Chip Scoggins: Wild looks like team Richards always wanted to coach

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 9, 2011 - 12:50 AM

It's just one night, but Minnesota, with its former coach watching from the other bench, flew up and down the ice.

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Mikko Koivu put up a shot in the first period against the Wild on Saturday.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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Poor Todd Richards.

The former Wild coach admitted he was nervous returning to Xcel Energy Center as a Columbus Blue Jackets assistant for Saturday's game against the Wild.

He probably felt like he swallowed a vat of vinegar after watching the new-look Wild buzz up and down the ice, playing the kind uptempo hockey he always envisioned in a 4-2 victory in its season opener.

So that's what it looks like.

"It was a good first game," captain Mikko Koivu said.

From the day Mike Yeo took control of the Wild, he has promised a faster, more aggressive style of play than the on-ice product in recent seasons. And, by extension, more scoring thanks to offseason acquisitions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi.

So far, so good. Their style of play didn't require patrons to ingest NoDoz.

Granted, it was only one game against a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back, but the Wild treated its fans to some entertaining hockey. That was encouraging because the Wild desperately needs to display more offensive firepower to give its dwindling fan base hope and reason to believe this team can actually put the puck in the net.

"I think that the Wild in the past has had that rap of [being] a defensive team," Heatley said. "But we want to play aggressive. I don't care if it's here or anywhere. I think fans like that style of hockey."

This was a nice start for a team that ranked 26th in the NHL in goals and 30th in shots last season.

We'll know in due time how good this team is and what level of offense it can generate on a consistent basis, but the product sure looks different at first glance.

Matt Cullen scored the first goal 70 seconds into the game, a team record for fastest goal in an opener. The Wild scored 10 seconds into a power play in the second period.

Four different players scored goals and nine players collected at least one point.

Even defenseman Marco Scandella scored his first career goal after Jared Spurgeon went end-to-end with the puck.

Yep, Spurgeon to Scandella on the power play.

"Easy game, the NHL," Heatley joked.

This team looks as if it has some playmakers. The first line of Heatley, Setoguchi and Koivu lived up to advanced billing and is going to be fun to watch.

Both Heatley and Setoguchi scored goals in their Wild debut, and the line accounted for 12 shots on goal.

Heatley is a big-time goal scorer and could have a huge season if he stays healthy and motivated. He's that good.

Setoguchi flies around the ice constantly looking to generate scoring chances. Koivu makes it all click.

"I think for a new line the chemistry is very good," Heatley said. "I think the key for us is to keep getting chances. We're not always going to score, but as long as we're getting those chances, eventually they're going to go in for us."

The second line isn't too shabby either. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, finally healthy after dealing with concussion-related problems, makes everyone around him better with his passing. Cullen was inconsistent last season, but he gave the Wild some juice on both ends in the opener. Guillaume Latendresse came to training camp in shape, which should pay dividends in his game.

"It's one game," Koivu said. "We have a lot of work to do obviously, but so do all the other teams. We're happy with the start. It's a good start overall."

The Wild had 23 shots on goal and a 4-1 lead after two periods. They played like a team clinging to a comfortable lead in the third, managing only three shots. But the heavy lifting was done by then.

"It's always tough, especially with that kind of lead, to stay on the gas," Heatley said. "We talked about it between the period to stay on the gas, but they've got nothing to lose. They're coming with everybody. Sometimes you just have to hunker down and play good in your own end."

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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