New Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau likes his teams to play up-tempo, high-energy hockey. It’s a hallmark he established during successful stints in Washington and Anaheim, which he hopes to show Minnesota fans on Saturday when the Wild hosts the Winnipeg Jets in their home opener.
If Boudreau’s team is able to play that high-scoring, up-tempo style, it will be something Wild fans haven’t often seen, and something they definitely haven’t seen this season. The Wild comes home with a 0-1-0 mark after a generally lifeless 3-2 loss to the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, which had even Boudreau admitting his team’s effort wasn’t there.
“We were a step behind all night long,” Boudreau said, after the Wild managed just two shots in the opening 20 minutes and went 0-for-5 on the power play.
Those doldrums stand in sharp contrast to the Jets, who made NHL history in their season opener on Thursday in Winnipeg, becoming just the third team in league history to win its season opener after trailing by three goals in the third period. Winnipeg fell behind 4-1 to Carolina in the third before rallying for a 5-4 overtime win.
Ironically, the last team to accomplish that feat was Minnesota, just last season. The Wild trailed 4-1 in the third period at Colorado in the 2015-16 season opener, and stormed back to win 5-4.
This young Jets’ team, which has made the playoffs just once and has not won a playoff game since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011, got some signs of a bright future in the comeback, including the first NHL goal from rookie right winger Patrik Laine, who the Jets plucked second overall in last summer’s draft.
“It was an amazing feeling,” said Laine, who stands 6-5 and is expected to be an imposing force at forward for the Jets this season and into the future. “You score your first NHL goal just once, so it was nice to get it in the first game. It was amazing to feel the atmosphere at the rink.”
After having the hot-and-cold Ondrej Pavelec in goal since the days they were the Thrashers, the Jets have undertaken a youth movement in the crease as well, putting Pavelec on waivers and inserting youngster Connor Hellebuyck for the opening-night start. With all of that youth in important roles, Jets coach Paul Maurice said the first win, and the first road trip, are important learning opportunities for players more used to major junior and/or college hockey.
“It’s a different league, it’s a different style of game and it’s a hard game to play in,” Maurice said. “The confidence goes a long way.”
The season-opening loss for Minnesota was a rarity. The Wild had gone 9-4-2 in their previous 15 openers, which was the highest points percentage in NHL history. With Boudreau still learning how to coach this team, and the team still learning how to play for him, the ability to bounce back will get an early test versus Winnipeg.
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