Granlund said. “We’re shooting pucks all over the place.”
They’re scoring, not just shooting.
The lament rarely changed after playoff flameouts in recent years. Not enough scoring, no natural goal scorers or finishers on the roster.
Too often Wild coaches and players espoused the belief that scoring chances validated any result. Scoring chances signal that teams are in position to score and usually doing the right things, but nobody gets a prize with a card that reads B-I-N-G-. Without the O, who cares?
Finishing matters. This Wild team is finishing. And it doesn’t feel fluky or unsustainable either because of Boudreau’s system and his culture of accountability.
Boudreau led two previous teams to single-season franchise records in goals scored, Washington and Anaheim. Barring a prolonged slump, the Wild should become his third team to achieve that distinction.
Boudreau’s willingness to shake things up creates a competitive edge inside the locker room. He will ride a hot hand rather than tiptoe around egos. He tweaks line combinations depending on who is playing well, instead of waiting forever for a player to emerge from a slump.
That eliminates any entitlement and has revealed the Wild’s depth.
“It makes everybody think that they’re coming to the rink and can contribute,” Boudreau said. “It’s not like they’re saying, ‘Well, this guy is going to do it. He’s our superstar.’ Everybody thinks — and rightfully so — that they’re a very important part of this team.”
Jason Zucker already has set career highs in points and assists. Granlund will set career highs in goals and points any day now.
Go down the roster. Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon all are on pace to finish with career seasons offensively.
Players are quick to note that the Wild remains stingy defensively despite generating more offense. The team has allowed the second-fewest goals in the NHL.
“I think our goal differential [plus-51, second-best in the NHL] proves that we’re not just playing run-and-gun style with turnovers left and right,” Zucker said. “We’re making sure that we’re taking care of the puck and playing well in our end, and that will translate to good offense.”
The offense has been better than just good. That will take getting used to if it continues.