Coming to you from the sky over top Manitoba, where the Wild defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-1 in an exhibition game tonight.
Coach Mike Yeo called it the “polar opposite” of Tuesday’s loss to Columbus, a game where the Wild didn’t play well in any area. Tonight, Yeo said the Wild was strong in just about every area, and this was against a Jets team that played most its big guns. Yeo was able to roll lines all night (well, when Minnesota wasn’t killing a minor).
Josh Harding stopped 16 of 17 shots through two periods and Darcy Kuemper came in during the third. He was under fire as the Jets got three of its seven power plays in the first 8:09 of the third. But Kuemper stopped all 11 shots he saw.
Matt Dumba scored 7:45 into the game after defense partner Clayton Stoner fired a bullet on net that Al Montoya deflected wide. The Wild got it back to the net and after Nino Niederreiter crashed, a mad scramble ensure. Erik Haula came close to scoring, but finally after Mikael Granlund got a piece of the puck, Dumba found it between the circles and “shoveled” it home.
“It was kind of nerve-racking being down that low as a defenseman, but when I saw everybody collapsing, I went down there,” Dumba said. “It was cool.”
Bryan Little tied the score off a Jon Blum turnover, but even then, it was all Minnesota. The first 15 minutes of the second was all Wild, too.
Finally, Charlie Coyle and Kris Foucault scored 30 seconds apart for a 3-1 Wild lead. The Wild had a 25-11 shot lead at one point, but the Jets would unleash the next 13 shots on Harding and Kuemper. They could never get closer, and finally Steve Kampfer’s 140-foot empty-netter iced the game.
Lots of solid performances out on the ice, especially by some of the young kids going for spots.
Haula, who played wing, had one assist, five shots, was fast and just did all the “little things” in his own end. He often created quick transitions with linemates Granlund and Niederreiter.
“First NHL game, and I mean, you can tell he’s a confident kid,” Yeo said. “He’s confident, but he’s modest. He’s got a really good attitude. I just, I was very impressed with him. And I think it showed. We’re putting him in 4-on-4 situations, we’re putting him in penalty kill situations late in the game. The more you watch him, the more you get to trust him.”
The line spent much of the night in the offensive zone and was fast.
Justin Fontaine had a strong night. Just hustled all over the ice on a line with Coyle and Dany Heatley. Coyle’s goal with Heatley was a pretty one after a Jets turnover in Minnesota’s end in large part because of that hustle I talked about with Fontaine (Yeo: "what a shift"). Coyle and Heatley flew out of the zone on a 2-on-1. Coyle passed to Heatley and Heatley gave it back as Coyle put it into a completely-wide open net.
“I almost went past the net,” Coyle said.
Dumba was solid all night with Stoner, who had a great game. Dumba credited Stoner with talking to him all night, both on the ice and on the bench.
The kids were real good, and so were many of the veterans that are battling for spots and ice time. Remember, Stoner could be adversely affected if Dumba makes it.
Torrey Mitchell, who wants that third-line right wing spot but could be going up against Niederreiter or even Granlund, was flying (four shots) and solid all night with Kyle Brodziak. Brodziak had a tough night in the faceoff circle but was good everywhere else. Looked like the Brodziak of old – skated well, quick transitions, reliable defensively, all over the puck.
Zenon Konopka, who has the highest faceoff winning percentage since he’s been in the league among active NHLers, won 15 of 20 faceoffs.
“Young kids, you know that they’re coming in and they’re really playing for something,” Yeo said. “What I liked is the way our older guys came in and were playing for something too. They showed they want to be ready for the season.”
There are a handful of spots and there won’t be easy decisions for the brass, especially when you see how well all the roster hopefuls played tonight.
“Everyone competing with each other, it’s going to push each other and in the end make the best team,” Coyle said. “It’s awesome to see guys fighting for spots going head to head.”
This morning, Yeo said the Wild won’t rush to conclusions.
“It’s continuing the process and the evaluation of it,” Yeo said after the victory. “This is what we said after last game, we played a poor game, and we weren’t going to rush to decisions and now we played a very good game tonight, but we’re not going to rush the decisions on that, too. But I will say, a lot of guys helped themselves tonight.”
The game didn’t count, but in the first game with both teams in the same division, the rivalry seemed to continue from two years ago and has all the makings for a good one. Lots of skirmishes, the pace was good.
Early in the third, 6-foot-5 defenseman Kyle Medvec got Mark Scheifele with a high hit on a Winnipeg entry. I never saw a replay. Some were saying elbow, some were saying forearm. Yeo felt it was a clean hit.
The Jets’ Anthony Peluso jumped right in there and later Evander Kane (minus-3, seven shots, 10 hits tonight) tried to goad Medvec into dropping his gloves. Besides being a great player and one of the league’s fastest, he’s also strong as an ox. Medvec skated away.
“We hopefully get under a lot of people’s skin,” Yeo said. “If we’re playing the right way, then we should be pretty frustrating to play against, and I felt we did a good job frustrating them in a lot of areas tonight.”
Yeo was very happy with the PK (7-for-7) and Harding and Kuemper.
Harding said, “I’m more happy with how the team played, how they responded to the challenge. This isn’t an easy situation, you fly day of the game, they dressed a good team and they’re at home, and I thought that everybody top to bottom did great. The veterans did an unbelievable job leading this club and the younger guys, they proved their worth. Strong showing by everybody.”
On his game, Harding said, “It was great to get back in there. I want to get cleaner on a couple things.”
The Wild practices at 11 and 12:30 Friday. Rachel Blount is writing a Keith Ballard story for Saturday’s paper and will probably blog as I work ahead and sit down with a player. I’ll be with you Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Tuesday and Thursday next week, same thing. Rachel will probably write the daily stories I have lunch with a couple players.
The Wild plans its first big round of cuts (won’t be the roster hopefuls) Sunday as Iowa’s camp opens Monday. The top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville and defensemen Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon are expected to all play their first exhibition games Saturday at home against Winnipeg.