Amid a franchise-worst start for the Wild, a significant portion of the blame has been placed on a familiar problem: its lack of scoring prowess.
In its first three losses, the team was averaging just two goals a game – a tepid push that helps explain why it has yet to corral a win.
But after its latest slip, another trouble spot came into focus and it’s one that’s been lingering all along.
And that’s the miscues in its own end, a disconnect with the defense that was exposed in a 7-4 drubbing by the Penguins Saturday to spoil the Wild’s home opener at Xcel Energy Center.
“We work on defensive zone coverage every day,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s what I just finished saying in there. I said, ‘Look it, we’ve given up 21 goals in four games – for a team that takes a lot of pride since I’ve been here on being one of the better defensive teams for the most part.’ Today we finally got more than two goals, but goal scoring is not going to be our forte.”
What could help explain why the Wild has veered from this identity is the aforementioned goal shortage.
Because the team is struggling to produce, it’s getting caught looking for what Boudreau called “breaks” instead of working intelligently to create those opportunities.
Down 1-0, the Wild’s defensive posture was blown open by Penguins captain Sidney Crosby when he cruised in for a breakaway finish.
“This team, since I’ve been here, we’ve always [had] solid defensive-zone coverage,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “... I think we need to fix that, obviously. I think we need to win games right now 1-0, 2-0. That’s got to be our mindset, our mentality going into the game. The goals will come if we bear down defensively and play the way we’re supposed to play in our zone. Everything else usually takes care of itself.”
Tightening up in its own end won’t be the only priority as the Wild embarks on a three-game road trip next week through Eastern Canada.
Goals against have come in succession in each of the team’s four losses, a costly trend.
Pittsburgh reclaimed control of the game Saturday when it scored three in 2 minutes, 28 seconds. Two of those came off what Boudreau described as bad rebounds from goalie Devan Dubnyk.
“It's just tough right now because one goal goes in then it seems like when a team gets two goals ahead of us, we get a little bit more negative and get down and that's something that we need to stop,” winger Marcus Foligno said.
Also, more worker-bee goals are needed.
The first Wild tally was a deflection, and defenseman Jared Spurgeon had the second by pinching in deep.
“You see the guys that are getting chances are just working,” Spurgeon said. “That's all you have to do is work and be simple and things will come. I think we hope it's going to be easier than it is, and that's not the way it works.”
The best examples of this style are Foligno and winger Ryan Hartman.
Boudreau said both were the best Wild players Saturday, and they were recognized for their efforts by being on the ice late in the game as the Wild vied to pull closer with its net empty.
“They deserved to be out there,” Boudreau said. “That’s what it’s gotta be. It’s gotta be a reward system. This theme of all in only works if everybody’s all in for the right reason. That’s what it’s gotta be or we won’t be successful.”