ST. PAUL -- Scouts descended on the Xcel Energy Center like vultures Sunday afternoon, Feb. 17, hungry to devour the remains of the 2018-19 Minnesota Wild.
Of course the Wild’s inevitable 4-0 loss to the surging St. Louis Blues does not end their season. They have 23 more games to somehow pull out of this nosedive or deepen the malaise that has engulfed the dressing room.
Either way, this team seems destined to unload some passengers over the next week.
A glance at the press box seating chart revealed 19 scouts from 17 teams in attendance. The slumping Wild limp toward the Feb. 25 trade deadline as if they were eager to have general manager Paul Fenton strip the roster to its studs.
Good luck finding any buyers after Sunday’s awful performance in a must-win game.
“I just don’t feel like we’re really competing that hard,” said winger Zach Parise. “I mean, we did for a couple games, but for the most part there’s no jam. And I don’t know why. I think at this time of the year it should be and we better find it otherwise we’re not going to get out of this thing, it’s just going to get deeper and deeper.”
Marcus Foligno, whose penalty-killing lapse led to the Blues first goal, said the Wild are “feeling sorry for ourselves” over Mikko Koivu and Matt Dumba’s season-ending injuries.
“We’re doing a discredit to those guys by not performing and stepping up,” he said.
Foligno also said the Wild are handing Fenton the keys to a wrecking ball.
“Paul’s got to do what he’s got to do, but you’d just like to see a little more effort, a little more urgency, this time of the year,” Foligno said. “I wish it was something that would be done tomorrow — the deadline — just so we could move on, but we’re definitely not making it easy on our GM.”
Minnesota’s hopes for a Central Division playoff spot absorbed a heavy body blow by the Blues, who have won 10 straight and are 16-4-1 since bottoming out Jan. 3 in the NHL standings. The Wild are seven points behind third-place St. Louis, which also has a game in hand.
The Wild fell to 1-5-3 since the all-star break/bye but still cling, by one point over Vancouver, the final Western Conference wild-card spot. Worse, they have lost five straight (0-3-2) at home as boos cascaded down from the rafters throughout a frustrating afternoon.
Coach Bruce Boudreau lamented Minnesota’s mistakes and lack of confidence, realizing he is dealing with a fragile team.
“My job is to make them believe they’re capable of turning it around because if they don’t think they’re capable of it, then it’s not going to happen,” he said. “I gotta make them believe they’re capable of doing it.”
Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and two assists to extend his point streak to 11 games while Ryan O’Reilly added a goal and assist for the Blues, who did early damage on the power play to coast to an easy victory.
Rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington earned his fourth shutout of the season to improve to 12-1-1. He was hardly tested hardly tested by the Wild, who only mustered five first-period shots.
The Blues scored a pair of first-period power-play goals to claim a 2-0 lead.
Only 18 seconds after Jordan Greenway was banished for high sticking, O’Reilly on the half wall found Tarasenko alone on the left wing with Foligno out of position and he handily beat former Minnesota Duluth goalie Alex Stalock on the short side at 5:08.
Late in the period, Foligno challenged Joel Edmundson to a fight after the St. Louis defenseman knocked Zach Parise to the ice earlier in his shift. Edmundson said no thanks. Seconds later, Foligno drew a hooking penalty, and the Blues promptly cashed in with just 29.9 seconds left in the period.
“Just trying to show emotion,” Foligno said about the empty challenge. “They were a little bit smarter with the lead. You hit our top player, Parise, and you’ve got to answer for it or do something for him. It’s something we need more of on this team and just something we’re lacking a little bit of and it shows.”
The second period was only worse for the Wild.
They could not muster a shot on an early power play. Moments later, they gave up a three-on-one break on which trailing defenseman Vince Dunn converted to make it 3-0 at 7:27.
How bad was it for the Wild? They gifted the Blues their fourth goal.
Diving defenseman Nick Seeler blocked Brayden Schenn’s centering pass, however the puck ended up on his rear end as Seeler slid backwards over the goal line.
The only puck luck the Wild are getting is no puck luck.
“We just need that one spark I think,” Boudreau said. “I know I’ve said this a little bit too many times right now, but I still believe. I don’t want to sit there for the last eight weeks, ‘What are we going to do? Are we selling everything because we’re not in first place, because we’re not going to get 100 points?’ The goal is to make the playoffs and then go from there.”