Around the rink, Jason Pominville is putting on a happy face.
He doesn’t want his teammates to sense how frustrated he is with the worst start of his 11-year career. So the longtime goal scorer who has yet to score a goal in 11 games is purposely trying to be upbeat around them.
But the truth is Pominville, on the driest of lines these days with Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund, is squeezing his stick so tight it’s amazing it doesn’t snap by warmup.
“How can you not be [frustrated]?” said Pominville, who has scored 237 goals in 763 games and two seasons ago led the Wild with 30. “It’s a tough start. It’s not the start you want. I thought I had a good camp, and then got off to a couple good games early and our line gets on the board.
“But I’ve just not been able to put one away. It’s been frustrating. I’ve had some looks, had some posts and the goalies have made some nice saves the last couple games. I’ve just got to find a way to put one in. I’m not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself. I’m just going to dig deep and find a way to bounce back.”
It’s not only Pominville who is frustrated. Pominville’s entire line is, coach Mike Yeo said Wednesday as the Wild wrapped up another four-day hiatus with the Nashville Predators coming to town Thursday.
Parise leads the Wild with seven goals, but six came in the first six games. In the past eight games, Granlund and Pominville have no even-strength points and one power-play assist apiece on a goal by Mikko Koivu in a loss at Winnipeg.
The line is generating chances. But none are going in.
Yeo said it’s evident they’re all pressing because in the past three games, they’ve gotten off to great starts and created heaps of chances. But they’re so focused on the “result of scoring a goal,” Yeo said, “it’s leading to some frustration and that’s affecting the second half of their game.”
“They’re just going to have to fight through it,” Yeo continued. “That’s the only thing there is. They haven’t had a lot of luck. They’ve done some good things, and it hasn’t gone in for them. Hopefully they get rewarded, but if they don’t get rewarded, then they’re just going to have to keep pushing and keep fighting through it and play a 60-minute game.”
Parise dissected his line’s game Wednesday, and it wasn’t pretty.
“We’re throwing the puck away way too easily,” he said. “I think we’re not strong enough on the puck. … When you’re throwing the puck away the way we have been, we’re just hurting ourselves and we’re on the outside a lot right now.
“We’re not getting through into the middle, we’re not darting through. When we’re on the outside, we’re pretty easy to check. So there’s a lot of things that we’re doing, we’re not helping ourselves.”
Still, Parise said it’s amazing the scoring chances the line hasn’t buried.
“I mean, the times we haven’t scored, it’s right there. It’s close,” Parise said. “But again I think we’re not really playing well enough with the puck in the offensive zone to get rewarded on a gamely basis. It’s no secret. We’ve got to be a lot better. A lot better in that area.”
Granlund, coming off an average eight-goal, 31-assist season, has one goal, four assists and is 10th on the team with 16 shots. At least Pominville, who has five assists, is getting scoring chances.
Pominville is third on the Wild with 28 shots and is fourth on the team with 47 attempted shots, so the analytics folks would have you believe this is an anomaly and the law of averages say Pominville eventually will score if he keeps shooting at this rate.
However, Pominville, who turns 33 on Nov. 30, also could be on the decline. After all, he scored 18 goals last season in 82 games, the worst full season of his NHL career, and last year’s struggles look similar: swinging and missing on pucks, fanning on shots, missing nets and having trouble catching pucks.
Goal scorers are inherently streaky, and that especially describes Pominville. Eleven games in a row without a goal is the fourth-worst drought of his career. He went 17 games without a goal in 2009, 13 without one in 2007 and last season went 12 straight without one.
Parise said it’s just important Pominville stays positive.
“The mental side of it can really sneak up on you if it’s not going well,” Parise said.
Pominville’s trying. One or two goals, it should do wonders for his confidence.
Last season, Thomas Vanek went 0-for-October and had one goal before Thanksgiving. He finished with 21. Pominville takes solace in that.
“I’m not by any means going to stop working and doing the things we have to do to have success,” Pominville said, before adding with a chuckle, “I’m confident it’ll turn around. It can’t get any worse, really.”