Entering the season, the Minnesota Wild had realistic hopes of reaching a new level.
So far, so good.
Going into Tuesday night’s home opener against the Winnipeg Jets, the Wild have kicked off the campaign in perfect fashion, with a pair of road wins — 2-1 over the Anaheim Ducks and then 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
“You want to see your group play hard for each other and with each other, for sure,” Wild coach Dean Evason said. “But to get rewarded, to reinforce that we’re not only doing the right things systematically, but we’re doing the right things together.”
A huge key for the Wild has been the play of veteran goaltender Cam Talbot, who appears to have found a home in the self-proclaimed State of Hockey after a few struggling seasons.
Talbot, who took the reins as the top goalie in Minnesota last season, has started this season with a pair of wins in which he’s posted a 1.51 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage.
“He’s been great,” Minnesota forward Ryan Hartman said. “He’s calm. He’s collected and makes the big saves when he has to, and that’s what you need from your starting goalie.”
Not that the Wild need another boost, but Tuesday’s clash means so much after all that’s happened since the pandemic began in March 2020.
“We’re definitely excited to get back home,” Hartman said. “We got four points, and that was our goal.”
The Jets are on the other side of the spectrum.
After opening the season with a 4-1 road loss to the Anaheim Ducks, they fell 4-3 to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday. Even worse, the Jets blew a 2-0 lead on the Sharks by surrendering four straight goals en route to that disappointing defeat.
“We kind of lost momentum from that first goal (against), and it went from there,” forward Pierre-Luc Dubois said. “The way we want to play and the way we talk about playing is fast. There’s a grey area between playing too fast and not supporting and playing too slow and being easy to check. … We got spread out, the forwards got spread out from the defensemen, and that made it hard to make plays.”
The Jets have been hampered by poor special-teams play.
On the positive, Andrew Copp scored while short-handed just over a minute into the second period to give them a 2-0 edge, but the Sharks responded with a short-handed tally a couple of minutes later and then netted a pair of power-play markers to claim the lead for good.
In two games, the Jets have surrendered four power-play goals.
“You can’t win like that,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said.
To make matters worse, the Jets may be without captain Blake Wheeler for the game. Wheeler missed Monday’s practice due to the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
It doesn’t mean that Wheeler has tested positive for the virus, and he may be able to suit up. More information will be known after Tuesday’s morning skate.
If Wheeler can’t play, it’s likely Copp would move to the top line’s right wing position, and Paul Stastny would skate on the second line.
–Field Level Media