Scoring struggles an area of focus for Wild
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Wild left the state of Florida with a pair of losses after scoring a combined two goals against the Lightning and Panthers. Minnesota has now scored just one goal in each of its last three games as the offense continues to falter.
The Wild are currently tied for 25th in the NHL in scoring with just 2.11 goals per game. Even two of their three wins came via a 2-1 final score. So despite getting plenty of shots on net, Minnesota knows it needs to do something to bury scoring opportunities when they come.
“We’ve got to create more chances. We have to have an attack mentality,” head coach Mike Yeo said after the team’s practice Monday, one day before his team hosts Nashville. “When there’s an opportunity to finish, we’ve got to finish. That was some of the focus today, for sure.”
In Saturday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Florida, Minnesota fired 31 shots on net but snuck just one past Panthers goalie Tim Thomas. Two days earlier in Tampa, the Wild scored only one goal on 26 shots.
Forward Zach Parise, who had eight of Minnesota’s 31 shots on goal against Florida, took some of the blame Monday for the offense’s struggles.
“I’ve got to put them in. That’s the way it is,” Parise said of his scoring chances. “(We’ve) got to relax a little bit. I think everyone’s all uptight because we haven’t scored a lot lately. Everyone’s thinking about it. Everyone’s going home thinking about it. You get to the rink and everyone’s asking us about it. I think we’ve got to just relax a little bit and we’ll be fine.”
Parise noted the Wild’s inability to create chances around the net and attack, instead settling for one-timers at the point or other shots from the outside. Minnesota has been able to possess the puck in opponents’ zones, but the lack of scoring doesn’t seem to match up with it.
In practice Monday, the Wild emphasized taking the puck to the net with the hope of creating more scoring chances.
“The way things have been going, we haven’t been scoring many goals,” said forward Kyle Brodziak, who has a goal and two assists in nine games. “It becomes harder to get that nose for the net. I think today it was good to be able to battle and take pucks to the net. You get a little more comfortable doing that, and hopefully we’ll be able to translate it into a game and see some benefits from it.”
Penalty kill struggling: In the losses to the Lightning and Panthers, Minnesota allowed two more power play goals as the Wild’s power play continues to search for traction.
Through nine games this year, the Wild have now allowed 10 power play goals, the most in the league. Minnesota has killed off just 73 percent of penalties, second-worst in the NHL and ahead of only Calgary (69.6 percent).
“I think we can be more aggressive on the penalty kill,” Parise said. “That’s just one area that’s been a little bit of a struggle for us this year is our penalty kill. It seems like every game we’re giving up a goal and we’re losing by a goal. That’s been the difference. That area has got to be better as well, among other things.”
On the flip side, Minnesota’s power play has been among the better units in the league at 26.3 percent, fifth-best in the NHL. The Wild have scored 10 times on the power play so far, trailing only San Jose’s 11 goals with the man advantage.
But Minnesota’s success on the power play has been negated by its inability to stop other teams on their power play chances.
“I think all of us are maybe kind of the opposite end of squeezing our sticks where we’re just a little hesitant, rather than just go out and get the kill,” Brodziak said of the penalty kill unit. “Every year the PK always goes through a stretch where it struggles, and it’s just unfortunate that it happens to be the beginning of the year right now when we’re having a tough time scoring goals.”
Goalie situation remains uncertain: With the way goalie Josh Harding has played for the Wild, it’s going to be Yeo to keep him out of the net. At the same time, Minnesota needs to find ice time for veteran Niklas Backstrom as soon as Backstrom returns from a right knee strain that has kept him on the bench since Oct. 8.
In Backstrom’s absence, Harding has been razor sharp. His 1.11 goals against average is tops among all NHL goalies, and his save percentage of .948 ranks fifth in the league. Given the way Harding has played, it’s made it perhaps a bit easier for Yeo to allow Backstrom to take his time recovering from the knee injury rather than rush him back to the ice.
Yeo said Monday that a decision would be made on Tuesday’s starting goalie after the team’s morning skate.
“Josh played extremely well on the road,” Yeo said. “Obviously wins are a big focus for us right now. We have to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make sure both guys are at their best and ready to go and feeling good about their game. The bottom line is the decision has to be made based on what we think for that given night what’s going to give us the best chance to win the game.”
Backstrom said Monday that he continues to feel better every day. In the meantime, he’s been able to appreciate what Harding has done in the Wild’s last six games.
“It’s been fun to watch. He’s playing great,” Backstrom said. “You know how hard he’s been working every day, so it’s fun to see when … you get into the games, too, and you get the result.”
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