The Minnesota Wild beat the Winnipeg Jets for the 2nd time in three days, by a 4-3 final score by way of a shootout. Tonight the Wild’s top lines and defensive pairs saw their first action of the preseason and provided the spark that helped the team sweep a home and home series. The Wild are now 2-1 in preseason play. Minnesota opened up a 2-0 lead in the first period and it looked like the Jets were going to get shot down early in St. Paul. Winnipeg came roaring back in the 2nd with three unanswered goals to take a 3-2 lead into the third. The Wild would eventually tie the game on a beauty of a goal by Ryan Suter at the 11:41 mark of the third period. The deadlock would remain through the 5 minute overtime session. Jason Pominville then scored the only goal of the shootout while Niklas Backstrom was a perfect 3 for 3 to seal the shootout win for the Wild.
Tonight saw the first action of the preseason for Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville. That line totaled 11 shots on goal, two assists, a cumulative +2 for the game and all three had more than 21 minutes of ice time. In his post game comments Minnesota Wild head Coach Mike Yeo said, “When you play your first game, things happen quick. You play your second game, things slow down in a hurry. But with the game on the line and we need a goal, which line goes out and gets it for us?” If this line can avoid injury and keeps producing, look out!! This could be the number one line the Wild have been searching for and a supporting cast as well.
The Wild jumped out to a 2-0 lead behind goals by Carson McMillan and Charlie Coyle. MacMillan scored on a shot from above the right circle near the point that sailed through traffic beating Jets net minder Andrej Pavelec. The second goal of the period came from Charle Coyle, His second of the preseason. Keith Ballard put a shot on net that bounced off of Justin Fontaine and right onto the stick of Coyle who flipped it into a nearly empty net. Coyle had an outstanding game with a goal on 3 shots in 17:52 of ice time. He was awarded the first star of the game for his efforts. Minnesota totaled 13 shots on goal in the first period and ended up with 36 for the game. The Jets totaled 31 shots for the night.
The second period belonged to Winnipeg who scored a pair of power play goals by Eric O’Dell and Paul Postma. In between those Patrice Cormier scored as well. The Jets were 2-4 on the power play while the Wild went 0-3. Minnesota did have several good scoring chances and moved the puck well with the man advantage. With 12 days left until the season opener against the Los Angeles Kings you can be sure ample time will be spent on ironing the kinks out of the power play and penalty kill. Tonight the Wild’s #1 power play unit consisted of Koivu, Parise, Pominville, Suter and Dany Heatley. The #2 unit saw Jared Spurgeon, Nino Niederriter, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, and Jonas Brodin. Both units looked solid and had some nice chances but, couldn’t quite seal the deal.
The Wild scored the only goal of the 3rd period and it was a highlight reel goal. Ryan Suter cleared the puck out of the defensive zone with a pass to Koivu. Parise then took a precision pass from Mikko and moved up the left side. Suter took the pass from Parise and from high in the slot let one rip that found the upper right corner of the net to tie the game at 3 apiece. The tic-tac-toe goal was the first of many we’ll see from the Wild’s top line and defenders this season. The teams played a scoreless overtime session that saw Minnesota register 4 shots to Winnipegs 3 with the visitors controlling the first two minutes and the Wild the final 3. In the shootout what I call Backstrom theory held true. When Niklas Backstrom stops the first shot he faces in a shootout the Wild go on to victory the vast majority of the time. If he surrenders a goal to the first shooter, the Wild invariably lose the contest. Tonight Backstrom stuffed the Jets first shooter, Blake Wheeler, and the rest is history.
Defensively Minnesota saw their top pair of Suter and Brodin in action and they looked comfortable. Suter posted a goal on 4 shots and a +1 rating in a game high 28:23 time on ice. Brodin added another 4 shots on goal. The other four defensemen in action tonight were Spurgeon, Stoner, Scandella and Keith Ballard. Ballard had a great game with 2 assists, a +2 rating and 2 hits in 17:15 of ice time. Ballard could well be one of General Manager Chuck Fletcher’s best free agent acquisitions of this past summer. Personally I’d like to see Spurgeon teamed with Ballard on defense but, that could leave could leave Clayton Stoner and Marco Scandella as the third pair. There are some tough decisions to be made in the coming days with a plethora of NHL ready defensemen in camp. Some of those decision will come down to who has two way contracts and who would have to clear waivers to be sent to the Iowa Wild. Incidentally training camp for the Wild’s AHL team opens on Monday September 23rd. Look for Minnesota to make some major roster cuts about that time.
Tonight’s roster is not too far away from the one that will take the ice on October 3. The top line looked good tonight but it was evident that this was their first preseason game. The same can be said for lines 2-4 and the defensive pairs. Hopefully the second period in which the Wild gave up 3 straight opposition goals was a preseason aberration and not a continuation of a trend we saw last season. Too many time in the past the Wild have played two thirds of a game. If they hope to be a playoff contender and not get bounced in the first round, a full game effort is required. Saturday evening gave fans a glimpse of what can be when the Wild are firing on all cylinders. (1st Period) It also showed how a few breakdowns can cost a team dearly. (2nd period) Opening night is drawing near and the excitement is building for the start of the 2013-14 season. The Wild squad is taking shape and their next step is a road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets Monday night. I’ll be back with a game preview Monday morning. Until then this is Scott Drain confidently shouting, “Let’s Go Wild!!”