RALEIGH, N.C. – As Alex Stalock reflected on his first start this season — a tense, taxing night in Carolina that ended in a 5-4 shootout loss — the Wild goalie wasn’t sure how to describe it. “I don’t know if stress is the word,’’ he said. “But anxious, and excited.’’
Stalock was too polite to point out the defensive inadequacies that doomed the Wild to one point Saturday rather than two. Coach Bruce Boudreau had no such problem. “He played great,’’ Boudreau said of Stalock, who stopped 38 of Carolina’s 42 shots. “If we would’ve had any help in front of him, we would have come away with two points.’’
The Wild learned a few things as it ended its season-opening road trip, in which it yielded eight goals and 73 shots on goal in a regulation defeat at Detroit and a shootout loss at Carolina. Stalock, the backup to Devan Dubnyk, demonstrated he can shore up a weakness that cost the Wild last season. His teammates, though, proved that defense cannot be a one-man show.
In both games, the Wild displayed some backbone. It rallied from a 2-0 deficit to forge a tie in Detroit before falling, and it scored with 0.3 seconds remaining in Carolina to force overtime after squandering a 3-1 lead. But uneven play, particularly from its defense, left the Wild with plenty to work on before its next game Thursday at Chicago.
“We kept going for goals, and when we do that, we’re going to be in trouble,’’ Boudreau said of Saturday’s lapses, when the Wild’s defensive structure collapsed as it focused on generating offense. “I know it’s early in the season. We’ll fix it by practicing and watching video.
“That’s not the way we play. That’s not the way we had success last year.’’
After two games, the Wild has a goals-against average of 4.00 (tied for 20th in the NHL) and is allowing 36.5 shots on goal per game (tied for 21st). Both nights, players lamented the lack of support they gave their goalies.
Dubnyk started in Detroit and surrendered four goals on 31 shots. Boudreau went with Stalock on Saturday, because he didn’t want the backup to be idle for too long during a season that includes only six games in the first 19 days. Against the Red Wings, Dubnyk made one spectacular save while on his back, but Boudreau was unhappy to see Detroit to score two third-period goals from the slot, saying, “We preach a lot about protecting our house.”
The team defense was even more disconnected Saturday. Stalock got to show off his capabilities as he faced scads of high-quality shots. His most memorable save came in the second period, when he dived to smother Justin Williams’ point-blank attempt and covered the puck at the goal line.
“Alex played extremely well,’’ defenseman Ryan Suter said. “He gave us a chance to at least get one point. But it was a little loose. We gave up a lot of odd-man rushes, and I think that was because we were turning the puck over at the blue lines.”
Stalock said Carolina was able to “find some seams’’ in the Wild defense, and he noted that the Hurricanes defensemen — who like to join the rush — give their offense an extra dimension. The goalie also was the victim of some early bad luck when Mikko Koivu accidentally pushed the puck past him to give Carolina its first goal.
Forward Jason Zucker called Stalock’s performance “amazing’’ and “phenomenal.” Though Boudreau was dismayed that the Wild forced Stalock to “make 10 10-bell saves,’’ the backup goalie’s sturdy play reinforced the feeling that he will stabilize an essential position. Boudreau is hoping Stalock can play about 25 games this season to lighten the burden on Dubnyk.
Stalock seemed generally satisfied with his play, though he found it hard to be too happy about a trip without a victory.
“It would be nice to have that first [goal] back, for sure,’’ he said. “I made timely saves at times, but four [goals against] is really not going to win many games.
“We got a point out of it. Obviously, that’s half of what you want, but we’ll go home and hopefully get things squared away.”