NASHVILLE – They weren’t of the wholesale variety, but the Wild did make changes before reconvening for a new season.
There was the last-minute reset at general manager, a move that stoked optimism since the addition of Bill Guerin seems to have upgraded the culture and camaraderie in a matter of weeks.
New faces in Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman were injected in the lineup. And captain Mikko Koivu and defenseman Matt Dumba returned healthy from major injuries, status updates that count as significant considering the gaping holes their absences left in the roster last season.
But a fresh start with a different look didn’t fumigate a pesky problem, and that’s the team’s scoring woes.
Aside from a 43-second burst, the Wild skated feebly and the team was sentenced as such — opening the season with a 5-2 loss to the Predators on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena after Nashville pulled away with four third-period goals.
“Just a brutal third by us,” Dumba said. “No excuses. We were off the gas from the moment the puck was dropped. That’s on us. We have to hold ourselves accountable and get ready for that third period. Hopefully that’s the lesson learned tonight, and we don’t do it again.”
Despite getting hamstrung by neutral-zone turnovers, the Wild was only 20 minutes away from starting the season victorious after a late push in the second period.
A Brad Hunt point shot skimmed Wild winger Jason Zucker’s jersey before sailing by Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne at 16:04 to tie the score at 1-1, stopping a scoreless skid that extended back to last season at 160:53. The Wild finished 1-for-3 with the man advantage, while Nashville went 0-for-2.
Only 43 seconds after Zucker’s goal, the Wild moved ahead when Dumba — in his first regular-season appearance since suffering a torn pectoral muscle in December, a layoff of 50 games — walked into a loose puck that flew top-shelf over Rinne.
But that momentum didn’t carry over to the third period, not when blown coverages left the Wild vulnerable in its own end.
Center Eric Staal didn’t front a Roman Josi shot that was tipped by former Wild forward Mikael Granlund 27 seconds into the period. Only 1:29 later, Austin Watson was able to deflect a puck in while falling with his back to the net.
And at 7:32, Viktor Arvidsson skated untouched with the Staal line caught near the blue line to wire in a one-timer from the slot. Filip Forsberg buried an empty-netter with 1:26 to go.
“There’s no excuse,” Staal said. “We’re better players than that. I’ve got to play better. I just didn’t play good. I was brutal.”
Staal and linemate Zach Parise played under 14 minutes, well below their career averages. The other winger on that line, Mats Zuccarello, clocked in at 16:07. Each finished minus-3.
“I wouldn’t put us out there either,” Staal said.
The Wild’s poor finish upstaged a strong start by goalie Devan Dubnyk, who totaled 27 saves. Rinne made 22.
Dubnyk made 14 stops in the first period and had a highlight-reel grab early in the second against Granlund when he gloved down a shot windmill style.
He ended up making 17 consecutive saves before the Predators finally solved him — a Forsberg pass that caromed off defenseman Ryan Ellis’ skate and rolled into the net 3:37 into the second.
“I guess that’s why it’s so disappointing to have that finish,” Dubnyk said.
“I was excited. I was having fun out there. It felt like midseason. I had a real good feeling going into the third period, so that just makes it sting a little bit more.”