An incredible run by the Minnesota Wild, under new command from incoming bench boss Bruce Boudreau carving through the NHL wilderness set to collide in a New Year’s Eve showdown with the suddenly deadly Columbus Blue Jackets.
Instant bargain free agent signing Eric Staal (three years at $3.5 AAV) entered the Christmas break leading the team in scoring with 28 points in 33 games. He put up seven points on nine goals scored at 5v4, five primary, contributing to 55.56% of on-ice goals.He shared the team power play points lead with Ryan Suter, and the lead in 5v5 goals (7) with Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter, hovering in 5th with 1.63 points/60. He’s earned a point on 61.9% of on-ice goals.
The eldest of the Staal contingent in the NHL was moved from the Hurricanes to a relatively substandard showing with the New York Rangers, in terms of points production, but he ended the season with a 55% CF% and a CF relative to when off the ice of 3.92 clear indications he fared better than the 2015-16 manifestation that struggled to find scoring success. Banking to solidify the center position for the Wild – and some shrewd fantasy GM’s – the 32-year old has been an excellent fit, producing points at a regular pace and shaking off the monkey of ‘15-16.
Over the last 11 games, Staal has recorded points in 10, including in eight straight, a main component in the Wild’s wins in 11 straight (with only two requiring extra time), rolling into the Christmas break, and winning their first game back from the holidays in overtime. They have one regulation loss in the past 17 games, scoring 60 goals, to the 34 goals allowed. Staal has points in all but three games. He lined up last game with Zach Parise (who has battled injury issues this season) and each netting a point, for Parise, his sixth goal in his 25th game.
Staal’s unsustainable pace is a reflection of the larger condition of the Minnesota Wild. Only a matter of when the good fortune dissipates and the percentages begin to creep away from Staal’s points run thus far in his first season in Minnesota. Not expecting a complete drop off, it’s safe to say there will be some balancing spells to cool off this hot run.
At a team level, led by new coach Bruce Boudreau, few similarities remain between the 2016-17 Wild, and predecessor that scraped into the playoffs in the spring of 2016. Up front there’s greater attack tempo – perhaps a little one and done at times, and improved blueline mobility. Stellar goaltending has greatly helped buoy this winning streak.
Not everything has been clicking during that 16-game span, specifically, the Minnesota power play (9-for-41, a 21.9%) featuring one three-goal game and eight straight without a power play goal (shutout in 18 opportunities).
The Wild heading into the Christmas break topped the NHL with a 103.6 PDO (addition of team shooting and save percentages, reconciling normally around 100). A 103.6 is fairly high, with 11 teams posting a PDO of 100+. Analysts examine this metric closely to determine the momentum a team has in the non-repeatable events that have led to success and signaling potential regression – a return closer to the 100 mark. Often analysts will refer to this effect as ‘luck’. Regression works the other way, with teams at the opposite end of the spectrum like, Colorado (97.0) and Carolina (97.9) with the lowest PDO, they too can’t sustain such low percentages – although that can always be put to the test – and should trend up towards 100. Essentially, their luck will turn from bad to good at some point.
The Wild’s individual PDO components are equally impressive, boosted by a 9.09 sh% and a 0.945 save percentage – both second best in the NHL. Effects of such high percentages effectively lower overall Corsi. In other words, teams experience elevated shooting success rates (more goals on less shots, higher shooting percentages), with a corresponding decline in Corsi For and affecting the CF% as a result. This scenario is ripe with false signals indicating successful playing styles, while the percentages have a way of correcting quickly to equilibrium. Teams have unwittingly used these false signals many times in the past to plow full steam ahead, usually to their detriment. There’s a reason the Avalanche are in the position they are currently.
We can see these effects first hand. First by taking the 5v5 10-game rolling average for the Wild’s 2016-17 season. Aside from a correction in late November, Minnesota has maintained a PDO above 100 virtually all season, and trending higher during this 11-game run.
A slight decline in save percentage from mid-November, was counteracted by a sharp incline in shooting percentage. The effect (transposed over a secondary vertical axis for exaggerated effect) shows the subsequent rise in PDO.
Shot attempts peaked shortly after mid-November, and have been in decline ever since – the offshoot of an elevated shooting percentage. The concern rests in the rise of Corsi Against events rising to season highs among their best stretch of the season. This is both evident in individual events and on a per 60 minute basis.
The Wild’s 5v4 has been middling and dangerously bordering along the bottom third of the NHL in Goals For/60, while bettering the 12.47% NHL shooting percentage average by only a few percentage points (12.8%).
A drop in elevated shooting percentages at 5v5 – which is a certainty over time – coupled with an increase in shot attempts allowed – which can affect save percentage – can have an opposite effect on the PDO, requiring a shift in shot generation methods for the Wild, throwing more shots on goal while finding other ways to keep shot attempts down.