The once-dominant Minnesota Wild have been awful in the month of March, losing 12 of their last 15 games after going 41-14-6 to start the season. What caused such a great team to fall apart so spectacularly? The Fourth String team investigates.
“We played the right way today” said Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau, “That’s the best game we’ve played in a month”. The game in question was not a victory, nor was it an intense battle with a playoff-bound team, it was a 3-2 overtime loss to the last-place Red Wings in Detroit, where the Red Wings climbed back from a 2-1 deficit at the end of the second period.
The thing is, Boudreau was right. That was the best game they had played in a month.
The Wild skated into the month of March as the clear favorite from the Western Conference, boasting a 41-14-6 record with a clear lead over their rival Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild were even being compared to Eastern Conference Powerhouses like the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. Now, despite clinching a playoff spot, the Wild have fallen behind the Blackhawks in the Central division and are in danger of falling behind the Pacific division’s Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks.
The Wild went 3-10-2 in the month of March, with the same number of wins (3) in the month of March as the the last-place Colorado Avalanche, an organization that is arguably the worst in the salary-cap era.
So what changed in March to cause the Wild to fall apart? It’s not injuries, as the only Wild player to be injured in this season is Zach Parise, who received an eye injury after being hit with a high stick in the Wild’s game yesterday with the Capitals.
It’s partly their defense, something Bruce Boudreau’s emphasizes as a coach and is credited with a large chunk of the Wild’s consistent success earlier this season. The Wild have the 8th lowest Goals Against Average (GAA) in the NHL, at only 2.5. During the month of March, however, the Wild have jumped up to a 3.2 GAA. That would be the second worst GAA in the NHL, better than the Avalanche’s 3.36 but worse than the Arizona Coyote’s 3.18. The Wild also have an 82% penalty kill throughout the season, but during the month of March have dipped down to 76%, including a game yesterday where the Capitals scored on 3 of 4 power plays. That would also be the second worst penalty kill percentage in the NHL, better than only the Dallas Stars’ 74%.
The most interesting thing about the collapse of the Wild’s defense is that they have a lower shots against per game during March (27.8) than their season average (30.2). That means the largest culprit for the Minnesota Wild’s defensive woes is sitting between the posts: starting goalie Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk has a .924 Save Percentage for the season, but in the month of March his save percentage dropped to .889. Applied to the Wild’s 30.2 Shots Against per game, that means Dubnyk is giving up 1.06 more goals per game, accounting for more than the total change in the Wild’s GAA. Dubnyk’s poor performance this month is also likely the reason the Wild recalled Goalie Alex Stalock from the AHL yesterday.
However, the losing streak is also the result of an extreme offensive slump by the Wild. Minnesota has the 3rd best scoring in the NHL, averaging 3.2 goals per game over the season. In March, that number has fallen precipitously to 2.33 goals per game. That would be the fifth worse in the NHL, and is largely caused by a slump in the Wild’s secondary goalscorers. Team goalscoring leaders Eric Staal (27) and Mikael Granlund (25) have been consistent throughout March, but virtually every other goalscorer has fallen off. Left Winger Jason Zucker, the third highest scorer on the team, has scored only 1 goal in the last 14 games. Right Winger Nino Niederreiter, who has 20 goals in the season, has also scored only 1 goal in the last 20 games. According to the Star Tribune, 15 Wild skaters are in a scoring slump of some kind, which has turned Minnesota’s offense from one of the best in the league to one of the worst.
The Wild will have a couple more chances to prove themselves before the playoffs start, as they play the Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators next. After that, the Wild will cruise to the playoffs with games against the Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, and 2 games against the Avalanche. The Wild will have to find a way to break their scoring slump and fix their goaltending situation before then, or they will be in for a rude awakening in the playoffs.
The Fourth String team