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On-Ice Review: 3-On-3 Produces Inconsistent Results

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Over the next few months, will take a closer look at some of the areas of the Minnesota Wild's 2015-16 season, from players, to systems, and everything between.

Of all the Minnesota Wild's strengths and deficiencies during the 2015-16 season, there was perhaps no trend harder to explain than its lack of success in the new three-on-three overtime format.

The Wild lost 11 games that went past regulation this season, nine of which were decided in the three-on-three. Of the 10 games Minnesota played that were decided in overtime, it won once. That's a 414-point drop in winning percentage from the Wild's pace in games decided in regulation.

So something was amiss, but the answer isn't as simple as, the Wild played that much worse.

In those overtime games, the Wild was cumulatively outshot 30-21. That's not a sterling mark, but also not a number that screams one victory in 10 tries. A minus-nine shot differential over the course of 10 games could amount to one shot per game. However it came to be, the discrepancy wasn't that substantial.

But also consider in the three games the Wild outshot its opponent in overtimes, and the one game it was tied in shots, it lost all four. The lone overtime win came in one of the six overtime periods the Wild's opponent totaled more shots on goal than Minnesota did.

Likewise, shot-attempts were not in the Wild's favor, but again, were a far cry from being tilted in a way that would be consistent with a 1-9 record. The Wild were out-attempted 41-29 in overtimes, and that accounts for all strengths.

The Wild was shorthanded three times in those overtimes, while not finding itself on any power plays. For the sake of getting the most accurate read of puck possession, the true, three-on-three shot-attempt totals in the Wild's overtimes were actually 30-29 in favor of Minnesota's opponents, or virtually even.

The shorthanded situations can't be completely thrown out, and two of the Wild's overtime losses came via power-play goals against. But to show that the Wild was virtually a possession-wash in three-on-three's, yet had a record nowhere near .500 is a red flag that something was just odd.

Scoring chances paint a similar picture, with Minnesota's opponents out-chancing the Wild 22-19 in overtimes when the games were at three-on-three (27-19 overall when including power plays). Nothing about any of these statistics really helps explain the Wild's futility when games got past regulation.

To score two goals on 21 shots would be a very effective mark in regulation, but in overtimes, or for three-on-three in general, is a bit lower.

And that goes hand-in-hand with what the Wild felt was a lack of finishing off quality chances in overtimes. In a loss against the Philadelphia Flyers in January, the Wild out-chanced Philadelphia 6-3, out-attempted the Flyers 6-5, and led in shots on goal in the overtime 5-4, yet it was Philadelphia that scored in the three-on-three.

"It's pretty hard to say that we should play that OT differently," Mike Yeo, the coach at the time, said in the postgame. "Obviously they scored a goal, but we dominated overtime, and then they scored one."

From a technical standpoint, there were elements specific to the overtime the Wild cited at times as holding it back. With so much skating done in those shifts, the Wild said it felt at times it needed to cut down its shift times, and better execute line changes.

The nature of the new three-on-three overtime is that more games will be decided because of increased scoring chances. That is to stay, to completely lock down an opponent defensively is something that won't happen, barring a very quick goal.

"We had the chances, and that’s been the theme for the majority of them," Zach Parise said after that loss to the Flyers. "We get three or four good looks, and we don't score. You're going to give up chances; that's just what three-on-three is. We've been on the losing end of it a little too much, or way too much. We haven't scored when we've had those rushes or those chances."

Whereas a lack of finishing chances but getting an even share of those chances will balance out over regulation, in overtime, a goal-against immediately ends the game.

It was a weird trend that befell the Wild, who left nine points on the table in games decided in the three-on-three. Even a .500 record would have seen Minnesota gain four points in the standings, a substantial raise.

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