The Wild finished dead last in the NHL in goals last season, which was attributed to injuries, talent deficiencies and growing pains in a new system under first-year coach Mike Yeo.
Scoring, we were told, would not be an issue this season, though. Not after the team spent $196 million to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, unveiled Finnish rookie Mikael Granlund and welcomed back Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Everyone associated with team raved about its offensive firepower and overall depth.
In fact, a young, inexperienced blue line represented the only real concern as the Wild prepared for a season unlike any other in its existence. But as the season nears its quarter pole -- wait, didn't the season just start? -- the Wild offense looks a lot like the one from last season. Not much there.
Only one NHL team has scored fewer goals than the Wild's 21. To put that in further context, the Tampa Bay Lightning has scored twice as many goals -- 42 -- in the same number of games.
The Wild's goal-scoring average (2.10) is only slighter better than last season's output (2.02), and that trumps every other factor that has contributed to the team's unsatisfactory start. Yes, the defensive corps lacks consistency and the goaltenders look lost, but the Wild can't survive scoring two goals a game. This collection should be better than that.
"We've got a lot of guys, myself included, that are in a bit of slump right now," Dany Heatley said. "When everyone is not scoring, it's magnified. If you're winning games, you tend to overlook some of the guys who aren't scoring."
With the exception of Parise, everybody falls into that camp. Parise has been as good as advertised, leading the team in goals (six), points (10) and shots (42). He can't do it alone, though.
Yeo has tried everything short of Jedi mind tricks to get his offense on track. He juggled line combinations in practice and games, which he plans to do again Saturday against Nashville. He demoted players to the fourth line, challenged them privately, delivered messages through the media and even scratched Granlund on Thursday.
"We're trying to do everything we can to find the right solution, whether it's to spark guys or find the right mix," Yeo said. "Usually there's a method to the madness too. We're not just trying catch lightning in a bottle here. We want to make sure we put something together that we feel can work more than just in the short term."
So what's the problem? Yeo and General Manager Chuck Fletcher attempted the lower the temperature by reiterating that building chemistry is a process and that the lockout stripped teams of valuable bonding time in training camp. That reasoning is understandable, to a point. Yes, the Wild has some new pieces in key roles, but every team faced the same set of circumstances. And most of the guys who are struggling were here last season and should be comfortable with each other and Yeo's system.
Kyle Brodziak scored a career-high 22 goals last season. He has no goals and one assist in 10 games this season. Veterans Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck and Bouchard have combined for only four goals and seven assists. It's time for them to pick up the slack.
Both Fletcher and Yeo praised Setoguchi's recent play and noted his scoring chances. That's important, but the Wild also needs finishers because this roster just isn't blessed with many natural goal scorers, guys who can put the puck in the net regardless of the system or circumstance. Parise outworks people for goals, and Heatley was a sniper in his younger days. But who else?
Several people at different levels of the organization took exception with the notion that Yeo's system is too restrictive and doesn't give players the freedom to make plays. They argued that every team employs some form of dump-and-chase style and that Wild just needs to get more pucks on net.
Whatever the case, the Wild doesn't look like a confident bunch with the puck. It looks like a group of guys pressing to make plays, trying to score a hat trick on one shift. Yeo described his players as "mentally fragile" on offense after Thursday's loss, though he expressed confidence that they will snap out of it and eventually start scoring goals.
"I think sometimes we're trying to be too cute instead of just letting it rip and shoot the puck," Heatley said.
That seems like a reasonable idea. Now would be a good time to start.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org