The Minnesota Wild finally played an actual hockey game Wednesday, July 29.
After nearly 150 days away due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Wild took on the Colorado Avalanche in an exhibition game, and for a few hours everything felt normal again.
In the end, the Wild lost 3-2 in front of an empty arena at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.
Not that the final score mattered. But here are five takeaways that did matter as the Wild now set their sights on their best-of-five qualifying series against the Vancouver Canucks, which begins on Sunday night:
Game 1 lineup
Wild coach Dean Evason said heading into the game with the Avalanche that he would likely use the same lineup that he plans to use in Game 1 of the series against the Canucks. It looks like that’s exactly what he did.
He deployed his usual lines up front with Eric Staal centering Jordan Greenway and Kevin Fiala; Joel Eriksson Ek centering Zach Parise and Luke Kunin; Alex Galchenyuk centering Marcus Foligno and Mats Zuccarello, and Mikko Koivu centering Ryan Donato and Ryan Hartman. As for the blue line, Ryan Suter played with Jared Spurgeon; Jonas Brodin played with Matt Dumba, and Carson Soucy played with Brad Hunt.
Most importantly for the Wild is everyone came out of the game healthy and looks ready to go for this weekend.
Alex Stalock got the start in goal with Devan Dubnyk relieving him midway through the game.
Looking specifically at Stalock, he allowed a juicy rebound early in the first period, which paved the way for an easy goal from Avalanche winger Joonas Donskoi, and failed to stop a wicked wrist shot from Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon a few minutes later. He also allowed a goal to Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog in the second period, though it’s hard to fault him considering the Wild had a couple of guys in the penalty box at the time.
As for Dubnyk, he took over at almost the exact midway point, and made a number of impressive saves in relief. He stopped every shot he faced.
It’s still unclear which goaltender the Wild will go with in Game 1 against the Canucks. According to Evason. that announcement will come in the 24 hours leading up to the match-up.
Whether it was young buck Kevin Fiala using his speed to draw a couple of penalties, or veteran Eric Staal using his body to score a goal, the time away from the ice seemed to do wonders for almost everyone involved.
That’s something players talked about at length in the days leading up to the exhibition game, and it was noticeable over the 60 minutes of play.
While there was some obvious rustiness, almost everyone seemed to have some pep in their step. That isn’t always the case during the postseason as players are usually dealing with nagging injuries by that point.
After struggling for most of this season, Dumba was a force to be reckoned for a good chunk the game. His most notable contribution came early in the first period when he cashed in on the power play with an absolute bomb from the left circle.
Though he failed to find the net after that, Dumba consistently made his presence felt on the offensive end the rest of the way. He did struggle a bit on the defensive end as he got caught flat-footed on MacKinnon’s goal.
That said, if the Wild can get Dumba rolling against the Canucks, it could unlock another dimension to their game.
Room for improvement
Everything felt a little loose throughout the game. While practices have been in full swing for the past few weeks, the overall speed of a game seemed to stun some players in the early stages. There were a handful of examples, ranging from errant passes up the ice to sloppiness through the neutral zone to constant whistles across the 60 minutes of play.
That said, the Wild and Avalanche both brought a level of intensity not usually seen in exhibition games. It’s clear both teams saw this as an opportunity to iron out some of the wrinkles before the games start to matter over the weekend.