Wild encouraged by season-opening performance

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Cooke really couldn’t have imagined his start in a Minnesota Wild sweater to go quite like his first shift in Thursday’s regular-season opener.

Cooke, known for his agitating play and not his goal-scoring prowess, scored 64 seconds into the game. He wasn’t sure if the goal would be counted, as his forward momentum appeared to have him kicking a Kyle Brodziak shot into the net. The NHL’s video officials ruled he didn’t use a kicking motion and he received credit for deflecting the shot off his leg.

Cooke said he would have felt better if he or his linemates had figured a way, any way, to score in the waning minutes, particularly on a late shift where Cooke, Brodziak and Mikael Granlund had multiple chances in a scrum in front of the net with the puck bouncing around but couldn’t capitalize.

Minnesota ended up losing 3-2 in the shootout to the Los Angeles Kings, its first loss in a home opener in Minnesota. The Wild are now 11-0-2 in home openers at Xcel Energy Center.

“It would have got better if I scored with a couple of minutes left,” Cooke said of his first regular-season game with the Wild, who signed the notorious left wing in the offseason. “I think that we went out, we played hard, we played physical, we carried the pace of play. And if we play like that most nights, we’re going to win games.”

Cooke echoed the sentiment of several of the Wild after the game, pleased with controlling the play much of the night and establishing a certain style in the season’s first game.

“I think it’s encouraging,” Cooke said. “It’s the first time we’ve really been together as a group. We have an identity that we want to have and I think we got to that tonight. The more times we do that, the more times we go out and play like that, the more confident we’ll become and the better hockey team we’ll be.”

Jonas Brodin, who scored two goals in 45 games in his standout rookie season last year, scored on the power play to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead after one period. But Los Angeles tied the game in the third and scored twice in the shootout to send the Wild home with just one point.

“It’s funny what that extra point makes you feel at the end of the game,” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said.

A less than satisfying feeling after a game in which the Wild controlled the first two periods and were outshooting the Kings 24-11 into the second intermission. Minnesota outshot Los Angeles 13-3 in the second period, but Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick finished with 29 saves. Niklas Backstrom stopped 16 of the 18 shots he faced, but allowed goals to Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter in the shootout.

With three new players in the lineup — Cooke, defenseman Keith Ballard and forward Nino Niederreiter — joining the revamped crew from last season that saw the acquisitions of Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville in sweeping changes, the Wild are still trying to establish their identity.

They feel Thursday was a good step.

“That’s what we’re doing,” Yeo said. “We’re trying to build. We’re trying, we talked about how we want to have a good start. We talked about how you kind of want the mentality how you start the game and how quick you can get to your game and impose your game on the other team, and I thought that we did that really well tonight.”

Cooke still wishes he, or Brodziak or Granlund, would have scored on the final frantic shift in the third.

“Yeah, there was like eight guys crawling in the crease and the puck keeps bouncing back to us, but we can’t really get a clean shot,” Cooke said. “I thought we had it. I thought we’d get a chance, but it didn’t go in the net.”

For one game, the Wild weren’t going to beat themselves up for missed chances.

“I wouldn’t say frustrating,” Brodziak said about the scramble on goal during the late shift in the third period. “I mean, yeah, it sucks we didn’t score, but we created some good chances and we had a chance to potentially win the game. Their defenseman blocks a shot on a wide-open net, it’s going to happen.

“We can’t get frustrated. We’ve got to stick with that program we had tonight and know that if we do that, we’re going to get a lot of wins.”

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