Some observers blame the Wild’s 1-1-2 start on a bevy of injuries, pointing out that five of the team’s highest-scoring forwards have missed games. The slim schedule has been faulted, too, by those who believe the long breaks and small number of games have prevented the Wild from finding a rhythm.
Bruce Boudreau doesn’t want to hear it. To the Wild coach, those factors are merely excuses, issues his team should be viewing as challenges rather than crutches. He rejected them again Saturday, after his hodgepodge lineup built a 4-2 third-period lead in its home opener before falling in overtime to Columbus.
With so many cornerstone players missing, everyone left standing must be at his best to keep the Wild afloat. Saturday, they were often outplayed by the Blue Jackets, who went to the net unimpeded and took advantage of the Wild’s sloppiness with the puck. That left Boudreau red-faced and stewing at players who are falling short when their team needs them the most.
“A lot of it, I’ve always believed, is self-preparation,’’ he said. “I know we haven’t played a lot of games and all that stuff, but you can make excuses all day long. These guys are professionals, and they shouldn’t be doing that.
“It’s a mindset. We can’t be thinking scoring every time we’re out there. We have to think ‘defend,’ especially when you have a lead. It’s been addressed [Friday], it’s been addressed [Saturday] about leads in the third period. It’s been addressed every day this week. And they didn’t …’’
Boudreau never finished that sentence, but he didn’t have to.
The Wild has allowed 15 goals in four games, with nine of those coming in the third period or overtime. Columbus trailed 4-2 Saturday before scoring twice in the final 17:21 of the third period to tie it, then netting the winner only 47 seconds into overtime.
Boudreau scolded his team — particularly his veterans — for failing to make simple plays. Columbus outshot the Wild 35-21, including a 15-5 margin in the third period and overtime. Twice, the Wild defense sagged right after the team scored, allowing the Blue Jackets to answer with goals of their own within one minute.
“We’ve got to find a way to be assertive and make stops defensively,’’ said Eric Staal, who got the Wild’s first goal but was on the ice when Columbus scored its last three. “At times, especially when we had the lead, you’re playing the game a little bit passive and trying not to make mistakes.
“A lot of times, that will cost you. We can be a little bit more assertive in some areas. We’ll learn from it.’’
With Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Marcus Foligno joining Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise on the injury list, the Wild had four newcomers in the lineup and some new line combinations. Fourth-liners Landon Ferraro, Zack Mitchell and Christoph Bertschy scored a goal (Ferraro’s) and played solid defense in their limited ice time after being called up from the AHL affiliate in Iowa. Luke Kunin, the other player recalled, fit in fine on the third line.
Boudreau wondered if his veterans might be lacking some urgency, knowing there are 78 games remaining in the regular season. If that’s the case, he’s seen how foolish it is for players to think they can straighten things out later.
“I had that one year in Anaheim,’’ Boudreau recalled. “It was 78 games left, and the next thing you know, there’s 68 games left. And then there’s 50 games left. And all of a sudden, it’s like you can’t get it back. It will be addressed.’’