Confidence, hope all but gone

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2011 - 8:36 AM

The Wild played better than it did in Sunday's drubbing by Montreal, but its losing streak stretched to seven games.

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The Wild lacks "confidence" right now.

If its 0-6-1 slide and soon-to-be early offseason hasn't proven that to you, listen to Wild coach Todd Richards tell you so after Tuesday's 3-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Xcel Energy Center.

Richards used the word "confidence" 14 times in a 6 1/2 minute news conference. He used the word as an adjective, noun, adverb -- maybe even once as a pronoun.

"We were talking early on this year what the problem was and [the] confidence," Richards said. "And then you have confidence, and you're winning games and scoring goals and defending. And confidence right now, we're getting chances, we're getting looks and not being able to finish."

Most questions, Richards went back to "the confidence issue." He wasn't the only one.

Several players used the "c" word an abundance of times after the loss, so much so that the Wild might have to investigate Tony Robbins' appearance fee.

The Wild has become a fragile, fragile team, one that might have to take a small consolation from not getting sliced and diced by Toronto the way it did by Montreal on Sunday.

Hey, when you're buried in an abyss as deep and dark as the Wild, it's the little things to take solace in.

"Everybody wants to win badly," said Matt Cullen. "Everybody's working their tails off and we want to win. At times, you can squeeze the stick a little bit and play tight."

The objective Tuesday was to get back to playing like a cohesive group, one that trusted each other and didn't play chaotically like a bunch of lone rangers.

From that standpoint, the Wild took baby steps, outshooting Toronto 29-17. There were forechecks and scoring chances.

But again, the Western Conference's second-lowest scoring team just couldn't finish, and rookie James Reimer recorded a 29-save shutout.

Because the Wild struck out on three breakaways and one other one-on-one chance, its winless streak reached seven, the longest drought since the Wild went 0-4-3 in 2004.

And when you're a team that can't score, it doesn't help when you keep giving up the game's first goal.

The Wild, 8-29-4 when the other team strikes first, has been scored upon first in each game of the seven-game slide and in 11 of the past 12 games. In each of the Wild's 19 losses since Jan. 2, it gave up the first goal.

"It's giving up the goal early in the game too," Richards said of Joffrey Lupul scoring a minute and 39 seconds in, continuing a recent trend. "It's not being able to get into the flow of the game."

In the meantime, the Wild's at the point it can't beat goalies 1-on-1 anymore. Cullen was stopped on the first shift, Chuck Kobasew on another. John Madden was denied on two shorthanded breakaways.

"If I get that first one, it's a whole different ballgame," said Cullen, without a goal since Feb. 18.

"One of those go in, a short-handed goal, it changes momentum of the game, changes the thought process," said Madden. "I had a chance to change the outcome of the game, and I failed."

A month ago, the Wild was money on a breakaway a night, whether it was Cullen or Madden or Martin Havlat or whomever.

But, as Richards said, that was when the Wild had "confidence."

"You get that feel for scoring goals, you get that confidence, you bury it," Cullen said. "When you're squeezing it, you want it so bad, you come down and you can't shoot it through his pads. You want to score so bad, and sometimes it works against you.

"We have a few guys fighting it, especially myself."


    Up next: St. Louis, 7 p.m. Saturday • Xcel Energy Center • TV: FSN (830-AM)

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