In case you don’t recall, the Minnesota Wild got off to a hot start this season. By November 19th, they were first place in the NHL and at or near the top spot in the league for a full month. After 30 games, the Wild had a sterling 20-7-3 record and their fans were justifiably thrilled.
What reasons were given for the unexpected success? New coach Mike Yeo had a history with the players from his time in the AHL and had them buying in to a new system and a culture of winning. This system focussed on blocking shots and making sure that what shots did get through were from the outside and easy to see for their goaltenders. The team was working hard and working for each other. The Church of Yeo was accepting new converts daily (sorry, Ms. Conduct).
The proponents of advanced statistics said that was all horse-twaddle.
Gabriel Desjardins started the parade-raining before the Wild even hit first place, pointing out that their shot totals at even-strength weren’t substantially different than their previous season, when they finished 12th in the West. Derek Zona continued the assault with an in-depth look at their underlying possession statistics, which not only didn’t paint a rosy picture, but also labelled the Wild as the worst team in the entire league at puck possession. Even I chipped in, pointing out how often the Wild started shifts in the defensive zone as compared to the offensive zone.
The golden statistic for most advanced stat lovers early in the season is Fenwick Tied. A team’s Fenwick number is basically just their shot differential at even-strength, including goals, shots on net, and missed shots. “Tied” indicates that the statistic is only looking at shots when the score is tied, because teams tend to attempt more shots when they’re losing and allow more shots when they’re winning.
The reason Fenwick Tied gets so much attention is that it has been shown to be a very good indicator of future success (or failure). Teams with terrible Fenwick Tied numbers tend to lose more games as the season goes on and the Minnesota Wild had the worst Fenwick Tied number in the entire league. Considering they were first in the NHL at the time, pretty much every single hockey blogger outside of Minnesota said that the Wild were due for a fall.
To sum up: the Wild were getting lucky and were bound for regression to the mean, which is just a fancy way of saying that the Wild were going to start losing games. A lot of games.
Now, no fan of a team wants to hear that their team is terrible. Fans tend to get a bit defensive about such things and when said team happens to have first place in the NHL in their corner, they tend to fire back with both barrels. Over at Hockey Wilderness, SB Nation’s Minnesota Wild blog, “regression” became a punchline and they began a series of joke power rankings to poke fun at the Wild’s low ranking throughout the league despite their position at the top of the standings.
Then the regression actually happened and it wasn’t so funny any more.
When the Minnesota Wild experienced their first big losing streak in December, it was easy for Wild fans to point at the team’s injury troubles and excuse the slide on that basis. But the team hasn’t won more than 2 games in a row since December 10th. On Sunday, they managed to halt a 7-game losing streak with a victory over the Boston Bruins and now have a 26-24-9 record.
The Wild won 20 of their first 30 games. Unless they win tonight against the Panthers, they’ll have won just 6 of their last 30 games. They went from 1st in the league to 21st in just 53 days. Over at Hockey Wilderness, they’re not joking about regression anymore. Now they’re talking about how high their draft pick will be. Poor Ms. Conduct has stopped worshipping at the Church of Yeo and has turned to Zen Buddhism.
The collapse is so complete that there’s nothing satisfying about saying, “See, we were right all along.” The Wild have been even worse than the stat-heads imagined. It’s not fun to kick someone when they’re down, especially when they’re as far down as they are right now. It’s just sad, awkward, and mean.
There is at least one positive for the Wild: they’re no longer the worst puck possession team in the NHL at even-strength. No sirree. They’re second-worst.
Most of the teams near the bottom of the Fenwick Tied rankings are teams in a similar position to the Wild: out of the playoffs or struggling on the bubble. The one exception is the only team below the Wild: the Nashville Predators. The Predators are currently sitting 5th in the Western Conference and are 10 points clear of the 8th place Los Angeles Kings. They actually have 7 more points than the 3rd place San Jose Sharks, who are in first place in the Pacific Division.
The Predators have an impressive 35-19-6 record and a plus-13 goal differential, while boasting one of the lowest payrolls in the league. It just makes me want to throw the Jack Adams at Barry Trotz and be done with it, but there’s the troubling issue of their puck possession statistics at even-strength. How in the world are they so comfortably in a playoff spot when their Fenwick Tied is literally last in the league?
Nashvile Predators Possession
|Fenwick Tied Home||44.65||30th|
|Fenwick Tied Road||43.91||29th|
|Fenwick Up 2||46.32||8th|
|Fenwick Up 1||42.33||25th|
|Fenwick Down 2||55.23||19th|
|Fenwick Down 1||47.80||30th|
The only thing I can point to is the Nashville powerplay, which is second in the league at 21.7%. Combine that with the solid goaltending of Pekka Rinne and you have a formula for a lot of close games. The Predators have been fortunate to win a lot of those games and have an 18-8 record in games decided by 2 goals or less. They are also second in the league in empty net goals, which has helped them seal victories in tight games.
Is it just luck and a great powerplay? Are the Predators due for a fall? How good will Pekka Rinne need to be to give Nashville a long playoff run?