ST. PAUL, Minn. — They say you can’t teach scoring. But in the National Hockey League, you’re supposed to be able to purchase it.
Maybe $196 million just doesn’t buy what it used to because after opening the bank vault to sign the league’s two most-coveted unrestricted free agents last summer — winger Zach Parise and defenceman Ryan Suter — the Minnesota Wild has the same old problems: can’t score, can’t win on the road.
They’re at home tonight to the Vancouver Canucks (5 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040) and even at a mediocre 4-4-1, the Wild is one of the NHL’s bigger disappointments so far in the shortened season. Minnesota is 25th offensively, averaging 2.22 goals per game.
Parise is doing his part, leading Minnesota with six goals and 10 points in nine games. But Suter is still looking for his first goal from the blue line and is a team-worst minus-seven. The Wild’s over-riding problem, as it has been since the franchise was founded, is a lack of scoring depth.
Winger Dany Heatley, pointless in four games and with just one goal in six, struggles to keep up and has been bounced off the first line by rookie Charlie Coyle, who plays tonight with Parise and centre Mikko Koivu.
Among secondary scorers, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Cullen have one goal each and Kyle Brodziak and Devin Setoguchi have none. Setoguchi’s next stop could be the press box. He’s on the fourth line tonight. Highly-regarded rookie Mikael Granlund (one goal in nine games) is a healthy scratch.
“I am a little bit surprised because there’s a lot of guys who can and have (scored),” Parise said. “We’re just going through a tough spot right now and, unfortunately, it’s at the beginning of the season.
“We’re not doing things well enough to create the scoring chance. That’s the problem. It’s not just that we’re not scoring, we’re not doing the five things before getting a scoring chance.”
Minnesota coach Mike Yeo doesn’t share Parise’s surprise at the lack of scoring.
“Quite often, it’s a shift in mindset,” Yeo explained. “OK, we’ve added more skill, so we’re just going to make more skilled plays. Anyone who’s been around this league knows if you want to score goals, you better be going to where goals are scored … that three-foot area, five-foot area around the front of the net. Sometimes the more skill you have the further away from that area you can drift.”
The Canucks are 5-2-2 and 3-0-1 in their last four games but have their own offensive problems, uncharacteristic for a team annually among the league’s highest scoring.
Former NHL scoring champions Daniel Sedin (one assist in five games) and Henrik Sedin (two assists in five) have combined for only two goals so far, and their struggles are a key reason why Vancouver’s power play is only 20th in the NHL at 15.6 per cent.
“Our record would have been a lot better if our power play would have been better,” Henrik said after this morning’s skates. “There were games we were up, 2-0, 2-1 in the third period, and our power play had the chance to win the game for us and it didn’t.”
He believes he and his brother are close to breaking out offensively.
“We’re really close right now,” Sedin said. “The past two or three games have been a lot better. For us, as long as we feel good that we’re creating chances … goals are going to come. More so early on, it was a little more frustrating because we didn’t make the plays we wanted to.”
They’ll start tonight with winger Alex Burrows, who was reunited with the twins partway through Monday’s 3-2 overtime win in Edmonton. That means leading goal scorer Zack Kassian (five goals) will begin the game on the third line.
The Canucks’ biggest change is in goal where Cory Schneider, who thought he was to be the No. 1 goalie when he replaced Roberto Luongo in last year’s playoffs then re-signed for $12 million over three years, starts for the first time in five games.
There have been constant questions to Schneider regarding his feelings about not playing. Now there will be questions for Luongo, who is not playing despite posting a sparkling 1.53 goals-against average and .940 save rate this season.
Schneider will be opposed tonight by the Wild’s Niklas Backstrom (2.45, .915).
Although they’re struggling to score and inept, so far, on the road, the Wild is 4-1 at home.
• PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Canucks — G Cory Schneider. Until Roberto Luongo is traded, goaltending is the never-ending story in Vancouver. Schneider starts for the first time in 11 days.
Wild – D Ryan Suter. Much is expected from the Wild’s other $98-million man, but the free agent from Nashville is a ghastly minus-seven in nine games for Minnesota.
Canucks — C Ryan Kesler (shoulder), RW David Booth (groin).
Wild — D Jared Spurgeon (foot).