Ryan Suter probably didn’t intend to cause a face-palm reaction, but his evaluation of the Wild’s performance through three playoff games had that dumbfounding effect.
“We’re not playing bad,” he said. “We just can’t score right now.”
That’s kind of like saying, “My diet is going really well except I can’t stop eating donuts for breakfast.”
Somewhere in St. Louis, Mike Yeo probably smirked and thought to himself, “Yep, I’ve seen this movie before.”
Two years ago, Yeo’s Wild outshot the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs and got swept after managing seven total goals on 131 shots in four games.
For the umpteenth time, yes, shots and scoring chances usually indicate how well a team is playing, but those statistics ultimately ring hollow in losses, particularly in the playoffs.
The Wild’s history is littered with self-soothing talk of bad puck luck and boy oh boy, we were this close to scoring goals.
The Wild holds a clear advantage over the Blues in a number of statistical categories, including shots, scoring chances and faceoff percentage.
To steal one of Yeo’s famous lines, whoop-de-do.
The Wild is staring at a potential first-round sweep because of one and only one statistic: goals scored.
That one remains fairly important.
Bruce Boudreau is getting his first taste of the Wild’s inability to score when it matters. One day after declaring in a huff, “We were friggin’ good” in Game 3, he attributed his team’s scoring drought to a combination of factors.
“If I had the answer to that, we’d probably finish,” he said.
No wonder Boudreau gave his players a “mental health” respite on Monday. Their inability to convert scoring chances would drive anyone nutty.
This isn’t a new problem, of course. It becomes a discussion topic every postseason. Hand-wringing over a lack of snipers and finishers and high-end scorers has become a default setting.
The Wild has now lost 11 of its past 13 playoff games. The team has scored 27 goals in that span and fewer than two goals in a game seven times.
Trying to win that way puts extra pressure on the goalie to be flawless, which Devan Dubnyk hasn’t been in this series. He has been outplayed by his counterpart Jake Allen, but the idea that Dubnyk deserves a lion’s share of blame for a 3-0 deficit is beyond ludicrous.
A few of his goals have been soft in nature, saves that must be made in the postseason. The Blues have scored first all three games so the Wild has been perpetually in a chase mode. But let’s not forget the guys playing in front of Dubnyk have scored THREE GOALS IN THREE GAMES.
Count me among those who expected, perhaps naively, the Wild’s high-scoring flair in the regular season to transfer to the postseason. The NHL’s second-highest-scoring team has done next to nothing offensively, rekindling concerns about roster construction and size of their forwards compared to hulking defensemen and intangibles such as leadership and grit.
Barring a stunning turnaround, General Manager Chuck Fletcher faces another uncomfortable offseason in which he must examine honestly whether his roster is built to win in the postseason, or just spinning its wheels in a place that’s good but not great.
The lack of scoring punch in this series is equal parts deflating and alarming.
Yeo deserves a lot of credit, as painful as that might be to acknowledge. He knows the Wild’s deficiencies intimately. His plan involves shrinking open space on the ice by smothering the Wild’s speedy forwards like a straitjacket and collapsing around the net. Frustration has set in, and now Wild players are pressing and blowing prime scoring chances.
“When we get opportunities, we’re either overhandling it or a little bit nervous or holding the sticks too tight because things aren’t going in,” Boudreau said.
The futility is painful to watch. The Wild has fired 228 shots toward the net and scored three goals. One of those stats might suggest the Wild is playing well, but the other one has defined this series. That’s all that matters.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org