Enterprise Center- St. Louis, Missouri; Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon battles Zach Sanford for the puck. (Bill Boyce/AP photo)
Minnesota Wild (4-8-0), 7th in Central Division @ St. Louis Blues (6-3-3), 3rd in Central Division
Going into Wednesday night, the Wild and Blues were both dealing with some disappointment. The Wild suffered a demoralizing loss on the road Tuesday at Dallas, allowing the Stars to score 5 unanswered goals on their way to a 6-3 win. The loss dropped the Wild to 1-7 on the road.
The Blues, meanwhile, found out Monday that they would be without leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko for 5 months due to shoulder surgery. Tarasenko reinjured his left shoulder in the win over the Kings last Thursday and had surgery on Tuesday morning. Tarasenko’s absence creates a scoring void and players like Robert Thomas and Sammy Blais will need to step up.
Blais and Alexander Steen were both game-time decisions due to minor injuries, but they both suited up along with Carl Gunnarsson, who had been out with a lower-body injury the last few games.
St. Louis had knocked off Detroit in OT on Sunday 5-4 after nearly letting it slip away, while Minnesota would try to find their legs after the dispiriting loss in Dallas the night before. It’s a showdown between Central Division rivals in St. Louis.
If Minnesota was tired or demoralized from the bad loss at Dallas the night before, they didn’t show it. They had the early jump that turned into a power play just over a minute in when Sammy Blais went off for interference. The Wild kept the pressure on the Blues in the O-zone for a minute and a half and had a few good scoring chances before the Blues were finally able to clear with 30 seconds to go in the penalty. The Wild tallied 3 shots but the Blues were able to kill it off.
The majority of the first period was primarily a feeling out session, as the teams skated up and down the ice but did not have prime scoring chances. Jay Bouwmeester foiled a 2 on 1 about halfway through the period with a great, sliding block, and then it was time for the Blues’ first power play with 7 minutes left in the period when Jason Zucker slashed Bouwmeester. The penalty was a break for the Blues because it came after the Wild had St. Louis on their heels with extended O-zone pressure. The power play came and went with the Blues only managing 2 shots and not getting serious scoring chances.
The Blues may have been guilty of trying to be a little too perfect in the 1st, as they passed up a couple of open shots. At the end of the period, it was scoreless, with the Wild playing a solid game and not showing any signs of a letdown after their disappointing showing in Texas.
Just a couple minutes in, Eric Staal went off for tripping Ryan O’Reilly. St. Louis controlled the puck in the offensive zone for a good deal of the penalty and had 4 shots, but Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk was strong in net. A few minutes after the penalty expired, Sammy Blais- one of the young forwards who are needed to help soften the blow of Tarasenko’s injury- snapped a wrister past Dubnyk on the short side above his glove and it was 1-0 Blues. O’Reilly and Alex Pietrangelo assisted on the play.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) October 31, 2019
Given their 1 and 7 road record and the fact that they had a poor showing the night before, one may have expected Minnesota to fold after the Blues took the lead, but on the contrary- the Wild gained some energy and caught the Blues defense a bit flat-footed. Minnesota kept steady pressure on the Blues and Mats Zuccarello scored his first goal of the year with assists from Staal and Jason Zucker. Zuccarello was a prized free-agent pickup in the offseason for the Wild but had been largely disappointing the first 8 games of the season, with no goals and only 2 assists.
The rest of the period had the teams trade power plays when Blais went off for cross-checking in the offensive zone, and Ryan Hartman tripped Jaden Schwartz. Neither team was able to find the back of the net on their respective power play, however. At the end of the 2nd, it was tied at 1 and the Wild had outshot the Blues 24-20.
It didn’t take long for the Blues to take the lead after the 2nd intermission. With a minute 15 gone, O’Reilly won the draw in the offensive zone and sent the puck back to Carl Gunnarsson. Gunnarsson found David Perron near the boards and Perron sent a perfect pass to Pietrangelo cutting in front of the net. The Blues’ captain waited for Dubnyk to go down and sent the puck high over his right shoulder to make it 2-1 at 1:30 of the 3rd.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) October 31, 2019
There was still a long way to go, but the Blues played a solid, disciplined game for the most part. Sammy Blais did turn the puck over to the Chesterfield native Luke Kunin -who had 2 good chances right in front of Jordan Binnington– but Binnington held firm. Moments later the Blues’ goalie would make the save of the game when he robbed Wild defenseman Matt Dumba on a one-timer right out in front. Dumba aimed 5-hole but Binnington shut the door just in time.
The Wild kept up the pressure for the rest of the period and tested Binnington on multiple occasions, including another one-timer and a quick rebound from Wild Captain Mikko Koivu with a minute left. After that stop, Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau called a timeout to strategize and give his team a breather. It nearly paid off. Minnesota had pulled Devan Dubnyk and had the extra attacker, keeping the Blues hemmed in.
With just 13 seconds left, Zach Parise found the puck at the side of the net and tipped it towards the net. Defending on the play was Alexander Steen, who reached to poke the puck away but had it pop into the air in front of Binnington who had to make the alert save to keep the game from being tied. Gunnarsson took a penalty on the play, but when Steen cleared the puck out of the zone with 8 seconds left the Blues survived Minnesota’s short, 2 man advantage and earned a hard-fought 2 points.
This was the first of 4 meetings between Minnesota and St. Louis, and although the Wild reside at the bottom of the division, they were no pushover tonight. The game was pretty evenly played and hinged on one of the better all-around games from Jordan Binnington. Aside from Binnington, David Perron had the best game of any Blues player, with multiple shots on goal and a pinpoint pass for an assist on Pietrangelo’s goal.
And while no one is going to be able to make up for Tarasenko’s absence over the next 5 months, Coach Berube hopes young up and comers like Blais and Robert Thomas can shoulder some of the burden. Blais was a mixed bag tonight. He scored the Blues first goal, but he also took 2 penalties and had a bad turnover that nearly led to a tying goal for the Wild. Thomas was not much of a factor at all, which is a bit concerning, but it’s still early in the season.
All in all, it was a solid, if not spectacular performance by the Blues as they chalk up another couple points. St. Louis takes on Columbus at Enterprise Center Friday, while the Wild takes a couple of days off before hosting the Blues on Saturday.