A gracious teammate, Alex Stalock knows, is always there to share any burden. So the Wild goaltender blamed himself Tuesday, wishing he had chosen a different strategy when Nikolaj Ehlers closed in on him.
Ehlers was there — all alone, in the slot, with the puck on his stick — because Wild defenseman Matt Dumba had made a careless drop pass early in the third period of a tight game against Winnipeg. The puck wound up in the back of the net, and Dumba was banished to the bench for the rest of a 2-1 loss. But Stalock, despite another strong start, recognized there was culpability up and down the lineup as the Wild’s two-game win streak was extinguished at Xcel Energy Center.
Dumba’s giveaway at the Wild blue line was only the most egregious error. The Wild’s punchless power play failed to score on five opportunities, and the offense wasn’t fully engaged until the third period. Even then, the Wild got only 29 shots to the net, with 46 others blocked or sent wide.
Facing Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who is among the NHL’s statistical leaders, the Wild needed a sterling effort but got far too little, far too late.
“We didn’t play the full 60 [minutes],” said forward Luke Kunin, who scored the Wild’s lone goal at 5 minutes, 36 seconds of the third period. “I don’t think we were as prepared as we needed to be.
“We didn’t play to our strengths. We didn’t play to our game plan. Too many turnovers, and just not doing the right things. We’ve got to be better.”
No argument there, from coach Bruce Boudreau or anyone in the locker room. Boudreau snarkily suggested Tuesday morning that “it would be nice if our players played really well in front of [Stalock] one night,” noting the backup goalie had gotten lackluster support in two solid starts.
He made the same point to his team between the ragged first and second periods Tuesday, as the Wild failed to even put a shot on goal before Kyle Connor gave Winnipeg a 1-0 lead at 7:10 of the first. The swift Jets outskated the Wild for most of the first two periods, then doubled their lead on Dumba’s gaffe.
Dumba said he was trying to get the puck to Mikael Granlund, who was behind him, but passed too softly. Ehlers scooped it up, dodged Granlund and deked around Stalock, who chastised himself for challenging Ehlers. “That’s my job, ultimately, to make the save,” he said. “That’s one I’d like to have back.”
A downcast Dumba knew the feeling. “That’s like an interception, a pick-six,” said the defenseman, who has struggled often this season. “That was my fault. It’s frustrating. You know you let your teammates down.”
Boudreau found plenty of blame to go around. With Dumba benched for what the coach called “an inexcusable play,” the Wild mounted a frantic last stand. It outshot Winnipeg 12-2 in the third period and scored when Nino Niederreiter sent a no-look pass to Kunin in the slot.
Once again, though, Boudreau ended up feeling sorry for a goaltender who deserved a better ending — and befuddled by a team that isn’t taking charge of its collective fate.
“I wish I could answer that question,” he said, when asked why his team started so poorly. “Our self-preparation hasn’t been there for a few games.”