The Minnesota Wild has not been paying enough attention to the University of Minnesota athletic department. Otherwise, it would have found a way to schedule the hockey equivalent of New Mexico State for its season opener.
Instead, the Wild accepted the league-mandated schedule and faced the excellent Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night at the Xcel Energy Center, and paid for the privilege of starting with an elite opponent.
The Kings won in a shootout 3-2, leaving the Wild, like much of last season, with a lot of optimistic indicators and pessimistic results.
The Wild dominated play for two periods … but was badly outplayed in the third.
The Wild created plenty of scoring chances … but wound up with just two goals, one of which was a redirection into the net off Matt Cooke’s skate, a dubious if legal score.
The Wild debuted its new, highly paid first line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville … and it produced zero points.
The Wild got away from its lazy dump-and-chase style … and had its new approach choked off by the Kings later in the game.
The Wild’s second line of Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley dominated much of the game … but grew passive in the second and third periods, perhaps costing their team the game.
“We were playing pretty strong,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “When you’re playing like that, you should have the confidence you can bring it home.”
The conjunction of sports and marketing leads to a lot of comfortable lies. How many times have you heard that the next wave of prospects is going to turn the franchise around? That the new coach/manager has implemented a new, winning philosophy?
When the Wild replaced Jacques Lemaire with Todd Richards, he promised a “more aggressive style.” It wouldn’t have sounded as good had he been more accurate and said, “We’re going to allow more goals.”
Leading up to the Wild’s 2013 opener, Yeo had promised a new version of this more aggressive style, with less dumping-and-chasing and more offensive activity from the defensemen.
Yeo mostly turned out to be as good as his word. The Wild flew through the neutral zone and created chances. Brodin scored the Wild’s second goal by crashing toward the crease and taking a beautiful feed from Niederreiter.
For two periods, the Wild looked like a new team, and in the third period, the Wild looked like the same old team that can’t finish enough games or scoring opportunities.
I love the way Yeo has loaded his first-line power play with his best veteran playmakers. I love the way his best young players, Jonas Brodin and Charlie Coyle, seem to make only the most intelligent play available to them. I liked the way Niederreiter played in his Wild debut.
Niederreiter might be what the Wild thought it was getting when it traded for Guillaume Latendresse. Only Niederreiter looks sleeker and more active.
Thursday morning, the Wild announced the signing of Pominville to a five-year, $28 million deal. This means the team has signed three accomplished veterans in the last year. These signings place pressure directly on Yeo, who must justify his owner’s spending while developing his best young players.
During the offseason, the Wild rid itself of its middle-class forwards — Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Devin Setoguchi. The team is left with the high-class Parise, Koivu and Pominville, and such entry-class players as Niederreiter, Coyle and Granlund.
The Wild’s first line is its most expensive, by far. The second line, featuring Coyle, Niederreiter and Heatley, might be its most intriguing.
Niederreiter looks like a keeper. Coyle was often the Wild’s best forward Thursday. Heatley is in the last year of his contract. The Wild might use his salary slot to pursue Thomas Vanek. So the Wild needs to try to extract one good season from Heatley and he needs to re-establish his value heading into free agency.
The second line could be fun to watch, but if you’re owner Craig Leipold, you want to see results from the big-money boys on the first line.