Thursday, November 25, 2010

Objects In Mirror Closer Than They Appear

Wild trending toward familiar spot in draft lottery

At first glance, the Minnesota Wild’s 10-8-2 record appears palatable considering their proximity (two points as of Thanksgiving Day) to the eighth and final playoff spot. But it’s not nearly that simple.

That record has been built on a foundation of good fortune and good—at times, great—goaltending which is showing all the signs of crumbling under the weight of a massive structure of physical and mental errors for which the coaching staff seemingly has no answers.

Turnovers, poor coverage, and lack of skill—or will in the case of some players—have resulted in an abuse of what has so far been strong play in goal by Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore. Minnesota’s goaltenders have faced in excess of 30 shots in 13 of 20 games thus far and to expect them to maintain their high level of play is a lot to ask considering the quality of shots to which each has been subjected.

In 20 games, Minnesota has been outshot 19 times and the margins have not been close. In its past three games against the Red Wings, Rangers, and Flyers, Minnesota has been outshot by a cumulative 102-71 including 47-10 in second periods alone.

Wednesday’s 6-1 loss at home to the Philadelphia was a microcosm of Minnesota’s problems all season. A first-period power play resulted in no shots on goal as Wild players seemed satisfied to play a game of around-the-horn with the puck. It’s been a season of shots not taken in lieu of making that one extra pass which, of course, results in a turnover.

But the Wild’s shooting woes are a not only a function of quantity but also of quality. “We had a couple [of] two-on-ones and don’t execute, don’t get shots,” lamented Wild coach Todd Richards after the loss to Philadelphia. “Going by the official stats we had 17 missed shots tonight.”

“You have to put pucks on net,” added Richards. “You’ve got no chance of scoring if you’re shooting it wide.”

Making matters worse was the fact that many of the missed shots Minnesota fired toward Bobrovsky were released from high-percentage scoring areas. This team is not skilled enough offensively to waste opportunities the way it does night after night. I suppose that’s the point, though; they’re not good enough to bury them either.

But shooting issues and the correlating dearth of scoring are only magnified when combined with a penchant for puck giveaways and positional problems. The Flyers currently have the NHL’s best record making them difficult to beat on a team’s best night much less one when they are the beneficiary of the many gifts Minnesota was willing to present on Wednesday.

"We knew there were some things we had to tighten up on and get better at," said Wild RW Cal Clutterbuck. "Even when we were winning games we were getting out-shot and said this stuff was going to come back and bite us sooner or later. We've just got to take care of the puck. It comes down to that."

A frustrated Wild C John Madden talked after the game about Minnesota’s poor puck care and lack of focus at times. “It’s kind of the trend right now,” said Madden.

Brent Burns and Cam Barker turnovers along with coverage breakdowns by Antti Miettinen and Madden all directly resulted in pucks in the Wild net. The two most crucial were Miettinen’s mental error leaving Daniel Briere open to put the Flyers up 3-1 in the final minute of the second and Barker’s giveaway leading to Andreas Nodl’s shorthanded breakaway for a 4-1 margin in the third.

 “If we happen to score a goal [on the power play], it’s a one-goal game and you’ve got 12 minutes of hockey left,” said Richards. “They scored the shorthanded goal and that was the backbreaker.”

“We’ve got to be a lot better in a lot of areas. A lot of the goals we just kind of handed to them to be honest with you,” said Madden who was minus-3 on the night. “Myself included; I’ve got to be better on certain things and I’m not pointing fingers by any stretch.”

“If you watch the game over again, you’ll see a lot of their goals were kind of just mistakes on our part, not necessarily great plays on their part.”

Thanks, John, but no thanks. Once is enough for that debacle.

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