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Wild newcomer Devin Setoguchi( 10) battled with former Wild defenseman Cam Barker next to Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

WILD

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Wild's top line not filling the net

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO
  • Star Tribune
  • October 17, 2011 - 12:04 PM

The good news is the season is five games old and the Wild has picked up points in four without the much-ballyhooed first line exploding offensively.

The bad news is the season's five games old and the Wild's much-ballyhooed first line hasn't exploded offensively.

Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings, the Wild was pinned in its own zone for extended stretches. If the Wild was fortunate to escape, the puck was usually out of the offensive zone in a nanosecond.

The team desperately could have used the Devin Setoguchi-Mikko Koivu-Dany Heatley line to stop the bleeding.

However, not only couldn't the trio get anything going offensively, they showed frustration by turning pucks over and trying to do too many things individually.

"If you get frustrated, if you start to force things, if you lose your focus on the things you're supposed to do without the puck, then you just spiral into a deeper mess," coach Mike Yeo said after Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss.

"Those guys, they are battling hard. They're getting a few looks, but they're not getting as many looks because they want to help the team. They know that their job to help the team is to score goals. Right now they're more focused on the result of scoring the goal. Because of that, you force things, because of that you lose focus on other areas, and you lose opportunities to get to that part of your game."

In the preseason, when games weren't ramped up and they weren't facing shutdown defensemen such as Niklas Kronwall all game, the Wild's top line combined for seven goals and 12 assists in four games.

Since opening night, when Heatley and Setoguchi both scored in a victory over Columbus, the line has combined for one goal and two assists -- a Setoguchi power-play goal in Ottawa.

At even strength? Goose eggs. Against the Red Wings, the three combined for three shots.

"[Saturday] we didn't generate much because our line lacked support with our second guy on the forecheck and we only had one power play," Heatley said. "The first four games, we're happy with the chances we created. I don't think our numbers are great right now, but they could be. I think the chances were there the first four games where we could have had two or three or four [goals].

"Ottawa, Long Island, we could have won both those games on our chances alone."

Yeo said the first line's struggles against Detroit were emblematic of the team. For the first 10 minutes, the Wild held the mighty Red Wings to one shot. But slowly but surely, the Wild "did so many things to take ourselves out of the game and so many things to allow them to get to their game."

With Pittsburgh coming to town Tuesday, Yeo put the Wild through a "work day" Sunday. The Wild got itself into trouble against Detroit when it couldn't execute while tired.

"We'd be in our own zone for 30, 40 seconds. You can't then just get the puck and slap it around the wall, or you dig yourself a deeper hole," Yeo said. "You have to force yourself to move your feet, support the puck and get the puck out of bad situations so you can get fresh guys out on the ice.

"That's what today was about -- executing while tired. If you don't do it, then [the opponent] just keeps coming."

Yeo said the Wild must do a better job at helping the first line execute. If the Wild's continually chipping the puck out in order to make desperate line changes, the top line's routinely coming over the boards and already on its heels.

He's hoping Setoguchi and Heatley, who each had moments during Sunday's practice where they snapped their sticks in half, don't get frustrated.

"The only thing you worry about with guys like that is they put so much pressure on themselves to score goals and quite often things will get worse," Yeo said. "That's why guys can be so streaky. You think you have to score goals or you have to get two goals tonight to get on the pace you want to get on.

"Meanwhile, you're forgetting all the things you have to do to score goals. Like the team, you can't go into a game blind saying you want to win without taking the necessary steps to win that hockey game. Same thing for whether it's Heater or Seto or any player. If you want to score goals, you have to concentrate on what needs to be done to get those end results."

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