Tuesday marked the opening game for the Minnesota Wild in pre-season action. All of dedicated Wild fans who listened to the game on the radio and watched a scoreless slog of a game between the New York Islanders and New York Rangers head to overtime before NHL Network picked up the Wild-Jets game, you got rewarded with a nice 3-2 shootout win. It’s tough to make any sort of grandiose prognostications based on one single, split-squad pre-season match-up, I am going to try and point out some things to be encouraged by, and maybe discouraged.
- The Wild won a game where they were sorely lacking the majority of their NHL talent against a Jets team that looked like they dressed the regular season roster. A win is a win, regardless if it counts, and Minnesota did enough to turn away a mostly NHL squad.
- How’d they turn that Jets team away? Niklas Svedberg and Steven Michalek were solid in between the pipes. Svedberg did enough to keep his team in the game, while Michalek made some truly glorious saves in the 3rd period, overtime, and shootout to cinch the win with a period an change of shutout hockey. Those two guys are fighting to be Devan Dubnyk’s back-up with Alex Stalock in Minnesota, but good performances now can largely springboard them into good play with Iowa.
- Charlie Coyle likes playing in Winnipeg. Overall, he was solid, and looked decent in the game, where it would be easy to look better than the rest of his team. He notched a goal when he took advantage of the Jets puck-watching and Tyler Ennis found him on the back door.
- The Wild’s Mike Reilly, a player looking to grab Marco Scandella’s vacated defense spot, looked mostly good. He showed he knows how to skate the puck up the ice on a rush. He took six shots on goal; one less than team leading Charlie Coyle. It was noticeable that the Chanhassen, MN native wanted the puck...especially in 3-on-3 overtime.
- Luke Kunin was solid. Not great, but solid at the center position. Winning 9 of his 18 faceoffs, he was ok in the dots. Though, he had a play in transition that created a big scoring chance, but elected to pass to Marcus Foligno on the wing in lieu of taking a shot. We hear much about the kid’s shot, and Foligno isn’t necessarily the one fighting to make the big squad. Luke, take the shot...and run. Run to Dagobah.
So what wasn’t so great?
- Penalties. Penalties. Penalties. The NHL, and the new head of the Department of Player Safety George Parros, has specifically laid down stricter rules for stick violations. Players who hook, high stick, slash, and trip will be called for minors. I’m all for rules and stick violations to be called, but holy hell was that game mucked up with the ticky-tack penalties and 30-some penalty minutes.
- Speaking of penalties, Gustav Olofsson, my man. Olofsson took quite a few minors in Tuesday’s pre-season opener, and for a guy that is fighting to make the big club, penalties can’t be a part of his game. The idea is for him to be on the ice, not in the box.
- Tyler Ennis is very shifty. He’s got moves and handles that can make people swoon...except when he dangles himself into a corner. He then gets shoved off the puck, and creates a turnover. I hope like hell that Ennis is the player he was promised, and the player he has been, but I can’t say I thought he was particularly great against the Jets. (Taken with a grain of salt as it’s only one pre-season game, and the full line-up was clearly not in.
- Giving up a goal early in the game. While Svedberg did eventually give his team a chance to win the game by only surrendering two goals, he did get beat very early in the game. Like within the first minute. That’s borderline Darcy Kuemper-esque, and not something of which the Wild can afford to make a habit. It looked like he got too deep into his net with the puck below the goal line, and Mattheiu Perreault beat him to the far post.
- That goal was not all Svedberg’s fault. The penalty kill coverage on the play was very not good. Alex Grant left Olofsson stuck in No-Man’s Land as he pressured Nikolaj Ehlers along the wall. Olofsson was caught trying to defend the centering pass and allowed Perreault to walk out front. Kunin did no favors for Olofsson, when he was late to rotate and take the zone vacated by Grant, giving Perreault a free pass. It was a pretty ugly play all around.
- Shootouts in the preseason. I don’t really need to explain this one much. Do we really, truly need a winner in the exhibition season? There already was 65 minutes of hockey played in a game that doesn’t much count for anything, so why bother with it? Just seems a bit much for the pre-season.