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Updated: January 29th, 2013 11:35pm
Myers: Despite win, secondary scoring remains a primary issue for Wild

Myers: Despite win, secondary scoring remains a primary issue for Wild

by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It sounds like hockey's version of a first world problem to say that your top line is scoring too much. After all, what was that lump sum of nearly $100 million spent on Zach Parise for if not for him to power the Minnesota Wild's ability to score goals, hold leads and win games?

So after the top line of Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley powered the Wild to a 2-0 lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday - Koivu scored a goal and set up a Tom Gilbert goal -- all seemed right with the world. But in this shortened season, when you dress 12 forwards, getting offense from just three of them will not be enough in the long run. Not nearly enough.

That was one of the hard lessons learned in the Wild's recent 0-2-1 stretch, where the top line was great and everyone else was unremarkable. If you put all your offensive aspirations on one trio of forwards, you become one-dimensional and simpler to stop.

Granted, the Minnesota Vikings proved that one-dimensional offense doesn't always get you nowhere. Sometimes it gets you to the playoffs. Still, with the top line shut down and the Blue Jackets rallying to tie the game 2-2 in the third period on Tuesday, the home team needed someone - practically anyone - to provide a spark.

Matt Cullen, who recently has looked every bit of his advanced age, played perhaps the game of the season for him, blocking shots, taking shots and providing a dimension not seen since the lockout ended. But his second line is still not clicking, with rookie Mikael Granlund struggling to adjust his normally dynamic game to the NHL level.

And the Wild took four penalties in the third period, one of which led to Columbus' tying goal, and others which allowed the Blue Jackets serious hope of a win, despite what their coach Todd Richards later labeled as a 30-minute effort.

Forced to juggle things due to all the special teams play in the third, Wild coach Mike Yeo somehow ended up with Pierre-Marc Bouchard centering Torrey Mitchell and tough guy Zenon Konopka late in the third period of a tie game. And amazingly, it worked.

Mitchell, the free agent signee from San Jose, got the puck at the blue line, drawing a defenseman to him, then flipping a pass roughly three feet into the zone. There Bouchard caught it in full stride, and barreled toward the net with a direct line to the crease. From 15 feet out, Bouchard snapped off a rising wrist shot that eluded Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason's glove hand. Five minutes later, the Wild had their first win in a week, thanks to a rare and important burst of secondary scoring.

"Mikko's line has been playing some solid hockey since the beginning of the season. We need to support them," said Bouchard, who scored the 100th goal of his career on the play. "The other lines need to play some better hockey and be a little bit more productive. We want to play our game. If we're playing good with the puck and creating stuff, we know goals will come later."

Yeo spoke almost philosophically after the game, saying that early in a shortened season like this one, wins are important, but seemingly equally as important as playing the game you've designed for your team, which leads to scoring, which leads to wins. Or some such "full circle" notion.
"Those guys were doing a great job for us," Yeo said of his makeshift fourth line. "That's one thing that was great about this game. We've talked a lot about other guys contributing besides the top line but it's more than just scoring goals. It's going out and playing minutes and playing the right way."

As for Granlund and his struggles, Yeo admitted he talked to the young Finn after the second period on Tuesday and said he saw improvement in the third, which is what he's looking for at this point.

The fans are seemingly looking for Parise goals, and little else, thus far. And they almost got their wish again Tuesday. Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin's second period turnover on the goal line went right to Parise, whose initial shot was saved by Mason, but the rebound was poked into the net. While the Wild celebrated what would've been Parise's 200th career goal, replay officials determined Parise had directed the puck into the net with his arm, and they ruled no goal.

"Parise comes back and gets that disallowed goal, and that could've really deflated the group, for them to come back and get one," said Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen. "Dodging that bullet really woke guys up, knowing that we could've been down 3-1, and get a second life. Down 2-1 on the road is not a bad situation. Eventually we got the tie, but we couldn't hold onto it."

Blame secondary scoring. Even if it comes from a patched-together fourth line.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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