The Minnesota Wild rebounded from a very weak first period to score two in the second period and two in the third period before Antti Miettinen won the game 5-4 in the shootout over the Philadelphia Flyers in the last preseason warmup for the Wild before starting the 2009-2010 season in Columbus on Friday.
The Wild went three for three in their first shootout of the preseason, with Mikko Koivu and Martin Havlat also scoring. Havlat also scored in regulation, along with Cal Clutterbuck, Brent Burns and James Sheppard. This was the type of offensive game the Richards regime had been touting since taking over. Minnesota was outshot by the Flyers 35-24, but the Wild made the most of their shots, with a high percentage coming in good scoring position.
Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette made the most of their first game action of the preseason with Koivu netting two assists to go along with his shootout goal. Petr Sykora and Pierre-Marc Bouchard also played the first games after missing the last three with injuries.
To me, the most impressive sign of the preseason has to be the play of James Sheppard. He's better on the faceoff, seems more poised than he has in the past, and is clearly building upon a positive streak from the end of last season. He's ready to take more of a role on the team, and is still very, very young. The kid is showing signs that he's ready to be the #2 centerman on the team, but will likely not take that spot until later in the season. Tonight, on an evening where many guys were -2 or worse, Sheppard not only played the offensive game with a goal and an assist, but also played the defensive game, and is definitely learning from watching Mikko Koivu.
Oh, and if anyone is paying attention to who the igniter on this team is, Russo nailed it again.
Cal Clutterbuck, MVP that period. Just woke the boys up.
Afterward, Wild coach Todd Richards — no relation to Mike Richards — raved and raved after Clutterbuck. He called his energy a momentum-shifter, said he’s been one of the better players positionally on the defensive end of the puck and loves the offense he’s bringing.
The Wild clearly need to shore up the defensive side of the game. Yes, Philadelphia will be a good offensive teams, and clearly isn't opposed to peppering the goaltender with shots from anywhere inside the blue line, but this isn't a Jacques Lemaire team anymore, and it's clear. During the preseason, Minnesota has allowed more quality shots than I have seem them allow in this kind of stretch in a very long time. Granted, much of that has to do with learning a new system and concentrating on the two-man forecheck and skating the puck out of the zone, but they need to do a better job with learning when to take a chance and when to play within the system.
This is going to be a season of ups and downs, but if they can play more games like tonight and fewer like the games at Columbus and at Chicago, things will be looking up toward the end of the season.
So, who leads the team? Well, according to Russo
Biggest news from the morning skate was that coach Todd Richards told me he won’t name a captain before the season. He says the decision is too important and he’ll evaluate as the season starts. This obviously has a lot to do with Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette — the two frontrunners — being hurt for most of training camp and only playing their first games tonight against the Big, Bad Flyers.
Hockey Wilderness Three
Questions to Answer
- Can the Wild get into the flow of the new offense? 4 goals. It took them a period to get into the flow, but they ended up with the win.
- Can John Scott get a hang of playing wing? Certainly doesn't seem like it, then again he had a 10 minute misconduct half-way through the second so he missed a few shifts in there. He ended up with only 5:12 TOI. I'd expect him to be back at D, I hope.
- Will this be the opening day lineup? I would think so, minus probably Scott, but with Boogaard on the IR to start the season, who knows?
- Does the offense start to click? They certainly looked good tonight, now to work on chemistry, there clearly wasn't a lot out there.
- Can Mikko Koivu get a jump-start into the season? I'd say so. Looked good with the puck, better without it, and his added weight and upper-body strength wears well.