ST. PAUL — There was little doubt the Minnesota Wild fell victim to some questionable work from referees Graham Skilliter and Pierre Lambert, not to mention the NHL Situation Room, in a 4-3 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Mikko Koivu appeared to give the Wild a 4-2 lead with 5 minutes, 29 seconds left in the second period only to have the goal wiped out after the Blues challenged that Zach Parise had interfered with St. Louis goalie Jake Allen. The Blues then tied the score at 3-3 on Sammy Blais’ goal at 6:05 of the third period that came after there was no-call when Blais hauled down Luke Kunin by the Wild goal. That led Wild coach Bruce Boudreau to yell at the officials, giving St. Louis a power play.
All of this infuriated the announced crowd of 18,208 and left Boudreau and his players steaming. “It wasn’t,” Boudreau said of the goalie interference call on Parise. “That was my thoughts. It wasn’t. They said his elbow touched his head but to me Allen was moving in … Zach was outside, so he was moving into Zach. So I don’t understand the call.”
Ordinarily, all of this would make for a pretty good story about how the officiating likely cost the Wild what could become an extra critical point in the Central Division race. The only issue is that to frame it that way would be too ignore the obvious. That’s the fact that the Wild are among the worst teams in the NHL and that point is being continually driven home this season.
The Wild are 4-9-1 and have only nine points after Saturday’s loss. There only are three teams with fewer than nine points and the Blackhawks and Kings (both with eight points) were playing late Saturday. Minnesota is 1-8 on the road, 3-1-1 at home and a division-worst minus-16 in goal differential (33 goals for and 49 against). The loss to the Blues completed another miserable week in which the Wild blew a 3-0 lead in Dallas, losing 6-3 on Tuesday, and then lost 2-1 on Wednesday in St. Louis.
No one in the Wild locker room wants to say it and Boudreau, in the final season of his contract and working for a new general manager in Bill Guerin, certainly isn’t going to be the guy to admit to the obvious at this point. Maybe it will be Guerin who says it through his actions rather than his words.
A report surfaced last week that Guerin already is shopping young center Joel Eriksson Ek and wingers Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala, who scored his first goal of the season on Saturday night. Guerin also at some point is going to have to consider moving veterans who don’t have complete no-move clauses that make them off limits.
One thing we should never hear again is that the 2019-20 Wild could become the 2018-19 Blues. St. Louis was last in the NHL at one point in early January of last season before catching fire and making a run to its first Stanley Cup championship. But the Blues got incredibly fortunate that after bringing up goalie Jordan Binnington he played out of his mind. The Blues also had one of the NHL’s top leaders in center Ryan O’Reilly. The decision to fire Mike Yeo and hire Craig Berube as coach also factored into St. Louis’ success.
Boudreau is not the problem in Minnesota — he remains a very good coach — and the Wild simply doesn’t have anywhere close to the talent that the Blues possessed as they went from an underacheiving bunch to hoisting the Cup. Anyone who watched the third period and overtime on Saturday could see that.
Just as the Stars decided to hit the gas pedal late in the second period and then skated circles around the Wild in the third period on Wednesday, the Blues looked as if they could take control when they wanted. St. Louis had beaten visiting Columbus on David Perron’s overtime goal for a 4-3 victory on Friday night. This time it was O’Reilly who snapped a shot past Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk at 2:27 of overtime for the victory after the Blues spent the extra session playing keep away.
Dubnyk gave up a couple of goals that he should have stopped, something that Boudreau acknoweldged in this postgame press conference. “Why are you leading me into these questions?” Boudreau said. “I think he could have had a couple of them.”
But this team’s problems go way beyond goaltending. The Wild struggled in the 3-on-3 format last season, often looking far slower than their opponents. That was true again Saturday and, in fact, it might have been worse than ever. Too many veterans on the Wild look as if they are continually a step behind and too many of their young players either don’t look as if they belong or are completely invisible.
Even with 68 games remaining on the schedule, Guerin likely has realized just how big of a job he has in front of him. That would have been true even if his team had gotten all the calls and the extra point on Saturday.