The Wild’s inability to score goals puts so much pressure on the team to play perfect games. Give up the first goal — something that happens almost nightly, especially on the road (11 of the past 12 games) — and it feels like the Wild’s climbing a mountain.
The Wild ranks 29th in the NHL at 2.13 goals per game overall and 1.65 goals per game on the road. The only team scoring fewer goals is Buffalo, the NHL’s worst team.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be higher [in the standings] right now, so it is disappointing,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We have two different personalities at home and on the road, and I don’t get it. We have a lot of young players. I don’t want to make any excuses, but we have a lot of young players and you have to learn to play on the road.
“I just think it’s in our heads mentally that we’re struggling on the road, so now we’re playing like that. And when you don’t score goals, it’s tough to win any games.”
The Wild is younger than it wanted to be this season. Once it couldn’t buy out Dany Heatley last season because of a season-ending shoulder injury, it altered the plan heading into this season as it worked to get salary-cap compliant.
To make matters worse, Heatley has struggled.
Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter are still 21-year-olds and aren’t finished products. Coyle, particularly, had a tough four-goal, nine-point first half that started with a sprained knee.
Three of Minnesota’s top four defensemen are 23 and younger; and last season’s star rookie, Jonas Brodin, hasn’t been as steady.
Failure to launch
“Clearly we need to improve our scoring depth,” said Fletcher, who says he will try to “upgrade” next summer through trade or free agency. “But when you look at some of the young players we have, they are going to score goals in this league. In the near term, some nights are going to be better than others as these kids learn the league.”
“That’s the promise of this team. We have several young guys 23-and-under, and as they continue to get that experience and improve, our franchise is going to get better.”
The youngsters aren’t the only ones not scoring. Suter has no goals despite leading the NHL in ice time, although he’s tied for fourth among defensemen with 22 assists.
First-line center Mikko Koivu has scored some late goals to win or tie games, but he’s only on pace for 15 goals and 57 points. Parise, who played for a month on a bum foot, has 15 goals. But he’s on pace for only 60 points, and the Wild doesn’t have a scorer in the top 50 in the NHL.
The lone offensive bright spot has been the chemistry between young Mikael Granlund and veteran Jason Pominville, who is tied for 10th in the NHL with 17 goals and is on pace for 36.
The Wild gets almost no contribution from the third and fourth lines, best exemplified by Kyle Brodziak’s two goals in 39 games and 27 in a row without one.
Goaltending is also a concern suddenly. Josh Harding has been sensational. He’s 18-5-3 with a 1.51 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, but his future is highly unpredictable. Everyone was reminded of that last week when he disappeared to have his treatment protocol for multiple sclerosis altered.
That’s a problem because veteran Niklas Backstrom (2-8-2) has struggled and the team doesn’t play as confidently in front of him.