Players have been warned about slow starts.
They’ve watched video and been told how the opposition will debut.
But this prep work still hasn’t sparked a strong first period by the Wild in any of its four games.
“Obviously, other teams are coming out hungrier than we are at this stage,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Although the team has struggled to fix this issue, perhaps getting on the road to face the Predators on Monday in Nashville will help since the simple, stingy hockey that teams preach as the visitors could be just the focus the Wild needs to be ready from puck drop.
“You can look at it like that, for sure,” veteran forward Matt Hendricks said. “It’s a great opponent [Monday] night. You have to play that way against them or they’ll make you pay early. We don’t want to put so much pressure on our goaltending as we’ve been doing. We need to collectively, as a group, come to a conclusion here and change our game.”
With four points and just one regulation loss, these poor first impressions haven’t hurt the Wild badly.
There are enough red flags, though, to warrant the team’s attention — especially after the Wild was tagged for 20 shots in the first period Saturday en route to giving up a franchise-record 57 in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Hurricanes. Goalie Devan Dubnyk’s 52 saves tied for the second most in a game in Wild history.
“It should be concerning,” winger Zach Parise said. “One game is one game, but I think you’re starting to see a little bit of a pattern now. So it should be pretty alarming.”
The Wild has yielded only four goals in the first period, but it’s the feel of these periods that has been the problem, with the opposition appearing to dictate the action.
Some of this is captured in a lopsided shot counter; the Wild has put 31 pucks on net in the initial 20 minutes, while its opponents have combined for 54. These tallies can be misleading at times since not all shots are created equal, but what would help close the gap and give the Wild more leverage is better execution.
“I don’t have a fountain of youth pill,” Boudreau said. “We are what we are out there. We’re gonna be not the fastest team, but we can be a quicker team. If we’re a quicker team, then we get to loose pucks a little quicker and they don’t have possession all night long.
“And if we make passes tape to tape, then we look like a faster team. But right now, we’re getting pucks and the defense can’t find the forwards. The forwards can’t get open for the defensemen to give them pucks. Consequently, you’re losing it and they’re going the other way.”
Parise sensed the Wild almost being surprised by how fast the opposition has been, and that’s catching players off guard.
“They were all over us right away, and we couldn’t even connect a pass getting up the ice,” Parise said of the Hurricanes. “Not very pretty.”
Since speed remains in vogue in the league, it’s unlikely the competition is going to slow down drastically.
Instead, it looks incumbent on the Wild to adjust.
And the solution for that could have more to do with how swiftly players make decisions than how rapidly they move their legs — improvement that could surface amid the slim margin of error that seems synonymous with being the road team.
“It comes down to we’re not playing good enough with the puck,” winger Mikael Granlund said. “It feels like when we get the puck, we either turn it over or we’re just chipping it somewhere and they’re gonna get the puck back and put the pressure back on us.
“We need to make good passes, good plays and play with the puck. We don’t need to defend all day long, and Duby doesn’t need to make 60-something saves. But we’re going to figure it out.”