The Minnesota Wild have had a crazy couple of months—despite playing pretty terrible in terms of puck possession, they have found ways to win games. In the span of a couple weeks, the team lost their two best forwards, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu to injury. Add onto that the injury to Jared Spurgeon and the condition of Josh Harding, and the Wild found themselves in the midst of a whole heap of adversity.
One of the criticisms of this hockey team has been that they are too top-heavy, too reliant on their star players to create offense. Suddenly, a young group of kids were thrust into a dangerous situation without their veteran leadership, and they needed to find a way to band together and creatively find a way out of their predicament. The Wild had assumed the role of…The Goonies!
This week, I wanted to take a quick-and-dirty look at the team’s offensive production with and without the tandem of Koivu and Parise. The team has a lot of young talent but they have looked to be too deferential to their veterans to my eyes. So let’s look at a quick comparison of the numbers. A quick note, I am the first to admit my methodology here isn’t the greatest—I broke down the stats into games where both Parise and Koivu played, and games where only one or neither of them have played. Generally speaking, it’s split between early season and more recently, but with Parise returning recently, those games are included. Plus, the injuries to Spurgeon and Harding have their effects on the numbers, plus the constant re-jiggering of the line combinations by Mike Yeo…all these things affect the team’s output. Also, I couldn’t look at the games where the team had only Parise or only Koivu, the sample sizes are simply too small. So, it had to be “both vs. one-or-neither.” Nevertheless, there are some interesting findings to be—found. Let’s jump into it. The charts are saving in a lower quality from Excel, so apologies for that…I’ll need to check into it. Data are current as of 2/4/14 before the Lightning game.
The first thing we see is that the team is CONSIDERABLY worse in the puck possession game when missing one or both of the Dynamic Duo. With both in the game, the team plays right about 50%, but the numbers drop off drastically when either is out of the lineup. Likely, this speaks to the ability of both guys to play responsible two-way games. While it’s true that they get really lopsided zone starts, Parise and Koivu both play very responsibly in their own end and in the neutral zone, which goes a long way toward tilting the Corsi and Fenwick numbers. I honestly think there’s some Spurgeon effect here…as he’s known to be a good driver of possession so when he’s out of the game, the ice gets tilted toward the opposition. Next, it’s always beneficial to look at the counting numbers instead of the ratios, so let’s take a gander at the shot and goal production.
So that’s a very interesting pattern we see there, if you ask me (which you didn’t but you clicked on my link so that’s good enough for me.) The Corsi line chart mirrors the Corsi bar chart, in that the team was pretty even when playing with both Parise and Koivu, and it’s not really surprising to see that both their Corsi For and Corsi Against got worse with one or neither. The 57.44 number is pretty drastic, and really represents a sizeable shift in the puck possession ability of the team. The fact that their CF went down a little bit and their CA went up a lot of bit would seem to suggest that where the Wild really miss these guys is in shot prevention. Seven Corsi events per game is not insignificant, so the team really misses the defensive ability that their top forwards bring game in and game out.
I’ve saved the best for last, as the above chart is the one I really find most interesting. The team has scored more goals when playing without No. 11 and No. 9, but they also allow more goals, at nearly the same rate. By which I mean, it’s really interesting to see that the margins are very similar With Both and With One or Neither. It would appear that the Wild have been playing fast and loose, scoring more but allowing more—and perhaps this is in compensation for losing two top defenders. It may be a coaching change, with a focus on counterattacking to avoid getting boxed in. In watching the games, this doesn’t really seem to be the case, the team is playing pretty sloppy as of late, but I don’t really see a change in their strategy.
Overall, I’ve felt like this team has been playing on borrowed time, but their puck luck has been almost off the charts. And yet, they keep finding ways to put points in their pocket, and with Phoenix struggling as well, the Wild have a good chance to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season. One thing I will say is that the team could have just rolled over and died when they lost Parise, Koivu, Spurgeon, and Harding, but they didn’t. They really seem like they have coalesced, pulled themselves together, and are out there scrapping it out. After all, Goonies Never Say Die!!
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