But how much of an impact has the coaching change, and a new system, had on the team, especially defensively?
Let's rewind back to the offseason when I spoke with Chris Snow, the team's director of hockey operations.
At the time, I asked Snow about the play of goaltender Niklas Backstrom and how much of his success was a result of Backstrom's ability as a top-tier goaltender, and how much was a result of the defensive-minded system Minnesota played under Lemaire. Snow insisted it was a combination of the two: Backstrom's an elite goaltender, and, of course, a defensive system is going to be an asset for any goaltender. That's just reality.
But here's the comment that stood out to me:
"We'd gladly give up chances from the outside because they're low percentage chances," he continued. "So we wouldn't overpursue, we wouldn't chase guys out to the boards because Jacques didn't want a breakdown in what would be a high-percentage scoring area. If you look at the number of shots teams give up, and where they give them up, you can kind of see how that team is coaching defensively. So that was a function of the way we were coached. And I would expect where we give up goals from will be different this year because we have a different coach."
The bold sentences at the end are what I'd like to focus on. Shortly after that interview ran, Gabriel Desjardins (whom we've also discussed hockey statistics with) at Puck Prospectus took a detailed look at where Minnesota was giving up shots from, and how it compared to the rest of the league. It pretty much confirmed what Snow said to me: they didn't let teams penetrate within "the box."
Having said all of that, I wanted to take a look at Minnesota's first eight games this season and where it was giving up goals from compared to the first eight games of last season.
First, some simple raw numbers.
Obviously, the shot numbers are identical, but the goal totals are very, very different.
So what's the issue? Let's start by taking a look at where the Wild are -- and were -- giving up goals from.
It's important to keep in mind that this was put together using NHL.com's gamecenter, as well as my own observations on video, so there's obviously some margin for error (but hopefully not a lot).
Some observations and thoughts
-- The biggest thing to consider at this point is that this is a very small sample size of data. We're talking about the first eight games of an 82-game schedule. We obviously can't draw any rock-solid, final conclusions at this point. Still, it might be something to keep an eye out as the season progresses if you're a Wild fan (especially if the team continues to give up a lot of goals and lose a lot of games).
-- Looking at the 2009-10 chart compared to the 2008-09 chart, there's not only more goals allowed on it, but there's also more goals being scored from between the faceoff dots and in the slot. That's obviously where most goals get scored from, and it's also the area Minnesota didn't let teams penetrate under Lemaire. After all, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding have been near the top of the league in terms of expected save percentage the past two seasons. That might be changing.
-- This isn't meant to imply that Todd Richards is a bad head coach, or the wrong head coach for Minnesota, or that the Wild is a bad team with a bad system (at least that's not what I'm trying to imply - I think the Wild are better than this, and will ultimately prove to be better than their 2-6 start); it's just that Richards is a different coach, with a different system, and it's obviously going to lead to different results on the ice.
(Special thanks to my FanHouse colleague Ryan Wilson for creating the fancy charts)