The Minnesota Wild showed some early rust, fell into a hole and, despite a late flurry, was unable rally in its opening preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-1.
"It was clear that they played a couple of exhibition games already because they were at a different speed, a different battle level than they were," Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said after the game. "We were still in scrimmage mode.
"It took us about 58 minutes to really get up to game mode."
After falling into a three-goal hole, one of the Wild's offseason acquisitions, pushing for a regular-season roster spot, Nino Niederreiter netted the team's first goal of the preseason on a power play midway through the second period.
"I would argue he was probably our best forward today,” Yeo said. “I like he was making plays and was going to the net.”
"He has a presence there."
The play started with Niederreiter battling in the crease for a rebound. Mikael Granlund picked up a lose puck and wiggled behind the net. He took advantage of the slimmer NHL net and created time behind the goal while the big bodied Niederreiter and, equally large, Charlie Coyle fought for position in front. Granlund slipped a pass to Coyle, who was denied by the Jackets' goaltender Jeremy Smith, but Niederreiter slid into an opening and lifted a backhand over the netminder.
The Wild fired it up in the third period, trying to generate a comeback, but the Blue Jackets lead was too much to overcome.
Columbus opened the scoring, shortly after the Wild's first power play ended in the opening frame. Michael Chaput was whistled for a delay of game penalty after clearing the puck over the glass in the Columbus end. After serving his time, Chaput was the recipient of good timing, as Cam Atkinson found him coming out of the box for a breakaway. Goaltender Niklas Backstrom stopped the initial chance, but Ryan Johansen was there to clean up the rebound to give the Jackets a 1-0 lead.
Columbus extended its lead at the 4:23 mark of the second period after a scramble in front of the Wild net. Ryan Johansen was fighting for a lose puck at the side of the net as Backstrom tried to cover, when the puck popped out. The bouncing biscuit landed right onto the tape of Cam Atkinson, who was skating through the crease and tapped it into the empty cage.
The Blue Jackets made it 3-0 on a long pass and finish. With the Wild caught in transition, defenseman Cody Goloubef made a long outlet pass to a streaking Mark Letestu, who snuck in past the Minnesota defense on the left side of the ice. Letestu fired a wrister in stride past Backstrom on the blocker side. Blake Comeau picked up the second assist on the goal.
Backstrom made seven saves in the game before Darcy Kuemper came in relief after the Niederreiter goal. Kuemper stopped all seven of the shots he faced.
Smith played the entire game for Columbus, making 20 saves for the win.
"We were hoping to see some good things, and we saw a few good things," Yeo said. "But we hoped to see a few more good things."
In his Wild debut, former first-round pick Mathew Dumba was impressive, registering a game-high four shots on goal. One play in particular in the third period showed off the blueliner’s skill set. He wheeled around the net while fighting off a Blue Jackets attacker and made a clean breakout pass on the tape to Granlund.
With a number of players fighting for roster spots, there were some fisticuffs in the game, as well. In the first period, Jake Dowell squared off with Cody Bass in a middleweight bout for the only tussle of the game.
After the game, Yeo said that Jason Zucker tweaked his groin on his first shift. The forward skated for the remainder of the period, but he didn't return after the first intermission.
The Wild travels to Winnipeg on Thursday for the start of a home-and-home with the new division rival. Minnesota will return to Xcel Energy Center to host the Jets on Saturday.
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