Wild fans clamoring for the "Zuck and Buck" tag-team on one line will have to wait because Jason Zucker, in his NHL debut, and Cal Clutterbuck played on separate lines Thursday against the Florida Panthers.
"Give it time, though. I'm sure it'll happen," joked Clutterbuck, referring to his guesstimate that he has played on "20 different line combinations" this season.
Like many Wild forwards, Clutterbuck has bounced around, partly because the team has been decimated by injuries, partly because coach Mike Yeo has worked desperately to try to jump-start a feeble offensive squad.
One player struggling offensively is Clutterbuck, who looked well on his way to his first 20-goal season when he scored his 10th goal Dec. 26. But he has scored four goals since, including one goal and five assists in the past 23 games.
"We went through a stretch this year where nobody was scoring goals," Clutterbuck said. "I've really taken time to almost exaggeratedly focus on doing things a certain way to get out of this.
"I've started thinking less about scoring goals and just trying to get opportunities. I feel like the last five games I'm playing a certain way again and getting opportunities."
Clutterbuck said that's crashing the net more.
"This year, I've been trying to do more," he said. "I think we needed more from everybody, so I might have gone about it the wrong way and got away from my game. I could probably spend more time in front of the net."
Clutterbuck, 24, led the NHL in hits his first three seasons and is third this year. This is the third consecutive year he has dried up offensively. In his last 21 games last season, he scored one goal and five assists. In 2009-10, he scored one goal and two assists in the last 20 games.
Asked if his style wears him out late in seasons, Clutterbuck said; "I don't think that's it. I don't feel tired. The last couple years, as a group, we've gone through a rough patch from the middle of February on, and when the team has success, you have success.
"I think that's part of it, and part of it is I probably could do some things to give myself more opportunities. It is a different game in the first half of the year and teams are buckling down now. So maybe I need to balance the whole thing out so I can be able to score throughout and be physical."
Oh, and as far as that whole "Zuck and Buck" label, Clutterbuck said, laughing, "That's the cheesiest thing I've ever heard."
He can handle it
Yeo was pleased with how well defenseman Marco Scandella, 22, defended Marian Gaborik in Tuesday's loss to the Rangers. Yeo says Scandella thrives when given specific assignments like that.
"For a young guy, he's faced a lot of extremely difficult matchups this year and he's done a really good job," Yeo said. "The experience that he's gained, it's going to pay huge dividends down the road. It just accelerates his development that much quicker."
• Justin Falk, who missed the Wild's past 10 games because of a knee injury, returned. Fellow defenseman Kurtis Foster was scratched.
• Frozen Four-bound Gophers forwards Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau were scheduled to attend Thursday's game. Both are Panthers draft picks.
• Panthers veteran center John Madden, who lives in Edina, and goalie Jose Theodore made their first returns to Xcel Energy Center since both played for the Wild last season.