For all the things that went wrong for the Minnesota Wild in the second half of last season, one thing that they still did (relatively) well was kill penalties. They finished the year with the league’s 15th-ranked PK at 82.1%–let’s face it, when you’re at the bottom of the barrel for most offensive stats, middle of the pack is a ray of sunshine.
However, a look inside the numbers always provides some interesting findings, and the Wild’s shorthanded performance is no different. At home,the club had the league’s fifth-best PK rate, at an impressive 85.6%, while on the road they killed off only 79.1% of penalties, good for 23rd in the NHL.
Generally, in hockey there isn’t too much of a home ice advantage, but I think that penalty killing is one area where a team can get rattled on the road. The opposing fans get extra loud when their team gets a power play, and proper PK play is all about discipline and staying in position. The Wild, with all their young players that got called up from the AHL last year, sure look like they showed their youth on the road PK.
Of course, when the teams finally get out there to play again, the Wild will have a much-improved roster to work with. But even prior to the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, Minnesota has a number of great two-way players or PK specialists. Darrol Powe and Kyle Brodziak are underrated by a lot of people but they are exceptional on the shorthanded unit, and of course Mikko Koivu, Parise, and Suter are fantastic two-way players. I don’t see Mikael Granlund factoring in on the PK this year, but with his skating ability and hockey sense, he may develop into a good penalty killer. What the Wild really need are for their young defensemen to develop into good two-way players or penalty kill specialists. Clayton Stoner and Marco Scandella in particular could blossom into that type of player, and though Matt Dumba is still a couple years away from the Show, he has a lot of promise as a two-way defender.
Here’s how I see the Wild penalty kill shaping up this year:
First unit- Koivu, Parise, Suter, Gilbert
Second unit- Brodziak, Powe, Stoner, Scandella
A more balanced approach would be to move Powe to the first unit (he really is that good when shorthanded,) which would allow Parise to skate with Brodziak. Any of those combinations would provide a great PK core that the club could depend on both at home and on the road, which would go a long way toward propelling the Wild back into the playoffs.