Everyone in the Wild's locker room agreed: the team just wasn't itself Tuesday in a 2-1 loss to St. Louis. But no one seemed to have a good explanation for why the Wild didn't display its usual tenacity around the net, which allowed the Blues to give coach Mike Yeo a victory in his first game at Xcel Energy Center as a visiting head coach.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said he knew quickly that things weren't right, starting with his go-to line of Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund. "I would have broken them up at about the five-minute mark of the first period,'' he said of the trio, which he did separate in the second period. "But I figured I'd let them try to play their way out of it. I just didn't think they were very good tonight, certain individuals on the line.''
Boudreau replaced Zucker with Nino Niederreiter and tinkered with other lines as well, trying to find combinations that would shake the Wild out of a dull effort. Nothing clicked, leaving the Wild with a one-goal loss despite a 33-20 advantage in shots.
Yeo challenged his players to stand up to the Wild's typically aggressive forecheck, and the Blues gave outstanding support to goalie Jake Allen. They kept the Wild to the outside, gave Allen clear looks and didn't yield in front of the net. Boudreau said the Wild didn't put enough pressure on the Blues and didn't win enough battles, something his players didn't dispute.
"Their D boxed us out pretty well,'' said Niederreiter, who finished the game with a single shot on goal. "But at the same time, we didn't do a good enough job to get in front of them.
"We definitely made it too easy for Allen. We didn't get enough traffic in front of his net. That's partly my fault; I have to make sure the big guys, like myself, (Charlie Coyle and Chris Stewart), we have to make sure we get in front of their net and screen the goalie.''
For much of the night, the Blues beat the Wild to pucks, disrupted their rhythm, knocked away passes and won positional battles in front of the net. Their first goal came on a textbook deflection by David Perron, who had plenty of room in the slot to tip Colton Parayko's shot past Devan Dubnyk.
Yeo was pleased that the Blues didn't sag when things got tough. He viewed a disallowed goal in the second period as a turning point. At 10:22, Patrik Berglund was tangling in front of the net and raised his stick to knock the puck down. It hit the right post and slipped behind Dubnyk. Officials signaled a goal before the call was overturned because of Berglund's high stick.
The Blues kept forging ahead and finally got their second goal at 11:03 of the third period, when Jaden Schwartz again beat the Wild to a puck down low and delivered a beautiful backhand pass to a wide-open Vladimir Tarasenko in the right circle. Through the course of the game, Yeo said, the Blues responded whenever the Wild pushed--a sign of growth for his team.
"The only thing we concentrated on was coming in here and beating a good team,'' he said. "We knew we had to be at our best. We knew we needed everybody. Obviously, the result is great. But for me, it's a matter of the blueprint of how we did it, and we can use this going forward.''
After scoring 11 goals in its first two games after a five-day break, the Wild has four in its past three games, including one on an empty net. To get back to its high-scoring ways, Jason Pominville said the team must renew its commitment to get to the net.
"We've got to get to the paint,'' he said. "We've got to find ways to get into the dirty area to get more secondary opportunities. Most nights, we're a good rush team. We get good zone time. But we've got to make sure we get more of those rebounds, more of those dirty goals. If we do that, we'll get back to scoring like we usually do.''
Other notes from the game:
--Boudreau had the Zucker-Koivu-Granlund line back together by the end of the game. But his dissatisfaction with the combo didn't start Tuesday. "That's been a trend from the last game, and even the game before,'' he said. "They're the only line that's stayed together. I thought maybe seeing somebody different on there would jump-start us.''
--Defenseman Matt Dumba was ill Tuesday and did not play. The Wild already was planning to call up Gustav Olofsson from Iowa for the five-game road trip that begins Thursday, and when Dumba was sick during the morning skate, they brought Olofsson up. He arrived in St. Paul at about 4:30 p.m. and got 10:50 of ice time Tuesday, finishing with two shots on goal, one block and one hit.
--Thursday's game at Tampa Bay will test the Wild's much-discussed ability to avoid consecutive losses. It has lost back-to-back games in regulation only once this season, on Nov. 1 against Buffalo and Nov. 5 at Colorado.