ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Wild doesn't always trot out all of its goaltenders for practice, typically letting whoever's third on the depth chart skate separately with the taxi squad.
But it was all hands on deck Wednesday afternoon at Honda Center.
"Shoot it, shoot it, shoot it" and "Pucks to the net" were coach Dean Evason's directives for the offensive-themed session ahead of the team's next test Thursday at Anaheim, and the message was appropriate.
Not only was the Wild shut out 4-0 by Los Angeles on Tuesday in its return from a nearly two-week pause due to a COVID-19 outbreak, but the offense's efficiency has emerged as an accurate indicator of the Wild's results.
"We've gotta find ways to score some goals here," Evason said.
When the Wild has racked up three or more goals this season, it is almost unbeatable — going 6-1 in those games, with the lone blemish a 5-3 slip-up to San Jose on Jan.24.
And when it's been limited to two goals or fewer, the Wild is winless at 0-5. Tuesday marked the Wild's second shutout loss this season.
"We're a better team when we have that aggressive forecheck and really get some zone time and hold onto pucks," winger Marcus Foligno said. "When we get away from that, we're looking at two goals or less. And when we're really on our game and in the offensive zone and have that possession, we're three goals or more."
With a goals-against average of 2.83, it makes sense that the Wild usually wins with three goals or more. But even in the games the goaltending has been cleaner — giving up just one goal to the Ducks on Jan.18 and only two to the Kings (Jan. 26) and Avalanche (Feb. 2) — the Wild lost after not providing enough offensive support, a trend that reinforces the feast-or-famine nature of the offense so far.
"We score in bunches a little bit," Foligno said. "Obviously, when we have a dry spell, it's noticeable."
Consistency on the power play would help. At 3-for-45, the Wild has the worst clip in the NHL — an eyesore that continues to fester and cost the team points.
"There's no question that if the power play was productive in the least that we think we'd be in a better spot," Evason said. "We're going to keep harping on it. You've seen we've changed personnel. We've changed positional stuff, and we're trying to find a solution. And believe me, the players are, as well."
Although the scoring shortcomings haven't always been reflective of the lineup on the ice — one of the Wild's signature victories, the 4-3 overtime rally against Colorado on Jan.31, came with key regulars missing — perhaps getting closer to full strength will help.
Forwards Nick Bonino and Nico Sturm and defenseman Ian Cole are ready to return Thursday after all were released from the NHL's COVID protocols on Monday.
Defenseman Brad Hunt was cleared from the COVID list on Wednesday, leaving four players (Jonas Brodin, Victor Rask, Carson Soucy and Cam Talbot) unavailable.
Captain Jared Spurgeon will also be back after a stint in the protocols overlapped with an upper-body injury.
Those additions will give the Wild a look similar to its normal setup, but as the final scores have demonstrated, manpower hasn't always been the tipping point. Same with the play in net and the opponent.
Goals seem to be dictating the Wild's fate, particularly whether the team gets to three.
"You look at games when we are scoring, they're not always pretty goals," Spurgeon said. "We are getting shots through. I think [Tuesday] night, at least from watching, there were a couple early ones where shots get blocked or something like that. We can't stop shooting because of that and looking for that extra pass.
"Just getting to the net and getting in the goalie's eyes is a huge thing. The goalies are so good that if they see the puck, they're making the save. If you can get it through and have a screen out front or bodies out front, it might not be your shot that's going in but the rebound."