Last night’s opener at the Xcel Center did not disappoint as the Minnesota Wild emerged victorious 4-3 over the Jets. What was most impressive and promising was how the Wild took their list of needed adjustments from their loss on Thursday and built a decisive victory.
After Thursday’s loss Devan Dubnyk admitted that “Probably we all agree we have a lot more to give,” and promised “We’ll build on it and get better for Saturday.” Skepticism seemed to follow that comment though as Wild fans had heard all of this before during the collapses of the last two seasons.
The Wild knocked the rust off last night and did it quickly, as Dubs promised they were better. Except for the last two minutes of the 1st period the Wild dominated the Jets and pushed the play virtually all night. The issues that plagued the team in their opening night loss on Thursday, seemed to be corrected last night in the home opener at the Xcel Energy Center.
The lineup that took the ice last night at the X was pretty much the same as the one that was in St. Louis on Thursday (The only difference was that Christian Folin swapped lineup spots with Mike Reilly). So it was good to see the team make the adjustments to come out last night and play well. It really goes a long way to proving that the Wild were victims of rusty play rather than something much deeper and harder to solve.
Oct 15, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal (12) scores a goal during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
This was an opportunistic Wild team that generated more shots on goal with 31 shots making to it Winnipeg netminder Michael Hutchinson. That was a far cry from 21 shots that Wild put up on Jake Allen, and moreover it just seemed that they were making better shot decisions and making sure that if they shot it would be on net.
Also what makes that shot total impressive is that they did it while simultaneously keeping the Jets shots down to 17. As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t for the last five minutes of the game the Jets would have had a much lower shot total. That helped to make the night very easy for Devan Dubnyk.
Oct 15, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) makes a save during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Jets 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
The Wild were just better across the board in all team statistics. They bested the Jets in not only shots, but in face-offs, blocks, power play, and hits. The fact that they increased the hitting is a direct result of Bruce Boudreau’s post came comments in St. Louis, his emphasis of physical play in practice, and the execution of the players. The whole team just looked grittier, more physical, and had more energy.
If you needed a better example of increased grit look no further than Chris Stewart. The Wild forward recorded the infamous “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” by getting the Wild on the scoreboard with the first goal, assisting on Dumba’s power play goal, and then dropping the gloves with Chris Thorburn. His energy and toughness was key and the really proved why the Wild wanted to bring him back to the team.
Energy wise you also had to like the effort of Eric Staal. He got stoned on a breakaway by Jake Allen on Thursday, and really wasn’t able to generate anything else tangible. Tonight against the Jets, Staal was flying which was key to energizing his line mates Coyle and Parise. His goal which was the Wild’s third was absolutely a gem that was a result of hard skating and putting away a great pass from Coyle.
This was the Wild team the fans had wanted to see come out in the first game in St. Louis. So going forward there’s optimism that the assembled Wild team can be a strong team. Granted it was the Jets who aren’t the best team in the league, but the fact that other than two minutes in the game the Wild dominated them shows they can execute. They learned from the mistakes of St. Louis and it showed. It’s official the rust looks to be gone.