The Wild got its first chance this season to study the current Western Conference leader in person, getting reacquainted with the Blues on Saturday for the first time since St. Louis knocked it out of the playoffs last spring.
But the group might have walked away from the test learning more about itself than St. Louis, because just when the Wild seemed to find equal footing with the Blues, it sabotaged itself by committing a turnover, surrendering a shorthanded goal and taking a penalty — a constellation of errors that lined up for a 6-3 letdown in front of an announced 18,610 at Scottrade Center.
“When you keep giving them back a two-goal lead,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said, “eventually you’re going to run out of time.”
While the Wild seemed to be catching the Blues at an opportune time for its litmus test, having banked five out of a possible six points through its first three games of the week, the result was a reminder of the work that still needs to be accomplished to not just hang with the elite in the West but outmaneuver it.
“They’re a really good hockey club,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Blues. “I just don’t think we played anywhere near [our] capabilities.”
The Wild was on the penalty kill a season-high eight times, and the Blues capitalized on three of those chances. This parade to the penalty box started early, teeing up a three-goal outburst for St. Louis in the first period.
A deflection in front by center Paul Stastny on a power play put the Blues up 1-0 just 6 minutes, 15 seconds into the game, but the Wild could have easily erased the deficit.
Winger Nino Niederreiter lost the handle in front with goalie Jake Allen caught out of position, his best chance to extend his career-best goal streak that came to an end at six games. Wingers Tyler Ennis and Zack Mitchell also had quality looks, but Allen — who recorded 22 saves — blocked everything.
Soon after, the Wild fell further behind after a giveaway by defenseman Kyle Quincey. His clearing attempt caromed off winger Chris Thorburn and right to winger Dmitrij Jaskin, who slid the puck around Dubnyk at 11:09.
Winger Chris Stewart tried to flip the momentum by dropping the gloves with Thorburn, a spirited slugfest between the two at center ice. But the fight didn’t spark the Wild, as winger Jaden Schwartz pushed in a puck from in front at 16:54.
“I don’t think we played that bad, but down 3-0, that says something there,” forward Charlie Coyle said.
The Wild’s execution was only mildly better in the second; Coyle erased Allen’s shutout bid at 15:02 when he capitalized on a shorthanded breakaway by firing a shot by Allen’s glove for his first goal of the season.
It was Coyle’s first career shorthanded goal and the Wild’s league-leading fifth.
But the Wild derailed its own rhythm by giving up a shorthanded goal for the second straight game. Center Kyle Brodziak scored on a breakaway just 2:09 into the third.
Still, the team persisted and pulled within one amid two power-play goals — from Mitchell at 3:31 and then another from center Eric Staal at 8:52. The unit finished 2-for-3.
Again, though, penalties stalled the Wild’s efforts as the Blues added a pair of insurance goals on the power play with Schwartz’s second of the game at 11:36 and rookie Sammy Blais’ first career goal at 14:12. Dubnyk totaled 34 saves.
“We were feeling good, gained some momentum,” Coyle said. “You battle back like that, you gain more and more of that. We started taking more penalties, and it comes back to bite you.”