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On-Ice Review: Wild Got Solid 5-On-5 Contributions

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.

Though it found itself near the bottom-third in the NHL in scoring, a stout defensive year saw the Wild finish 10th in five-on-five goal differential this season, an indication of some of the even-strength success the Wild was able to sustain.

Year-to-year, the Wild's even-strength scoring dipped, from 165 goals-for two seasons ago, to 139 in 2015-16.

A few likely culprits for the decline included a drop in shooting percentage (8.5 to 7.6) and lower puck possession numbers (a 51.4% score-adjusted shot-attempts percentage to 48.0%).

The shooting percentage is dramatic, and indicative of a lack of puck luck and ability to generate quality scoring chances; after averaging 26.3 scoring chances per game two seasons ago, the Wild was down to 23.7 this past season.

Having the puck less affords a team fewer opportunities to generate those chances, but other elements of the Wild's game contributed to this shift; going through stretches without controlled zone entries, an inconsistent net-front presence, and at times, a lack of shot volume.

There were stretches that saw certain lines click at even-strength, producing goals and creating puck possession all in one. The unit of Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, and Jason Zucker got off to a hot start. Likewise, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, and Thomas Vanek went through a scoring streak.

The Wild's third line, which got so much attention down the stretch for its defensive prowess, also had the better share of possession in its ice time, and got the requisite scoring and then some. As a line, in just over 200 minutes at even-strength, the trio of Niederreiter, Erik Haula, and Jason Pominville scored 12 times, while getting scored on three.

As a ratio, those numbers make sense, and are even a bit high: the line had a shot-attempts percentage of 52.1. To score 80 percent of all goals during its shifts is incredibly high.

Likewise, how frequently the line scored, amounting to roughly 3.5 even-strength goals-for per 60 minutes, is also very high. For context, the league's most effective 5-on-5 scorer this season, Alex Ovechkin, finished with 1.37 goals per 60 minutes. The Wild's third line scored at a higher rate than that of the Dallas Stars top unit of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Patrick Sharp.

With a large enough sample size, but still less time on ice together than the NHL's most common lines, the Wild's new third line finished 17th in the league in goals-for per 60 minutes.

Comparable lines based on 2015-16 goal production

forwards Goals-for/60 minutes total toi together
lehtera-schwartz-tarasenko 3.62 199
Hanzel-domi-duclair 3.57 218
Niederreiter-haula-pominville 3.44 209
seguin-sharp-benn 3.41 458
nash-brassard-zuccarello 3.29 347

Forward Charlie Coyle set career-highs in goals and even-strength goals, and from Dec. 21 to March 1, a 33-game span, he scored 13 times at even-strength, at times playing with Koivu, and others with Parise. Coyle finished second on the Wild with 16 even-strength goals, and in moments seemed to be able to produce at will.

Defenseman Ryan Suter was on the ice for more Wild even-strength goals-for (74) than any other skater, appreciably so. Jared Spurgeon (60) was the next closest. Suter was one of the Wild's biggest driving forces for even-strength offense this season, with Spurgeon, his defensive partner, right behind him. Suter was on the ice for over 53-percent of the Wild's five-on-five goals for this season.

The Wild's stinginess at even-strength is what landed it in the top-10 in the differential category. Allowing 128 five-on-five goals against, the Wild finished the fifth-best in the NHL in that mark.

Having a full season with Devan Dubnyk helped, but the Wild also were proficient in keeping teams to the outside and, not allowing shots to get through.

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