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On-Ice Review: How The Wild Fared Off The Rush

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Over the next few months, Wild.com 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.

When it comes to the Minnesota Wild's personnel, all the ingredients exist for a team that can be very effective in transition.

Consistently good defensively, with team speed and creative playmakers like Mikael Granlund and Mikko Koivu, not only does the Wild have the makeup of a good transition team, it's something built into its identity, and part of its strategy.

~ READ: FREEZE FRAME: ACTIVE DEFENSE BUOYS WILD SUCCESS ~

Add in a defense corps equally as speedy with a mind for the offensive, and the Wild, in stretches of 2015-16, showed how much of a weapon its rush game can be.

There were times the Wild needed reminding of that strategy, and in those instances, played at a decelerated pace, especially through sequences when it wanted to be going north instead of east or west.

Principally was a practice spent in Ottawa in mid-March on the heels of a season-saving winning streak when then interim Head Coach John Torchetti tried to take making level plays at the offensive blue line out of the Wild's lexicon.

When things weren't going the Wild's way, like in Game 1 of its first round Western Conference series against the Dallas Stars, a common trend was turning pucks over in the neutral zone or at the offensive blue line.

"Spending less time on your stick when we're in neutral zone transition going the other way offensively, not holding it for one or two handles, and dusting it, and looking at the logo," Torchetti said during that Dallas series. "We want to just get it and move it, or move it over and get it up, and get on our forecheck, and get moving. It's a big transition that way. Then your offense improves, and our puck possession improves, and then their scoring chances go down, and our scoring chances go up."

'The rush' isn't a concept specific to the Wild going end-to-end and generating shots on goal; there were times when the Wild tried to force play between the blue lines when it needed to adapt on the fly, and get pucks deep.

But most effective was Minnesota when it was able win pucks back in its own end via its defensive merit, carry with speed and control through neutral ice and into the offensive zone, and play that quick-strike game that doesn't give its opponents time to regroup defensively.

"One of the big things for our team is transitions, so when we can get going back on the other team, and catching them out there, it's huge for our offense," Spurgeon said. "We're just trying to play as fast as possible without making mistakes."

The other component of the transition elements of the game is the defensive side. Corsica.hockey hosts a stat called rush shots for (and against), which is defined as a shot, "taken within four seconds of uninterrupted game time of any event occurring in the defensive zone OR within four seconds of uninterrupted game time of any giveaway or takeaway."

The Wild finished 11th in the NHL with 156 rush shots against last season, meaning it did well.

Defenseman Ryan Suter was on the ice for most rush shots for according to Corsica of any Wild skater. Suter made a concerted effort to get more involved offensively this season, and did well in identifying defense-to-offense situations where he could complement Minnesota's up-ice transition.

Deploying Suter to the left of Jared Spurgeon this season was a tactical move made in part to free up space for Suter in the neutral zone, and afford him the chance to take those risks up ice and become a more offensively involved player.

"It just gives me better looks offensively, and in the neutral zone," Suter said of playing with Spurgeon early in the regular season. "It's been working well, and hopefully it continues."

The wrinkle worked all season and helped the Wild be a more effective team off the rush.

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