Hard to paint a rosy picture anymore. It's that simple, really.

With the season starting a week from Thursday, the Wild is 0-3-2 heading into Thursday's North American exhibition finale after tonight's shootout loss. Yeah, they win in the shootout, and maybe everybody feels a little better. But the reality is, somehow the Wild's almost-"A" team couldn't defeat Columbus' "C" team -- in regulation.

OK, maybe "B-" team.

The Blue Jackets were playing without core pieces like Steve Mason, Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Fedor Tyutin, Jan Hejda, Jakub Voracek, Jared Boll, R.J. Umberger and Kris Russell.

Look, were there positive signs tonight? Absolutely. Through two periods, this would have been a very different blog.
Niklas Backstrom was great. He was playing so well, and the Wild was so in need of a win, he played the third period instead of originally-scheduled program, Anton Khudobin. Matt Cullen and Marty Havlat showed chemistry and speed, although the glass-half empty person would definitely point out they probably generated 10 scoring chances between the two and buried only one. On back-to-back sequences, great puck moves by Cullen and Havlat created open nets for themselves, but they each put it off the pipe. Cal Clutterbuck looked good on that line. Rookie Justin Falk was terrific. Eric Nystrom was real good.
But the reality is despite probably 20 scoring chances, lots of offensive-zone time on its power play and solid play in the neutral zone, this offensively-challenged team could only manage two goals (none on the power play) and caved in the third period.

For nearly two periods, the Wild generated a boatload of chances, got great goaltending, looked in total control, and then one failed penalty kill later, a 2-0 lead was trimmed to 2-1 in the waning seconds of the third. It came after a great fake shot by Anton Stralman got Backstrom to commit. He dished off to Nikita Filatov, back from his Russia defection, after he drifted so far back, Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel nearly had a conniption.

But he lost the Wild's PK, and he angled a perfect one-time blast behind Backstrom.

That put the Wild's atrocious penalty kill at 8 for 27 this preseason (including the power-play goal in St. Louis that wasn't counted). That puts the PK at 70.4 percent. The power play is 1 for 24 this preseason (4.1 percent).

The Wild was flat in the third, and look, there's no doubt a good excuse. The defense was dead after playing all game without Marek Zidlicky, who sustained a charleyhorse on his second shift. That meant five D for most the game, four for five minutes when Drew Bagnall got into a fight.

Nick Schultz played 29:37. Brent Burns 29:00. Greg Zanon 28:44. Richards said Zidlicky is day-to-day and he doesn't know the extent of the injury.

But there's been nothing but excuses all preseason, and unless this is fixed now, the Wild will be making excuses until April. As Andrew Brunette said after the game, this isn't a faucet. You can't show squat all exhibition and then suddenly expect to turn it on in the regular season.

Right now, the defense is erratic. The offense shows glimpses, but can't easily finish. And the special teams look like Medusa.

Again, I saw a lot of good things on the ice tonight, but we're at a juncture where the result is all that matters. And the Wild "A" team couldn't beat Columbus' "C+/B-" team in a game Todd Richards said would be a "measuring stick" for how things have gone this preseason.

After so much skepticism heading into this season, the Wild certainly hasn't done anything to ease the fret.

Now, again, just a couple positives:

-- Backstrom looked awesome (not in the shootout). He made six or seven outstanding stops. Richards also noted how he's much more involved in the offensive attack, getting the puck above the goal line and zipping it up past the red line to catch opponents on line changes.

-- Falk was real poised again. The way things are going (barring the injuries to Zidlicky and Cam Barker), he'll be the No. 6 opening night and Clayton Stoner won't be. The Wild didn't even bring Stoner to Columbus so he could stay back "and work on his game."

--Cullen was terrific. He created so much with his speed. Just a constant threat tonight. As was Havlat. Havlat was flying, but again, he just doesn't have that finish yet, which has got to be frustrating for the Wild because it desperately needs him to put the puck in the net, especially with now-injured Guillaume Latendresse (hip flexor) having a poor camp.

--Talked to GM Chuck Fletcher. He said he's no closer to a goalie decision. He says there's no rush, and maybe Anton Khudobin will be "OK." I'd think something is eventually done, but it sounds like nothing before Finland.

--Robbie Earl, Petr Kalus, Warren Peters and Jon DiSalvatore cleared waivers and were assigned to Houston.

OK, talk to you after Wednesday's practice.