Eric Staal and the Minnesota Wild take on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
For the Minnesota Wild, the goals have been coming in bunches and then barely coming at all. They are in the latter category lately.
Going into a game Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena, Minnesota (17-14-2) has just one goal over its past two games, including a 4-0 loss Tuesday against San Jose.
It was the Wild's second shutout loss this month, although also recently the team totaled 12 goals in games against Montreal and Florida.
The low-scoring games are beginning to weigh on the players.
"Right now, the shoulders are slumping, and guys are starting to feel sorry for themselves a little bit," Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said.
"We've got two more games before Christmas. We've got to start playing 60 minutes and not 45 or not 50 and not 52. To win and to win consistently, that's what you've got to do. And obviously at some point pretty soon, we're going to have to put a run together of five or six or seven games together."
Regardless of how many goals the Wild get, opponents are striking first at a concerning rate. In 23 of 33 games this season, Minnesota has given up the first goal. It is 11-11-1 in those 23 games.
"We're playing from behind, it feels like, almost every game," center Eric Staal said. "It's too hard in this league to continually play from behind."
In the loss to San Jose, Wild captain Mikko Koivu returned after missing four games because of a lower-body injury, but Matt Dumba, who was leading NHL defensemen with 12 goals, was out because of an upper-body injury.
Boudreau noted that while Pittsburgh has not won consistently, because of stars such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang "if you think that just because they've been having a mediocre season that they're not a team that won back-to-back Stanley Cups only a short time ago (in 2016 and '17), then we're in for a rude awakening."
The Wild has one advantage over the Penguins - it had Wednesday night off in Pittsburgh while the Penguins were beating the Capitals 2-1 in a tight, physical game and then traveling home from Washington.
But Pittsburgh might have gotten a big emotional lift in the strong game against one of its biggest rivals.
"We might not be in the place we want to be, but facing the Stanley Cup champions like that, it gives us the extra motivation to keep climbing in the standings and play better," Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang told NBCSN Wednesday after he played a regulation career-high 32:22 as the Penguins won for the third time in four games.
Pittsburgh has been alternating starts between goaltenders Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith since Murray returned from an injury last week, and it would seem to be DeSmith's turn after Murray played at Washington and made 31 saves.
The Penguins lost defenseman Jamie Oleksiak in the first minute against the Capitals after he lost a fight against Tom Wilson. His status for the Minnesota game is unclear.