Rousseau: Maybe Jesper Valstedt can cure all those awkward games against the stars

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Maybe it’s time to switch things up and see if 21-year-old goaltender Jesper Walstead can deliver a heart-pounding, winning recipe against the Dallas Stars during Wednesday’s rematch at the Big D.

It’s damn sure that nothing else seems to be working against the Minnesota Wild’s division rival down south, who sent them through the last postseason. The Stars smoked the Wild for the second straight Monday night, 4-0 after an undrafted goalie netted a league-low.

Over the past few days, the Wild has talked a lot about redemption after a humiliating 8-3 win by the Stars on home ice in November. It was the game in which the Wild gave up five powerplay goals and two shorthanded goals, and it prompted an rant the next morning from general manager Bill Guerin before the team boarded a nine-hour flight to Stockholm. It was also the beginning of the end of Dean Evason’s reign in Minnesota. He played four more games off the bench and probably wasn’t fired after the Stars game because of the next day’s transoceanic flight to Sweden’s Global Series.

Instead of responding positively to that ass-kicking in November, the Wild gave up another power-play goal and ran a power play of their own that not only went 0-for-6, but also gave up two more goals from shortstops for a total of four against the Stars in two games this season.

Matt Murray, 25, who played at UMass and was on the bench when Wild NHL Draft pick Philip Lindberg backed the Minutemen to a 2021 national championship, made his fourth career start and first of the season. He came in for the sole purpose of giving Scott Wedgwood a rest after playing 11 straight games in place of the injured Jake Oettinger.

Murray was involved early, making 12 saves in the first period. He had to make just 11 the rest of the game, including a total squat jack in the final 16 minutes, 53 seconds, as the Wild looked intent on making his first career shot as easy as possible.

“I’m sure he’s dreamed of a moment like this his whole life,” said veteran Tyler Seguin, who scored a game-tying goal early in the third period to shut down the Wild and set up Ruup Hintz’s shorthanded goal in the first period. “The last few minutes of that game, everybody was talking about (the shutout), but they weren’t talking about it, they were just trying to come up with it for him. That was great.”

It was Seguin who chased down the crucial puck after the final buzzer for Murray. Not shockingly, the puck was nowhere near the offensive end zone.

“We’re a better hockey team than what we’re showing right now,” veteran Pat Maroon said of a team that has lost four straight at home and five of six overall. “Even Columbus (on Saturday) we got 2 points out of that one. We’ve got to find a way to line up games here, just take this thing apart one game at a time, one inning at a time, one period at a time. Just find a way to find our game here, get our rhythm.”

Perhaps Walstead’s potential NHL debut on Wednesday night could motivate the Wild to put together the full 60 to protect the 2021 first-round pick and get a desperately needed win against a division opponent. The Wild are 3-5 against the Central Division, with the five losses coming to the Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche.

Wallstedt missed several weeks with a lower-body injury, returned to Iowa’s lineup for back-to-back losses and was immediately replaced by Zane McIntyre to back up Marc-Andre Fleury on Monday night. While there’s no question Walstead will start one of this weekend’s home games against the Philadelphia Flyers or Arizona Coyotes, it would make a lot of sense for his debut to come in Dallas.

First of all, Fleury, 39, has started five straight games and played in six straight since Filip Gustavsson was injured Dec. 30 in Winnipeg.

He could use the rest, physically and mentally, to reset himself.

Second, Fleury is one win away from moving into second place all-time, and the Wild would love to see it happen at home.

Third, the Wild could use something different against the Stars because it’s more than disconcerting how easily Dallas handles them: 12 goals for, three goals against, six power play goals and four goals with few players allowed and a power play of their own that is 1-for-11 in two games after an ugly special teams performance in last year’s first round against Dallas with nine goals allowed in six games.

Wallstedt met the media Monday morning and the smile after his first career recall never left his face. Through three career preseason games, Wallstedt is 2-0 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. He reminded us that he stopped 33 of 35 shots in Dallas’ 2022-23 exhibition season win against a Stars lineup that featured many of their NHLers.

“I’m happy to be here and we’ll see if that opportunity comes up,” Walstead said. “I will try my best if it happens. … I think it’s very easy to stand here and say, “I think I’m ready.” Of course I’ll think about it. But I think I had a good season at Iowa. I had a good school season last year. But I feel like this year has been really strong and I’ve been showing that I can play there at a really elite level.

“I feel like the next step is definitely to get here and try to prove myself here.”

Wallstedt has a history of scoring goals as a goaltender in the AHL, but there’s a good chance he won’t be on the power play if he starts on Wednesday.

So that’s one area the Wild need to fix if they plan to beat the Stars.

The Wild had just seven hits in his six power plays. They didn’t have a chance in their last two power plays. They didn’t have a hit on a 47-second five-on-three shot. It’s a shame that Kirill Kaprizov, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin are still out, but things got off to a horrendous start immediately after Seguin alerted defenseman Brock Faber in an uncharacteristic twist en route to Hintz’s short shot in the first period.

“It is unacceptable against an opponent. This is unacceptable against any team in this league. You don’t win hockey games by giving up two goals with few players. And one of them falls on my shoulders, obviously, and it’s disappointing,” Faber said. “It doesn’t matter who comes in and out of our lineup; it doesn’t matter who comes in and out of their lineup. We have to be better and it was a terrible performance.”

Coach John Hines said his take on the upset is simple.

“We didn’t want to shoot the puck,” Hines lamented. “There were times when they were in the diamond and, I mean, (Matt) Boldy back to Faber — when you look at him, you see what’s going on. We’re just slow in our thought process and looking for a better play when the right play was to shoot the puck. So there are things that I think are easily fixable.

Hines said it’s not about effort.

“I just mentally didn’t think we were sharp enough in a lot of areas of our game to give ourselves a good chance to win it,” he said. “That’s something we have to fix in the next game.”

Hines made it clear after the game that they were considering Wallstedt between the pipes in Dallas.

We’ll see if that’s the tonic that cures the Wild’s ills against the Stars, because nothing works, regardless of goalie or coach.

(Photo: Jerome Miron/USA Today)

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