With some key forwards injured, the Wild needs to find a way to get scoring from its defensemen.
When Jared Spurgeon scored the tying goal in the second period of Saturday's shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues, it's amazing the Wild didn't fish the puck out of the net like it was some sort of milestone.
First off, it was a power-play goal, something that doesn't occur every day (or every week) from the Wild. But even more uncommon? It was a goal from a Wild defenseman.
Most figured the Wild's blue line wouldn't generate as much offense after Brent Burns was traded to San Jose last June, but it's hard to imagine anybody figured the Wild would be this anemic offensively from the back end.
The Wild has the lowest-scoring blue-line corps in the NHL.
Consider this: Spurgeon's goal was his first since Nov. 13 and was the Wild's first from a defenseman since Marco Scandella scored Dec. 8. One would think even an accident would happen every now and then and a shot from a Wild defenseman would deflect in off something.
Scandella's now in Houston, meaning on the Wild's current roster, it has only gotten four goals from Wild defensemen (Spurgeon three, Greg Zanon one and an astonishing zero from offensive defenseman Marek Zidlicky).
"Yeah, it is a problem," said assistant coach Darryl Sydor, a former longtime NHL defenseman. "You look at the elite teams, they get production from their back end and we need that. It's important. It's one thing we're really trying to work on through practice.
"Some of the drills [coach Mike Yeo] does is activating the D-men and not just trying to defend. The hardest thing for anybody to defend is when you have activating D-men."
In the Wild's loss at Chicago on Thursday, anytime the Blackhawks' forwards didn't have a play off the cycle, they popped the puck back up top, where the defensemen fired it back on net. The objective wasn't so much to score but to create havoc.
The Wild's defensemen must do a better job simply getting pucks through.
"You look at the elite teams, the elite D-men, their heads are up the whole time and it's not even a big slap shot," Sydor said.
In today's NHL, it isn't easy getting pucks through to the net. Teams are so structurally sound in the defensive zone and are committed to blocking shots. The Wild, itself, blocked 29 Saturday.
Spurgeon admits this has caused the blue line to get gun-shy.
"The worst thing you can do is fire one into a shin pad and next thing you know, you have it go back the other way [on an odd-man rush]," Spurgeon said. "That gets into the back of your mind when guys are close to you and in your shooting lane."
That means sometimes it takes little wrist shots, like Justin Falk did on Warren Peters' goal in Tuesday's victory over San Jose.
"It's just a matter of trying to get it past the first layer of shot-blockers and getting it down to the vicinity of the net so guys can tip shots or pick up rebounds or get garbage goals," Falk said. "It's a huge area we've got to do a better job at."
Sometimes the shooting lanes are so clogged, the only play is to intentionally shoot wide.
"Teams confront so much that if you miss off the back boards, now you're in an offensive position coming off those boards," Sydor said.
One thing that is killing the Wild is that Zidlicky, who has scored 60 goals in his career, has no goals and 11 assists in 32 games.
"Obviously he knows it and is feeling the pressure," Sydor said. "Sometimes when you try too hard, nothing really happens. You've just got to relax. Sometimes less is more and things will just start happening for you. But he's known for his offense, so we do need that."
Spurgeon, who leads the Wild blue-liners with 16 points in 43 games, agrees, "You want to find ways to contribute offensively and it's frustrating when you don't. But our job is to help prevent goals, too. So you don't want to push it too much, but when we get the opportunity, we have to bury some."
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