DALLAS – A ghastly breakdown by the Wild’s defense Thursday night left Dallas sharpshooter Jason Spezza all alone flying down the wing.
What happened next, a singular play midway through the second period of the Stars’ 4-0 cakewalk in Game 1, crystallized a country-mile difference between the two teams.
Spezza faked a slapshot, moved closer toward Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk and spied his opening. A quick flip of his wrists and Spezza’s shot sailed over Dubnyk’s shoulder into a small window.
The sequence looked like target practice, a goal scorer’s goal, one of those sensational individual efforts that makes one stop and appreciate the beauty of an athlete’s skill.
Basically, the type of goal we infrequently see from the Wild.
“I thought the Spezza play was a special one,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said.
The Stars have special offensive talent in Spezza, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, all 30-goal scorers capable of creating offense by themselves.
Those three are finishers. The Wild has grinders.
The Wild’s lack of bona fide goal scorers — guys who strike fear in their opponent every time they have the puck on their stick — is not a new conversation.
This remains a legitimate problem with the roster construction under General Manager Chuck Fletcher. Too many players either have marginal offensive skill or they must rely on dumping pucks deep and using grit and fortunate bounces to produce goals.
Creating offense that way becomes tough sledding in the postseason when intensity picks up, checking is tighter and opponents counter with elite scorers like what the Stars throw on the ice.
Even Zach Parise, the Wild’s best offensive player, scores more on effort and hustle than a goal scorer’s flair.
A goal is a goal no matter how it looks, but the Wild just doesn’t have enough offensive threats in the lineup to count on a deep playoff run.
The Wild’s offense is mired in a funk right now with no obvious go-to guy to fix things. Six goals in the past six games caused interim coach John Torchetti to shuffle his line combinations again Friday in preparation for Game 2.
“Well, we haven’t had any offense,” he said.
Put it this way: Name players on the roster that would be described as goal scorers.
Parise, for one, but he’s injured and likely will miss the playoffs.
Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter each surpassed 20 goals this season, but they’re prone to long slumps.
Jason Zucker has the requisite speed and skill to become a dynamic player, but his effort is so sporadic that he makes himself a nonfactor at times.
Mikael Granlund has not developed into the player once projected. Thomas Vanek, also injured, often appears disinterested.
In Thursday’s Game 1, Torchetti lauded Chris Porter as the team’s best forward. Good for Porter, but a telling remark about the overall condition of the offense.
The Wild’s lack of finishers has reared its head in previous postseasons. Captain Mikko Koivu has produced 17 points in 40 career playoff games with the Wild. That from the top-line center.
By contrast, Spezza has 54 points in 57 playoff games.
“How do we generate more offense? Play with the puck more,” winger Ryan Carter said.
The fact that players ignored Torchetti’s game plan in Game 1 by refusing to dump the puck deep — a recurring theme — is a concern in itself. For whatever reason, players abandoned script and tried doing things their way.
Torchetti made sure to count all the turnovers as he re-watched the game with his team Friday morning.
“I think that we beat ourselves,” Torchetti said, noting 18 turnovers in the neutral zone.
Actually, the Stars had a lot to do with the lopsided outcome. They used their superior skill to control the puck and dictate everything about that game.
The Wild became reckless and sloppy, something Carter attributed to being anxious after falling behind 2-0 in the second period.
That two-goal lead felt insurmountable because of the Wild’s lack of scorers compared to the Stars.
If you were like me, you kept watching and thinking, how in the world is this team going to score three goals?