Dear friends, the hockey season is nearly upon us. Until such time as the season opener, however, we must be sated with pre-season hockey. Shiver. Tonight, the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild engaged in the age-old tradition of beating on each other and flinging rubberized discs at nets for zero standings points. Those prospects you totally forgot about but definitely know exist probably had a cameo this evening. Did the Jets prevail in their first tilt of the new pre-season, or did the Wild pluck the sweet taste of victory from out beneath them?
The Jets didn’t have the most auspicious of starts to the new season. The first period was a bit of a slog. Given the line-up both sides iced, this is hardly surprising. Young guns Nic Petan, Kristian Vesalainen, Marko Dano, Jack Roslovic, Sami Niku, and Logan Stanley all played a part in a somewhat eventful opening frame. The Wild and Jets exchanged several scoring opportunities, though Minnesota began to dig itself an early hole with a number of penalties. The Jets weren’t able to convert on either of the power plays, but managed to stave off a hungry Minnesota team that was looking for a measure of revenge after the recent playoff series.
While the Wild held the edge at even-strength for a chunk of the period, it was the Jets who connected first. Brendan Lemieux charged the net off the rush and managed to feed the puck to Marko Dano, who potted a goal over the pads of a helpless Andrew Hammond. Minnesota’s defenders were unable to clear the crease, and just like that, the Jets took the early lead at the 13:12 mark. This clearly annoyed the Wild, because they took the edge in scoring opportunities after that and never looked back.
Minnesota did well to create a good deal of chaos in front of Jets back-up goalie Laurent Brossoit. He was decently under siege for a significant portion of the second period, displaying a good deal of poise and a calm demeanor under duress. The Jets defenders got pancaked, with Ben Chiarot and Joe Morrow having particularly atrocious nights. Tucker Poolman wasn’t much better, but we know he’s likely incapable of carrying a partner who presents a major liability in the defensive zone. The Morrow-Poolman pairing is one I definitely don’t need to see again.
The Vesalainen-Roslovic-Perreault line had a great frame, continuing some strong early play they showed in the first period. While Roslovic was less effective at centre than I’d hoped, Perreault and Vesalainen more than compensated for his deficiencies. That line constantly buzzed Hammond and co. throughout the evening, opening up space around the net and very nearly notching a marker or two.
The Dano-Petan-Lemieux line was also strong, with Petan doing some excellent defensive work and displaying great passing instincts. Nic earned some penalty kill and power play time as well, though his even-strength ice-time was still down in the dumps. It’s a shame, because he has so much to offer the Jets depth lines. With a skilled finisher like Vesalainen or Roslovic, one can only imagine the damage a line centered by Petan could do.
Coming into the game, I was a bit worried about the Stanley-Byfuglien pairing. To my surprise, both acquitted themselves nicely. Stanley is better suited to a complementary role, where a puck-carrying partner recovers and transitions the play after he forces the turnover in the corners. Stanley was also noticeably more assertive with his stick-play, using his rangy frame and reach to harass the Wild. That said, Stanley’s shooting ability is....problematic. His skating also needs considerable work, so it’s important to take his progress with a note of caution. Byfuglien is quite good at masking his partners’ weaknesses, so bear that in mind as well.
Winnipeg was middling during the second period, but came out unscathed. On the other hand, they were afforded a few more power play opportunities and really didn’t capitalize. It’s only pre-season, but going 0-for-5 on the man advantage isn’t the most promising of prospects. At least they didn’t get scored on, right?
Right this moment, someone is authoring a piece about Winnipeg needing the veteran leadership of Matt Hendricks. With how the city and media endlessly lauded the 37-year old, you would think he was a Jet for nearly a century. Despite the fan adoration, Hendricks was let go at the end of his contract and signed with the Wild to take on the new mantle of “Gritty Aging Minnesota 4th Liners Named Matt”. Naturally, Hendricks decided to celebrate his arrival to the Twin Cities by taking advantage of a net-front scramble and sneaking one past Brossoit. Not the best way to start the third period, I’m afraid.
Both teams went to and fro, exchanging a few hairy sequences. Brossoit, in particular, had a jaw-dropping glove save on Ryan Murphy early in the period. Winnipeg had already surrendered the tying goal and were on the verge of killing a penalty. Murphy stepped into an open shooting lane and absolutely blasted the puck. Mere mortals would have cowered, but not Brossoit. He deftly flicked his glove and plucked the goal-scoring effort out of the air, basking in the glory of his brief triumph.
From there, things weren’t terribly exciting. That is, until the Vesalainen goal that was waved off. The Perreault line had another brilliant sequence, with Mathieu springing Roslovic and Vesalainen on a two-on-one. Vesalainen buried the puck between Hammond’s pads, and a late-arriving Wild defender pushed the puck-and-goalie combo right into the net. The refs waved the goal off on the grounds of net dislodging, but a regular season review likely would have granted Kristian his first North American marker.
With the goal waved off, Winnipeg was quietly seething and thinking about its many life decisions. All hope was lost, or so it seemed. In stepped Joe Morrow to deliver the Jets an absolute peach of a snipe, top-shelf, bar-down. However, a replay revealed the ugly truth; the puck had deflected off the cross-bar, hit the goal-line, and never went over. As there are no reviews in pre-season, the phantom goal was awarded and the Jets took the 2-1 lead. From there, the Wild pushed but could not solve Brossoit. Winnipeg narrowly emerged with a decent, if somewhat disappointing first win.
- Please hook Vesalainen-Roslovic-Perreault to my veins. One of those guys needs to be swapped for a genuine centre (likely in place of Vesalainen), but that line was a bundle of joy to watch.
- Laurent Brossoit was calm, cool, and collected. He earned the title “Bane of Kloos”, preventing the Minnesotan defenseman from scoring on two breakaways. Nothing beats that glorious glove-save on Murphy, though. Perfection.
- Sami Niku was fun. His smooth skating and effortless glide are a joy to watch, and he had a few nice offensive activations. He will need a partner who can actually defend every now and then, but I like what I see from the young Finn.
- Nic Petan was outstanding. Whether at even-strength or on special teams, his defensive acumen and playmaking were on full display. He fully deserved a point or two.
- The Ehlers-Little-Laine grouping is hot garbage, and I’m tired of seeing it. There’s no chemistry, with Ehlers and Laine needing fundamentally different linemate styles to profit.
- Morrow and Chiarot had a fairly wretched night. Morrow, in particular, had tremendous issues making zone exits and winning battles along the boards in his own end. It was a rough night for the two veterans.
- Nic Petan’s ice-time was not suited for his contributions. He received very little even-strength time, so I wouldn’t bet on seeing him for much of the upcoming season.