Chicago – At the last two NHL trading deadlines, desperate to improve their scoring and depth, the Wild dealt two prospects, a first-round draft pick and three second-rounders for two veteran forwards.
The Wild brought in Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson to score goals. In these playoffs, each has managed to produce a goal. The Wild was hoping for something in a plural.
“I talked to both of those guys today,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said Saturday.
Yeo sees both players pressing, with different results.
“That for me was maybe Pommer’s best game that he’s played in the playoffs,” Yeo said of Game 1. “I had him involved in seven scoring chances himself. There’s a couple one-timers, a couple shots that are a little bit off, and quite often you see that with players that are pressing.”
And Moulson? “Similarly I think when you start to press and you start to feel that, you have to make sure that you’re able to push that aside and focus on the things that you need to do in order to make it happen,” Yeo said.
Pominville has scored one goal in eight playoff games. He hit the post in overtime of Game 1 of the first-round series against Colorado. Most of his shots have sailed wide. Although he has proved an effective passer, producing five assists in this postseason, he has yet to justify the Wild’s investment in him during the playoffs.
Moulson has scored one goal in eight playoff games. While Pominville has contributed in other ways, Moulson often has looked slow and ineffective anywhere on the ice other than in front of the opponent’s net. He has been less productive than Pominville, at a lower price. He has produced only one assist.
Sunday, the Wild will face the Blackhawks in Game 2 of the second round. In Game 1, the Wild often dominated puck possession, especially in the second period, and ended a 5-2 loss with a 32-22 advantage in shots. The difference between the teams in Game 1 was Chicago’s ability to capitalize on scoring opportunities rather than being tormented by them.
With Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews often shadowing Wild star Zach Parise, the Wild likely will have to generate scoring from other sources. Pominville and Moulson will have to be two of those sources if the Wild hope to challenge Chicago.
“We’re getting looks,” Pominville said. “If you get opportunities, you’re going to find a way to get bounces.”
That’s a comforting theory, one parroted by just about every hockey team that ever has lost a game, but it’s not necessarily true. The Blackhawks scored two beautiful goals in Game 1, on Patrick Kane’s spectacular backhander and on a deft pass from Brandon Saad to Marian Hossa for a backdoor tap-in. They didn’t require quantity to produce quality.
The Wild is emphasizing the importance of scoring ugly goals, but General Manager Chuck Fletcher traded for Pominville and Moulson in the hopes of the occasional frame-worthy moment.
Moulson has hit the post at least twice during the postseason. “I had some unlucky bounces, but it’s something you just can’t worry about,” Moulson said. “You have to make sure you’re doing the little things well and play hard and be hard to play against. You always say the percentages have to swing in your favor at some point.”
During Fletcher’s five years running the Wild, he has thrown every asset available to him — whether owner Craig Leipold’s money, or draft choices, or prospects, or NHL players — at the forward position.
After inheriting a weak roster, he has acquired forwards Parise, Dany Heatley, Pominville, Moulson, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Nino Niederreiter while hoping that veteran Niklas Backstrom could last into athletic middle age as his starting goalie.
With Backstrom out and Ilya Bryzgalov trying to keep opponents to single-digit goals each game, the Wild will have to outscore the talented Blackhawks. That probably won’t happen with Pominville and Moulson each scoring fewer goals than Marco Scandella.