At the dinner table, on the plane, behind the desk, Bruce Boudreau tinkers with line combinations: 11-12-3, 16-9-64, 22-56-29, routinely shaking them up lately and seeing what spits out.
For somebody who won eight division titles in nine years coaching Washington and Anaheim, you know the first-year Wild coach misses the days he could toss an 8 and 19 and a 10 and 15 in there.
“Yeah, this is new,” Boudreau admits. “I’m used to having Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] and [Nicklas] Backstrom, [Corey] Perry and [Ryan] Getzlaf. We don’t have anybody of that ilk at this stage, so you change your philosophy and you win by committee.”
As the Wild’s monthlong goal-scoring woes have proved, this way is a whole lot harder.
For the season’s first month, the Wild led the league with 18 goal scorers. Such “balance” was the narrative when the Wild scored 32 times in nine October games to rank second in the NHL at 3.56 goals per game.
But anybody who has watched the Wild, well, forever, knew that wasn’t sustainable. Reality has now set in.
The Wild once again finds it a chore to score (although Pittsburgh gave up 10 goals to the Wild this month), mainly because it doesn’t have one or two guys who can fill the net with regularity. The Wild scored 17 goals in the first 10 games of November, ranking 27th in that span at 1.7 goals per game.
Boudreau, new to these parts, has discovered what we’ve all known: The Wild doesn’t have a pure finisher. There’s a reason why this franchise is 2-11 since 3-on-3 was introduced.
A quarter of the way through the season, Boudreau has gotten his eyeballs on four of the six other Central Division teams — Colorado, Dallas, St. Louis and Winnipeg.
He’s seen their finishers — Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon for the Avalanche, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for the Stars, Vladimir Tarasenko for the Blues and Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele for the Jets.
And, he’s well aware that James Neal, Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban make life easier for the Predators, and Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa (reinvigorated this season at age 37) and Artemi Panarin are the reasons the Blackhawks can so often get away with not bringing their “A” game.
Zach Parise, who missed last season’s playoffs with a herniated disk and was hampered all November by injury and illness, is the Wild’s go-to guy.
But of the seven teams in the Central, the Wild looks to be the only team without a young star. Asked if the Wild can be a true contender with that being the case, Boudreau was honest: “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
As the Wild waits for some of its prospects to become NHL-ready, Boudreau still holds out hope that one or two of his current young guys can develop into a finisher.
“I still think the Charlie Coyles of the world have the ability to be a true star,” said Boudreau, who has implored Coyle to stop “teasing” him. “He just hasn’t broken through that stage yet. It’s up to him to show that determination.”
But you can bet Boudreau’s realizing now what a luxury it was to have finishers like Ovechkin and Perry, the type of players who can change a game with one shot at any time.
There’s a reason the Toronto Maple Leafs tanked for Auston Matthews. The Jets should be thanking their lucky stars they won last year’s lottery to get Laine. The Penguins should do the same for being awarded Sidney Crosby after the 2004-05 lockout.
As Columbus Blue Jackets President John Davidson quipped recently about the Oilers and Connor McDavid, “They should be putting their hands on the Bible three times a day” thanking God.
“To get those true stars, you have to end up in last place, and I don’t want to do that either,” Boudreau said. “You don’t draft 15th every year and get Patrik Laine or Auston Matthews or something. We don’t want that to happen.”
NHL SHORT TAKES
• The All-Star Game will again be 3-on-3 this season, only with the “John Scott Rule.” Eligible players must be on their club’s active roster as of Nov. 1 and cannot be assigned to a minor league team before Jan. 26. This would have kept Scott, last year’s MVP after fans voted him as captain, out of the game because after Arizona traded him to Montreal, the Canadiens assigned him to the AHL. Once again, only six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies per division can be named to the All-Star Game. If that rule’s going to continue, goalie Devan Dubnyk or defenseman Ryan Suter may be the Wild’s selection for the rest of eternity. How else would a Wild forward be named in a division that includes Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg and more?
• Next season’s big free-agent chip won’t ever hit the market. Brent Burns, 31, the Wild’s 2003 first-round pick, signed an eight-year, $64 million extension with San Jose. Since being dealt for Charlie Coyle, Devin Setoguchi and a first-round pick that became bust Zack Phillips, Burns has 258 points in 364 games with the Sharks. “Really exciting day for us and really happy to be here long-term,” Burns said in a Twitter direct message.
• Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley didn’t get his nickname wish of the Black Knights due to West Point’s contention, but he did get their color scheme of black, gold, steel gray, white and red in the uniforms.
WILD'S WEEK AHEAD
Tuesday: 9 p.m. at Vancouver
Friday: 8 p.m. at Calgary
Tue. FSN, Fri. FSN+
Player to watch: Markus Granlund, Canucks
Fourteen months younger than the Wild’s Mikael Granlund, Granny’s kid brother was traded from Calgary to Vancouver in February.
“I just talked so good about you to the press, you better be so good tonight.”
— Wild coach Bruce Boudreau jokingly to defenseman Marco Scandella, who returned from an ankle injury Wednesday.