The Wild are 3-5-2 this season, including 0-3-1 in their last four games after a 5-3 loss to New Jersey on Thursday.
The eye test and a deeper dive into the numbers lead to a conclusion about that rough start that is either sobering or encouraging, depending your perspective: In identifying problems, it hasn't been one thing. It's been just about everything.
Many of the issues are related, which at least gives rise to the idea that an overall correction can lead to improvement in a lot of specific areas. But it also means there is a lot of blame to go around, as I talked about on Friday's Daily Delivery podcast.
Goaltending: The Wild have allowed 42 goals (in 10 games) this season, the second-most in the NHL behind San Jose. Last year the Wild were tied for second-fewest goals allowed in the West and seventh-fewest in the NHL. That's a huge difference, and as the last line of defense goaltenders sometimes get a disproportionate amount of blame when pucks wind up in the net.
Let's give Filip Gustavsson and Marc-Andre Fleury a proper share of the blame. They have been bad, and one key stat confirms it: expected goals. Circumstances and shot quality suggest the Wild should have given up 33 goals so far this year. That they've given up nine more in 10 games is a direct result of subpar play from their goalies. Compare it to last year, when they allowed about 20 fewer goals than expected, and it's a huge swing.
Defense: But goaltending isn't solely to blame. Again, using expected goals, the Wild should be giving up about 3.3 goals per game — compared to 2.9 per game last season. They have clearly missed the departed Matt Dumba and injured Jared Spurgeon. Their forwards have also been leaky in defensive zone coverage at key moments. The defending has been worse than last year, and the goaltending has been poor behind it. That's a bad combination.
Special teams: Here's where the "but the Wild have been OK in 5-on-5 situations" crowd wants to have a word. The Wild is being outscored just 26-25 when both they and their opponent are at full strength — not great, but yes, better than they are overall.
But guess what? Special teams are a big part of hockey. Just see any number of early Wild playoff exits in recent years. Only focusing on 5-on-5 is like saying "I did a good job eating healthy food on Thursday, except for the six miniature Krackel candy bars left over from Halloween that I consumed throughout the day." (Note: Hypothetically, um, speaking).
The Wild have allowed 12 power play goals this season, tied for most in the league, while scoring just six. They've scored and allowed two shorthanded goals, respectively. That's an overall special teams gap of six goals through 10 games. In other words: unacceptable.
Top line: The Wild's overall and 5-on-5 offensive output would look better if its top line was producing. Instead, it's been sporadic at best — enough so that the line of Kirill Kaprizov, Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello was broken up in Thursday's game.
The slow start for Kaprizov (three goals, mediocre two-way play, minus-5 for the season) is particularly alarming and damaging.
He's delivered just three hits in 10 games this season after averaging about a hit per game each of the last two years. Kaprizov just doesn't seem to have the same juice he's had in the past — a hard-to-define quality that nevertheless has been evident in several moments, including an extremely casual missed shootout attempt against Washington.
Management/coaching: When problems are so widespread, it's natural to take a harder look at roster construction and how players are being deployed. I still think Bill Guerin is doing a good job and that the Zach Parise/Ryan Suter buyouts were the right decision, but it's also fair to question the wisdom of extending Gustavsson, Hartman and Marcus Foligno — diminishing salary flexibility, at least in the short term, and locking in a roster that probably overachieved last year.
Evason is drawing more of the direct ire of fans in the wake of the Wild's slow start, with some of the more vocal ones calling for him to be fired. That seems drastic and unlikely after 10 games, but given the overall nature of the Wild's struggles his status bears watching if the slump becomes a longer trend.
But the season-to-date is a very small sample size, magnified by it happening at the start of a year. If you'll recall, the Wild went through a similar lull to start last season. They lost their first three games and allowed 20 goals in the process. Through 17 games, they were just 7-8-2.
The rest of the way, they found their identity (lockdown team defense, solid goaltending and transition offense) and went 39-17-9 over their final 65 games before a competitive but ultimately disappointing six-game loss to Dallas in the playoffs.
At full strength, this Wild team shouldn't be much different from that one. When (or if) they will start playing that way, though, remains to be seen.