In the final dress rehearsal before Thursday’s season opener in St. Louis, the Wild hosted another division rival Saturday night that it will see again Saturday in its home opener.
The Winnipeg Jets had the Wild’s number last season, winning four of five games, so coach Bruce Boudreau was curious to see how his new team matched up against a foe many believe could be the conference’s most improved.
The Wild won’t get two points that count, but it was impressive in a 5-1 victory that put a bow on the preseason.
The Wild outshot Winnipeg 34-18, got four third-period goals and didn’t cower physically vs. the Central’s biggest team.
“We’re never going to be the 40-hit-a-game team, but you have to get involved and you can’t swing away,” Boudreau said. “And when you do that, you usually stop the other team from getting opportunities. I thought we did it better than we have before, but it was the first time [pretty much] our [full] team was in the lineup, and we’ll get better as we go along.”
Zach Parise and Mike Reilly, who is vying to for a spot on the Wild’s third defense pair, each scored on the power play. Fourth-line roster hopeful Christoph Bertschy scored a beautiful goal, and Marco Scandella and Charlie Coyle scored as well.
Coyle, who had an outstanding camp, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin had two points apiece, and the Wild’s top line of Parise, Eric Staal and Coyle had yet another fantastic game, combining for 10 shots.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk, who has been shaky at times in camp, was strong in his final tuneup, making 17 saves, including some clutch ones late in the second period.
“That’s the goaltending you need starting next week,” Boudreau said.
Final cuts could be made as soon as Sunday. The Wild has to trim its roster from 25 to a maximum of 23 by Tuesday, so Boudreau gave youngsters Reilly and Christian Folin another look on the blue line and played rookies Joel Eriksson Ek and Bertschy on the fourth line.
It would seem likely that the Wild keeps Eriksson Ek, 19, for a little longer rather than return him to his professional club in Sweden. He can play up to nine games without burning the first year of his contract.
If that’s the case, the Wild could place goalie Alex Stalock on waivers Sunday or Monday and release injured Ryan Carter from his tryout to get to 23.
But the Wild also has to decide if it wants to keep eight defensemen. Folin looked solid on the second pair with Scandella. Reilly, who has had an up-and-down training camp, played a major role on Winnipeg’s first-period goal but made amends by blasting a one-timer through Mikael Granlund’s screen in the third.
The goal appeared to take some pressure off Reilly.
“Reilly … I think he struggled in the first period, but after the first period, he seems to be a guy that gets confidence when good things happen to him,” Boudreau said. “Once Folin started playing physical, everything went better for him.”
Asked if he’s OK keeping eight defensemen even if it means one of the youngsters sits, Boudreau said: “Would have to see. You don’t like young players sitting because they need to develop.”
There are rumblings that GM Chuck Fletcher is looking to improve the Wild’s depth up front, either via trade or by signing a free agent by Tuesday.
Boudreau has voiced concern about the Wild’s depth, not just the fact that he wants a reliable fourth line but wondering aloud about injuries.
But Bertschy may have relieved some of that concern by playing a solid game, including executing a nifty deke, then backhanded goal off Jason Zucker’s setup.
“I could get used to it, to be honest,” said Bertschy, 22, a 2012 sixth-round pick from Switzerland. “I think I gave everything I had. It’s up to them to decide.”