Was Monday's reality check the final game this year for Matt Dumba?
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - If the Minnesota Wild were looking at their home-and-home series with the Chicago Blackhawks as a kind of measuring stick, they now know for sure that...what, exactly?
On Monday, 48 hours after the Wild had shocked the Blackhawks in Chicago, winning 5-3 on Saturday, the Blackhawks paid it back, with interest. Chicago won convincingly, 5-1, putting seemingly every Wild mistake in the back of the net behind Niklas Backstrom.
If on Saturday the Wild looked like a team primed to start a deep playoff run, the Blackhawks on Monday looked like a team still in the midst of the run that brought the Stanley Cup to Chicago last June. More than anything, the Blackhawks came to town angry and somewhat embarrassed about their first home loss of the season.
And by the end of the night, they'd handed the Wild their own first home loss of the season.
"In all zones, in all areas, we didn't play like we did the other day," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought the approach today was good and the consistency was what we were looking for in our team game. I thought we may have had the most consistent game we've had."
The Wild, by contrast, were anything but consistent. Just as they had in the playoffs versus Chicago last spring, they dominated long stretches of play. And just like last spring, when the final horn sounded, that early domination meant zilch.
"I don't think we were that off early on. We did a lot of good things and capitalized on a few opportunities," said Wild forward Jason Pominville, who bounced between the first and second lines, scoring his team-leading seventh goal in the second period to briefly forge a 1-1 tie.
"Obviously the third period wasn't what we wanted it to be. We sat back and kind of stopped playing. But for a good chunk of the time we did some good things. They're a good team and they make plays, but it's on us to be better and play a complete game."
Perhaps the most incomplete game was turned in by Wild rookie defenseman Matt Dumba, who admittedly struggled in a critical game for him. Dumba has now played nine games. If he plays one more, the first year of his three-year contract officially begins. The Wild can still send him back to his junior team in Alberta and save a year on his contract, something both player and coach knows might happen in the next few days.
"Obviously it's there. I'm not going to say I didn't think about it at all. That'd be a lie," said Dumba, after a game in which he looked out of place at times. "I did put that pressure on myself and I wasn't very happy with my third period tonight. It is what it is. All I can do is keep moving forward and try to be my best."
For Wild coach Mike Yeo and the team management, the challenge now is to fully assess Dumba's ability based on all nine games he's played, not just the most recent and perhaps least impressive of those.
"He's played some really good hockey for us, so what we have to determine now is where he would fit," Yeo said, offering more rhetorical questions than solid answers. "Does he help us right now and how does it affect his development as far as how we would use him?"
Right now, with key defensemen Jonas Brodin and Keith Ballard still out of the lineup, the argument could be made that the Wild needed Dumba in uniform, eating up minutes on the blue line versus Chicago. Brodin has a broken cheekbone as a result of a shot he took to the face a week ago, but skated on Monday with a full facemask. With three days off now until the Wild's next game, Friday at home versus Montreal, it's plausible to think that both Brodin and Ballard will be back in the lineup, and Dumba could be looking at a winter spent in Western Canada, rather than on West Seventh Street.
The Wild head into November able to reflect on a first month of the season that included a 6-4-3 record, several nagging injuries, a few impressive road wins and just one home loss. Still, Monday was a reminder that there are miles to go for this team, still finding its way on the ice, and finding its place in the Central Division.
"We've kind of turned a corner as of late but tonight was one that kind of slipped by us," Pominville said. "If you look at the overall picture, we know we can be better and just keep pushing toward improving."