NEW YORK -- Last season, when the Minnesota Wild were mired in a month-long swoon, it was easy to pinpoint their biggest problem. It was goaltending.
In came Devan Dubnyk; he was brilliant, the Wild regained their confidence, and away they went into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Well, here are the Wild again, stuck in another month-long swoon, albeit a little later than last season. And guess what, it's easy to pinpoint their biggest problem.
This time it's scoring. And that's concerning. It's more complicated to solve scoring issues than goaltending woes. A trade won't necessarily provide the answer because scoring is always more complicated, especially when it's a team-wide problem.
So it's not surprising that the Wild, with three wins and 26 goals in their past 14 games (3-8-3, 1.86 goals per game), are scratching their heads and grasping for answers that aren't coming to them as they head into Madison Square Garden to play the New York Rangers on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; FS-N, FS-WI, MSG 2, NHL.TV).
"Something is not right," Wild left wing Zach Parise said. "It's been tough to pinpoint. Offense has been hard to find here. It's just been an absolute grind to get anything."
Coach Mike Yeo admitted he's playing a dual role at this point, part coach and part psychologist, trying to do what he can to help the Wild get out of their rut.
"That's a big part of the coach's job, so that's a big part of my job right now," Yeo said.
On Wednesday, less than 24 hours after their latest loss, 5-3 against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center, Yeo figured the best thing he could do is put his team through a normal practice, focusing on details in a crisp, hard, quick workout at the Garden.
"We just needed a good work day. That's what we got," Yeo said. "That's all we can do right now. We are certainly not going to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. We have to get better, so we'll get better."
They weren't visibly down after practice the way they were after the game Wednesday, but they weren't any less frustrated.
The negative thoughts the Wild are having about their game are becoming part of their game. They've reached the point where they expect bad things to happen.
"That's how it's going right now, we just don't have that confidence that we did at the beginning of the year," defenseman Ryan Suter said. "When you have that confidence you can get away with having a mishap or a couple throughout the game. Now it's costing us."
The Wild have been defending well. Or, rather, they were until Wednesday, when they lost because they got loose and paid for it, Suter said.
The Islanders scored three goals in a span of 5:54 bridging the second and third periods.
"We were thinking offense a little bit more, probably because that's all we've been talking about, especially in the media," Suter said. "Maybe that was it."
Suter said the Wild needed to play the way they did in the first period against the Islanders for all three periods. They had a 1-0 lead and a 20-12 advantage in shots on goal after 20 minutes.
"Just stick with the game plan," he said.
They've tried that during the past month. It hasn't worked. That's why they seem so confounded by all of this.
When they play an open game, they get burned, as they did in Brooklyn. When they play tight, limit shots and scoring chances against, they still can't score enough to win.
The Wild are shooting 6.1 percent (26 goals on 425 shots) since Jan. 2. They were shooting 9.6 percent from Oct. 8-Dec. 31.
"I've never been on a team that at the same time no one feels good about their offensive game," Parise said. "It's hard to understand."
It wasn't hard to understand last season. The Wild needed better goaltending than they were getting. Dubnyk solved that. He played well, confidence spread throughout the team so everybody started playing well, and they went on a tear to make the playoffs.
"I don't think that we should sit here and say that this is like last year or just because we did it in the past we'll do it again," Yeo said. "But what I would say is the real pro is you don't do those things without a lot of character. We've often pointed to the leadership of this group and the character, and it certainly gives me confidence that we can get out of this again."
Maybe they can, but it's complicated. Scoring is always more complicated, especially when it's an entire team searching for answers.