Years ago, Twins pitcher Juan Rincon made a memorable—if accidental--turn of phrase after imploding in a playoff game against the Yankees. “No one wants to be in my pants right now,’’ Rincon said, an unintentionally comic line that sprang to mind after watching Matt Dumba’s painful faux pas Tuesday night.
Dumba wasn’t the only reason the Wild lost 2-1 to Winnipeg, but the defenseman’s third-period giveaway had coach Bruce Boudreau steaming. Already having a poor game, Dumba slid a drop pass back to … no one, leaving the puck sitting near the Wild blue line for Nikolaj Ehlers to just pick up, skate in and score on Alex Stalock. Dumba has frequently been careless with the puck, out of position and generally sloppy this season, and Boudreau clearly had had enough, benching him for the rest of the game.
It was the most glaring error of another dull effort that seemed to defy explanation. Boudreau didn’t seem outraged by the Wild’s lackluster play through most of the first two periods; he seemed puzzled, as if he can’t understand why so many of his players haven’t been ready to go from the start of several games.
He blamed it on a lack of “self-preparation,’’ saying “it hasn’t been there for a few games right now.’’ As for Dumba, his patience with the defenseman seemed to be strained.
“You know, he just hasn't been playing that well,’’ Boudreau said after the game. “He's a good player that maybe I've set the bar pretty high for him, and he hasn't reached that bar. I just thought that was an inexcusable play. And at some point, you have to be accountable for your actions.
“We can teach and show and do this. I mean, it's like a ‘you can lead a horse to water’ type of thing. He's got to do the stuff. He's been in this league four years now. He's just got to do what he does when he's playing good. I don't know what else is on his mind. He's got to come to the game better prepared.’’
Dumba gets points in the accountability department. He was requested by the media for postgame interviews, and he didn’t beg off. He knew he wasn’t likely to get back in the game after Ehlers scored 43 seconds into the third period—“rightfully so,’’ he acknowledged—and didn’t try to make excuses.
“We made a good play to escape out of the corner and started heading up the ice,’’ he explained. “I saw (Granlund) cutting behind, and I just put it too soft. I’ve got to put that harder back there so he can skate onto that and beat that guy. That was my fault. It sucks.
“I’ve just got to man up and own it and try to move on. It’s frustrating, and you know you let your teammates down like that on a play that I can routinely make. It’s like an interception, like a pick-six, like the guy runs it back to the house.’’
Until the third period, the Wild just didn’t make things hard enough for Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck has been extremely sharp this season, ranking fifth in the NHL in save percentage (.937) and sixth in goals-against average (2.05).
The Wild was spraying the puck all over the place, misfiring on scads of shots. They missed the net with 24, had another 22 blocked and mishandled pucks to squander other opportunities. Boudreau said he’s seeing too much emphasis on trying to score fancy goals, and not enough on getting greasy ones.
“In the third period, we had a ton of looks,’’ Boudreau said of a period in which the Wild outshot the Jets 12-2. “And we didn’t hit the net. And if you can’t hit the net, you’re not going to score. Our whole goal was to hit the net and crash the net. When we do that, we’re a pretty good team, and we score a lot of goals.
“But when you’re trying to be cute and just pick very little corners or little spots on the ice, it doesn’t work for you. And unfortunately, when you’re not scoring as an individual and you want to score, you tend to be that cute because you want to make the perfect shot, rather than sit back and say, ‘I’m just gonna get seven shots on net, and hopefully, one of them’s going to go in at some point.’’’
Boudreau felt bad for Stalock, who had 17 saves and prevented the Jets from scoring on a power play in the game’s opening minute. Stalock generously took some of the blame, second-guessing how he played Ehlers on the winning goal.
“As soon as you see that play develop, I kind of made up in my mind that I was going to come out and challenge this guy,’’ said Stalock, who is 1-1-1 this season. “Obviously the wrong play. But I kind of made up my mind, said I was going, and it turns out it didn’t work. … That’s my job, ultimately, to make the save. You get 100 breakaways a day in practice. That’s one I’d like to have back.”
Another sore point for Boudreau was the power play. The Wild did not score on five chances, extending their drought to 0-for-16 over the past four games. They last scored a power-play goal in a 4-2 win over Calgary on Oct. 21.
“You need five guys thinking as one,’’ he said. “And I think right now, we’ve got five guys thinking as five guys. And so nobody can read what you’re supposed to be doing. And there’s a plan in place. We’ve got to get the guys to just do the plan.’’
The Wild is taking Wednesday off before resuming the homestand Thursday against Montreal, which has won its past two games.