ST. LOUIS – With the St. Louis Blues opening their season in Chicago on Wednesday, the visiting Wild was the one that broke in the Scottrade Center ice with a practice.
Not often that happens.
But any benefit the Wild thought it would get from the Blues having to play back-to-back to open the season didn’t manifest itself Thursday night. The Blues routinely skated past and through the Wild to ruin the first game of the Bruce Boudreau era with a 3-2 win.
“I was thinking [Wednesday] night was such an advantage for them to already have played a fast-paced game knowing what it is, and this is not an excuse, but we were a step behind it seemed all night long,” Boudreau said.
Not only did the Wild look — and play — smaller than the Central Division rivals, the Wild’s lack of finish reared its ugly head for Boudreau to see in Game 1. Minnesota struck out on three breakaways that would have provided either leads or tie scores.
It took the Wild 8 ½ minutes to register its first shot, and the night was largely spent routinely losing battles in its own zone.
“The whole game we couldn’t get up to speed,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, who had five shots and scored a fantastic tying goal on an individual effort in the second period. “They were humming, and we just couldn’t catch up. We had periods where we would match their intensity and their speed. But for the most part, we’d have one guy going and the second guy couldn’t get to the puck.
“It seemed like we were always late arriving on the puck, and a team like that, you’ve got to be checking on all cylinders to have success.”
Suter, expected to log less ice time this season, played a game-high 28 minutes, 11 seconds because some of the Wild’s young defensemen, especially Mike Reilly, had tough nights.
“I’m hoping it was based upon first-game jitters,” Boudreau said.
The Wild tried to stage a late rally when Charlie Coyle, moved to the fourth line when Boudreau scrambled all his right wingers in an attempt to spark something, cut the deficit to 3-2. But, as Coyle said, “too little, too late.”
Nail Yakupov, the former No. 1 overall pick playing his first game at home since being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers, scored a goal and assisted on the eventual third-period winner by fellow former Oiler Magnus Paajarvi. Alex Steen also scored, and Jake Allen made 19 saves, including on breakaways by Jason Zucker, Eric Staal and Zach Parise.
“It would have been nice to cash in one of them,” Boudreau said.
Boudreau wants to have a four-line team, but the fourth line struggled Thursday. Zucker, Zac Dalpe and Teemu Pulkkinen scrambled around the Wild end for a minute after Reilly’s initial turnover. Then, after Zucker failed to get a puck out inches from the blue line, Dalpe couldn’t check Steen off a puck, then got beaten by Steen to the middle.
On the third-period goal, Dalpe lost a board battle, leading to an odd-man rush.
“I don’t think we were crisp enough,” Zucker said. “I know my line, the fourth line, to start the game was not good enough. We had a couple turnovers, and one ended up in the back of our net.”
The Wild’s passing and turnovers, Boudreau said, “were much to be desired,” and as under assault as Devan Dubnyk was (he had to deny a 4-on-1 in the third period), Yakupov basically blew a hole through his glove en route to a second-period go-ahead goal after Suter single-handedly forced two turnovers to tie the score.
Dubnyk didn’t see the puck come off Yakupov’s blade cleanly.
“He can shoot the puck,” he said of his former Oilers teammate. “It’s kind of one of those plays where it would have looked better if it went straight in. … Probably we all agree we have a lot more to give.”