Wild become welcome visitors

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 22, 2012 - 6:58 AM

After starting the season strong on the road, the Wild has been terrible away from home, because of an anemic offensive attack.


Kyle Brodziak (21)

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune file

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As players carved up the Xcel Energy Center ice Tuesday during a post-practice skateathon, Mike Yeo huddled his sweating team around Kyle Brodziak inside the blue line.

The coach reminded everyone that the Wild threw the centerman "8 1/2 million" bones in a three-year contract extension Sunday. Brodziak received a stick clap from teammates, then Yeo said, "Let's see if he's worth it."

Yeo slid a puck in front of Brodziak's stick. If Brodziak could sail that puck from 140 feet away into a wide-open net without hitting the ice first, practice would be over and players would no longer have to do laps.

Brodziak lined up, and ... bull's-eye, dead center of the cage. The last time Brodziak had so many players jump on him, he had scored an overtime winner in Philly.

"Guys were happy with me," Brodziak said, laughing.

It was a heck of a bullet by Brodziak. Now the Wild hopes all its players can follow suit, only with goalies Jose Theodore and Kari Lehtonen in the net, when it hits the road for a taxing back-to-back Thursday at Florida and Friday at Dallas.

Once the NHL's best road team at 10-3-2, the Wild is 2-11-3 since. To put that in another way, the Wild has lost 14 consecutive road games in every city other than Denver.

Over those 16 road games, the Wild has scored a grand total of 17 goals.

While it has started to generate more scoring chances at home lately -- Yeo said, "believe it or not, we outchanced" the Bruins despite giving up 48 shots on goal in Sunday's 2-0 victory -- the Wild is barely getting a scent of the net on the road lately.

"We just have to figure out a way to get that extra one, two every game," Cal Clutterbuck said. "When we were winning on the road, we were defending well and pretty opportunistic. We were probably outshot most the games, but we were stingy defensively and capitalized on the chances we got.

"A lot of things have changed since then."

One thing is that a lot of players have stopped scoring. It's not like the Wild was an offensive juggernaut earlier in the season, but the team could count on contributions throughout the lineup.

Chad Rau and Matt Cullen scored against the Bruins, but before that, the Wild's previous seven goals over five games had come from Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and the now-injured Mikko Koivu.

"It's not fair on those guys to expect them to score every game. It's not. It's not fair," Yeo said. "You don't win like that. If you only have one line scoring goals, you don't win.

"We certainly need that line to continue to contribute. We need that line to generate offense and chances for us. But whether it's a power-play goal, whether it's a goal from our defensemen or a goal from our third or fourth line, we need different guys to contribute."

Cullen's struggles have been well-documented. His goal against Boston was his first since Jan. 10.

But Darroll Powe has two goals and two assists in the past 41 games. Brodziak has no points in the past seven games, Clutterbuck two goals in the past 15. Erik Christensen has no points in eight games with the Wild.

The Wild also is getting next to no production from its blue line.

Nick Schultz has two assists in 59 games, Marek Zidlicky no goals and 1.25 shots per game in 40 games this season. Jared Spurgeon has one goal in the past 40 games, four points in his past 21.

The message in Tuesday's practice, and it will be again Wednesday, is to get back to defending well.

"The last couple months, we don't even really feel like we've had two good practice days in a row like we have this week," Brodziak said, referring to the condensed schedule of road games. "Practice gives you days to reset. ... Things happen so fast that sometimes when you don't practice, you lose that, where it just becomes habit, and then you can develop bad habits.

"So I think these two practices will be huge for us. ... The better we defend, the more [time] we're going to be able to spend in the offensive end."

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