When the Wild returns to competition Thursday against Los Angeles, Nino Niederreiter and his teammates will try to avoid the slow starts that have plagued them throughout the season’s first eight games.
“It’s something we have to be aware of,’’ the forward said. “We’re making it too tough on ourselves.’’
The team has scored only five first-period goals this season, and it has allowed its opponent to score first in its past six games. To combat that problem, Niederreiter and linemate Eric Staal said the Wild must be mindful of getting off to a strong start without overanalyzing the game.
The team concluded a four-day break in the schedule with a Wednesday practice at TRIA Rink, before facing the Kings on Thursday and Colorado on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
“We know what we have to do to be successful,’’ said Niederreiter, who has yet to score a goal this season. “But a lot of players are overthinking things, instead of just going out and playing and having fun.
“You try to be almost too perfect, and sometimes, that costs you a little bit. It’s easy to get frustrated. But if you stick to the process, focus on getting a lot of shots on net and getting pucks in deep and not making it hard on ourselves, that will definitely loosen up a lot of things.’’
Coach Bruce Boudreau said the Wild’s sluggish starts are rooted in “self-preparation.’’ He wants to see his team follow its plan right from the beginning, rather than waiting to see what the opponent is doing.
Staal urged the Wild to keep things simple and keep their feet moving from the start, laying the groundwork for better execution.
“Once you do that, you put yourself in a better spot,’’ he said. “We should have a lot of energy [Thursday]. It’s up to every individual to make sure we’re all ready to go.’’
Waiting on Nino
Boudreau also doesn’t want to overthink Niederreiter’s scoring drought. The forward has only two assists in eight games this season, and his 14 shots on goal rank sixth on the team.
Despite that lack of production, Boudreau has plugged Niederreiter into the top line with Staal and Jason Zucker. He said it appears Niederreiter has “lost his confidence a little bit right now,’’ and the coach wants to demonstrate he still believes in the Swiss winger by continuing to put him in position to succeed.
“Keep throwing him out there,’’ Boudreau said, describing his approach to helping Niederreiter break his slump. “We talk to him, but sometimes, we talk to him too much.
“He’ll get out of it. His history as an NHL player, he’ll come out of it, and he’ll start playing good. I think we’re all too worried about Nino right now. I expect him very shortly to get a game where he knocks one in, and then all of a sudden, he takes off.’’
Forward Joel Eriksson Ek (lower body injury) returned to practice Wednesday. Skating in a no-contact jersey, he was reluctant to predict when he might be ready to play, but he was grateful to be back with his teammates.
“It gets pretty boring skating by yourself,’’ said Eriksson Ek, who has missed five games since he was injured Oct. 11. “It feels good. It feels like I’m getting there, getting closer and closer.’’
Boudreau said Eriksson Ek “looks fine’’ but is still waiting for doctors to give him full medical clearance.
Forward Matt Hendricks remained off the ice as he heals from a leg injury suffered Oct. 16 in a victory over Arizona. Boudreau said Hendricks is expected to resume skating “very soon,’’ probably by the end of this week. The coach added that it’s possible Hendricks could accompany the Wild on a two-game road trip that begins Monday in Vancouver.