The Minnesota Wild kicked off their preseason in ‘The Peg’ at MTS Centre against a potentially new division rival, Winnipeg Jets. Although the Wild didn’t have many of their regulars starting in this game, there was no doubt Wild fans were pumped to see their team back in action. The only regular part of their lineup was the goaltending combo of Niklas Backstrom and Ilya Bryzgalov, who shared the game. Outside of the crease, the top line consisted of Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, and Jason Zucker. A line that makes up only two thirds of their regular 3rd line. On the blue line, Keith Ballard and Christian Folin were the only ones with a realistic chance of making the opening night roster. For Winnipeg, Ondrej Pavelec started, while multiple roster players also played. To name a few, Bogosian, Byfuglien, Enstrom, Frolik, Ladd, Little, and Perreault all played. Safe to say, Winnipeg started a much more NHL calibre lineup. In the end, Winnipeg prevailed 2-1.
It was a fast, scrappy and surprisingly intense first period of both teams first action in 2014-15. It featured 10 penalties, one fight (another broken up), and 4 power play opportunities, where the penalty kill survived all chances. The Minnesota Wild often sent out Zucker and Sutter up front with Ballard and Folin on the back end for the PK, where they were impressive all night. Niklas Backstrom showed flashes of what we remember him playing like before his injuries, robbing Perreault and Frolik on separate occasions. He turned away 10 shots in the first. Stu Bickel dropped the gloves with Chris Thorburn, in a fairly even tilt, Bickel ended up on top on Thorburn in the end. Later, Curt Gogul and Anthony Peluso had intentions to go at it, but the referees were having none of it.
Pavelec was sharp in this one, robbing the Wild twice early on, once on a Brett Bulmer wrap around and another on a Niederreiter shot from the right circle. Anthony Peluso got the fight he was looking for, but this time met Bickel, for his second fight of the game. Ilya Bryzgalov came in for Backstrom midway through the 2nd, who stopped all 12 shots he faced. The Winnipeg promptly met Bryz with a classic “ILYA… ILYA”. There were another 4 power play chances in the 2nd frame, with Dustin Byfuglien coverting on a slap shot from the point past Bryzgalov. Michael Hutchinson, who came in for Pavelec, also came out strong, stoning Keranen and Niederreiter near the end of the period. The Wild outshot the Jets 10-6 in the frame.
4:27 into the period, Bryan Little jammed home a rebound past Bryz to give the Jets a 2-0 advantage. Hutchinson continues to impress, robbing a Zucker deflection to retain a 2 goal margin. The Wild had 2 power play oppurtunites in the frame but their young lineup was unable to convert on the night. Minnesota outshot Winnipeg 7-2 in the period and with just 14 seconds left, Tyler Graovac was able to break the shutout, but that’s as close as the Wild would get, falling 2-1 in their preseason opener. Zucker and Folin picked up assists on the goal.
The Minnesota Wild outshot Winnipeg 28-18 in the game and carried the play much of the game, but their extremely young lineup was unable to convert on opportunities. The power play went 0 for 6 on the night and the team won just 41.8% of the face-offs. Niklas Backstrom was impressive in net stopping all 12 shots he faced, looking much like the starter that we remember form before a lousy and injury riddled 2013-14 season. 2011 7th round pick, Tyler Graovac, scored Minnesota’s only goal. Adam Lowry, Andrew Ladd, and Bryan Little were named the games 3 starts, respectively. Minnesota’s next game is on Thursday, the 25th, at Pittsburgh at 7pm EST. Look for a more regular seasons type lineup for the Wild in that game.