PITTSBURGH — If the Minnesota Wild, currently sitting on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, end up missing the postseason they can probably point the finger at their awful record away from the Xcel Energy Center.
Following their 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night, a game that was not anywhere near as close as the final score (“We got killed. We got outplayed in every facet of the game,” said an obviously disappointed Bruce Boudreau after the game) the Wild are now just 9-14-1 on the road this season, one of the worst marks in the NHL.
This is the same team that is one of the best teams in the league on home with a 17-4-4 record. It is the same team that was one of the best teams in the league a year ago on the road, finishing 22-13-6.
What changed, and what is behind the sudden struggles this season, was something a lot of Wild players were asked about on Thursday night.
“I don’t have the answer,” said forward Zach Parise. “I don’t know if there is something we are doing differently at home … there shouldn’t be.”
“It’s hard to put a finger on it,” said Boudreau. “We’re one of the best teams at home and one of the worst teams on the road. We have to find a way to get the road side better because we have some tough road buildings to go to and we can’t afford to go in like this.”
Starting goalie Devan Dubnyk, who was mercifully pulled after being left out on an island by his teammates through the first half of Thursday’s game, tried to go into a little more detail and talked about needing to keep things simple early in games.
“I just think we have to be a little bit more simple, especially at the start of games,” said Dubnyk.
“There are a lot of teams that are good in their own building that are going to give you a good push at the drop of the puck and sometimes you have to embrace that and just play simple. Let them come at you, stay simple, get to your game. When you try to do to much and turn pucks over that is when it starts to feel out of control. You just have to keep it as simple as you can until you start to feel good and I don’t think we have done a good job at that.”
He continued: “When you start to turn pucks over and everybody is discombobulated, that is how it feels, it starts to feel hectic for everybody, from the front to the back. The reason we are a great hockey team when we are is because everybody plays together as a unit. When that starts to get twisted up, it starts to feel out of control for everybody, and that’s when things start to open up. We just have to stick together and be more simple on the road until we start to feel good about it.”
Let’s try to look at this objectively and see if there is actually any sort of significant difference in their actual performance beyond just the record.
Are the Wild really that good at home? Are they really that bad on the road? Let’s figure it out!
Some numbers. The table below looks at the Wild’s home and road records, Corsi percentage, even-strength scoring chance percentage, even-strength goal differential, shots for and and against totals, and their special teams marks.
A few things to unpack here.
— First, from a possession standpoint there isn’t much difference between the Wild at home versus on the road — they are bad no matter where they play.
Their home Corsi percentage is the second-worst mark in the NHL and their road Corsi percentage is the absolute worst. That is not a great sign, and seems to suggest that the issue isn’t necessarily that the Wild are *bad* on the road, but perhaps that they are actually little lucky at home.
— I don’t really believe in home/road power play or penalty kill splits because, well, that’s one area where home/road shouldn’t really make much of a difference because you’re not playing a matchup game, so having the last change doesn’t really matter, and the systems really should not be all that different.
The Wild’s power play is virtually identical no matter what building they play in. There is an extreme difference in the penalty kill, however. But perhaps more interesting than that is that the Wild’s penalty kill gets put to use A LOT more on the road than it does at home. So far this season the Wild have been shorthanded 103 times in 24 road games, versus only 78 times in 25 home games. That is an additional penalty kill per game and is one of the biggest home/road differentials in the league.
— The fact they take so many more penalties on the road, as well as the big swing in their scoring chance data, as well as the fact they are giving up close to five additional shots per game on the road, would seem to back up Dubnyk’s point about not keeping things simple on the road and allowing things to get opened up more than they should. That certainly happened on Thursday because as Boudreau accurately pointed out after the game it seemed as if the Penguins were getting an odd-man rush on every shift.
This is odd, because the conventional wisdom about NHL teams is that they are more likely to play a simpler game on the road than they are at home because there isn’t as much pressure to “put on a show” for the home crowd.
So what do we make of this if you’re a Wild fan? Well, the team does need to be better on the road because there is not much about its performance that is anything close to good. The problem is their home mark is probably a bit misleading and, if anything, there is reason to believe that it could potentially tank in the second half if they do not improve there, too. That is not to say that it will tank, but teams that lose the territorial battle the way the Wild do — regardless of venue — do not typically have a lot of sustained success.
The big question for the Wild shouldn’t be how do they get better on the road, but how do they get better no matter where they play. Period.