Take a gander at the NHL team statistics one month into this season, and you’ll notice the Wild is upside down compared to its identity.
The Wild has the NHL’s fifth-best offense, scoring 3.18 goals per game, and 11th-best power play at 21.6 percent. But defensively, the Wild ranks 21st at 2.91 goals allowed per game and 24th on the penalty kill (76 percent).
“We’ve worked awfully hard to try to become a better offensive team, and that’s helped get us through some of our areas that haven’t been good enough [this season],” coach Mike Yeo said. “It’s also helped contribute to some of the reasons why we’re not as strong [defensively].
“You have to live with a little risk and live with some mistakes, but at the same time we have to prove that we’re getting better.”
The Wild has always has been exceptional defensively under Yeo and assistant coach Rick Wilson. This is their fifth year together, although for the first time assistant coach Darryl Sydor, on leave after his DUI arrest in August, isn’t at their side.
Without the puck, other than the Wild’s third forward high in the offensive zone occasionally being out of position, Yeo likes what the Wild is doing. He says most the scoring chances against are coming because of erratic puck management that must improve.
Yeo feels the Wild is trending in the right direction. It has allowed the sixth-fewest shots per game in the NHL (27.4), and puck possession stats have gotten better.
“I feel like we’re getting there, but it’s as much a mentality as anything,” Yeo said. “We’re trying to be aggressive and push it the limit as far as possible without getting careless, and that’s not an easy thing to do.”
Some of the increased goals against has to do with inconsistent goaltending. Darcy Kuemper was yanked in Winnipeg, and despite Devan Dubnyk’s 7-2-1 record, he has a 2.59 goals-against average and .898 save percentage. That is well below the high standard Dubnyk set for himself last season, and he seemed to show his frustration Saturday night when he twice smacked his stick as he departed St. Louis’ ice after David Backes’ overtime winner.
“What I love is we can all say that Duby hasn’t been at his best, but what I can say is when he’s needed to be at his best … closing out games, he’s been his best,” Yeo said. “We can look at his goals-against average and save percentage, but one thing I always put first is wins and losses, and he’s doing pretty well in that regard.”
Defenseman Matt Dumba has played less than 13 minutes a game in each of the past two games. One reason is he has been off the power play the past six games.
“Losing the power play, that was for him to get his game back in order,” Yeo said. “He’s showing some signs, but this is not going to be something that’s just going to happen overnight. You’re not just going to have one good shift and all of a sudden you’re back. You’re not going to have one good game and all of a sudden you’re back.
“I do feel like he’s building back in the right direction.”
Defenseman Christian Folin has been scratched three consecutive games. Yeo said the Wild has not determined Thursday’s lineup against Nashville, but he acknowledged that if Folin continues to be scratched, it may make sense to assign him to AHL Iowa so he could play some games.
Folin would make his full $725,000 NHL salary in Iowa, but he doesn’t require waivers to get there, and the Wild would save some salary-cap space.
“We don’t want him sitting around not playing for long periods of time, so if the same group is going, then yes, maybe that’s something we have to consider,” Yeo said. “But we also have to consider getting him back in here. He did not come out based on his play, so we would like to get him back in soon.”