Desperately seeking scoring, Wild falls to Columbus 3-2
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- After 20 minutes of play and exactly two shots on goal by the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, the top six players of the franchise's first decade were announced.
Five of them - forwards Andrew Brunette and Mikko Koivu, defensemen Brent Burns and Nick Schultz, and goalie Niklas Backstrom - were in uniform for the team on Saturday. But the one that was missing is perhaps the one, or at least the kind of player (a pure goal scorer, dangerous on every shift), they still need most.
Yes, Marian Gaborik is long gone, toiling in his second season with the New York Rangers. And in a storyline that is all too familiar to Wild fans who watched his eight seasons in Minnesota, Gaborik is injured, expected to be out of the Rangers lineup for a few weeks with a separated shoulder.
In five of the eight seasons that Gaborik called Xcel Energy Center his home rink, he notched 30 or more goals. That's the kind of offensive sparkplug that's needed to be successful in the modern NHL. And as is becoming increasingly obvious, the Wild badly needs someone to step into that role.
The lack of offensive punch was again glaringly obvious in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, as the Wild did some good things offensively, but not enough of anything to win.
"It seems like at times we're waiting for someone to do it. We're waiting for somebody else to take the bull by the horns," Wild coach Todd Richards said, noting that team captain Koivu, who led the team offensively last season, is the obvious leading candidate to provide the necessary spark. "You can't wait for Mikko all the time. It's not going to happen. He tries but he's not going to be good every single night. Tonight we were waiting for something."
In the definitive moment on Saturday, the game was tied 2-2 midway through the third, and the Wild was on a power play. It was about the time that the Ohio State football game had ended, meaning a few sports fans in greater Columbus may have switched their TVs over to the hockey game, just in time to see former Buckeye R.J. Umberger keep the Jackets unbeaten on the road.
With a nifty toe drag move, Umberger sailed past Wild defenseman Cam Barker, and tucked a rebound on Backstrom that the goalie appeared to smother. There was no call on the ice, but after a lengthy review of replays (none of which clearly showed the puck crossing the goal line) the officials announced it was a goal.
Richards said he did not see a replay that clearly showed the puck in the net, but faulted his own team, not the officials, for the loss.
"Regardless of the call, what we think or what really happened, we got what we deserved tonight," he said.
The Wild pelted Columbus goalie Mathieu Garon in the final minute, with Backstrom pulled for an extra attacker, but could not get the equalizer. When they desperately needed an offensive spark to tie the game, it could not be found.
It was a common theme, especially after a lifeless first period. With 18 minutes elapsed in the game, the Wild had managed just one shot on goal, and that included a full two minutes of power play in which the Wild didn't come close to testing Garon.
Trailing 1-0 in the second, the Wild got a power play goal from Burns (a classic "throw it on nat and see what happens" play) and an even strength goal (just the team's second of the season) from Cal Clutterbuck to forge a 2-2 tie in the final period. But Umberger's controversial goal erased the tie, and there was nobody to be found to tie it up again.
"Our top two lines are doing most of the scoring for us, if not all of it," said center John Madden. "Our third and fourth lines have to pick up some slack here and there. Mikko's line and (Matt Cullen's) line can't do it every night."
Saturday's announced attendance of 17,336 signified the first time in team history that a regular season game was not sold out. The Wild is just four games into the season, with a 1-2-1 record. But is already apparent that more reliable offense - from Koivu, from Guillaume Latendresse, from Brunette, from Cullen, or from some other mystery source we don't know about yet - is needed soon, if the sellouts are to return.