So much for making a positive impression on the new boss.
Paul Fenton’s first game as the Wild’s general manager on Thursday night was reminiscent of so many of the games his predecessor, Chuck Fletcher, was forced to endure in recent years. The Wild came out with some spark in their 4-1 loss at Colorado, then quickly transitioned to being disinterested and uninspired before, as they’ve done so many times before, putting on a furious rally in the third period.
This might have been Game 1 of an 82-game season, but it was truly remarkable to watch a team with a player full of rosters on notice again picking and choosing when to exert themselves. It was as if the Wild were being careful to follow a script they have appeared content not to stray from for so many years.
This was true down to the postgame quotes.
“They came pretty hard there, they ripped it up, and we were almost in survival mode,” said winger Charlie Coyle, who played on the ineffective third line with Jordan Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek, “We’d chip it out, chip it out and we wouldn’t have that speed to support and they’d come right back and do it all over again. That’s not the way to play.”
Zach Parise, who gave the Wild a 1-0 lead in the first period, also criticized the effort. “Up until we had a little decent push at the end we didn’t do nearly enough to generate offense,” he said. “It was reflected on the scoreboard and on the shots. … Our power play actually moved it around well and had some really good opportunities, but 5-on-5 just not enough to create offense for us.”
Does this all sound familiar? It should. Go back to any number of postgame stories on the Wild in recent seasons and you’re likely to find nearly the exact same quotes.
A few critical tweets about the Wild’s effort on Thursday night were not received kindly by those with short memories who evidently believe a good-marketing slogan should be enough to ignore the actual on-ice product. What the Wild failed to realize on Thursday was even if this wasn’t their ice, they should still play with some pride.
There was little of that deep in the first period and throughout the second. The Wild was outshot 14-5 through the first 20 minutes and 32-13 through the second period. There was a point in the middle period when it appeared as if the fast-skating Avs were playing against a collection of old-timers. The Avalanche looked that good and the Wild appeared to be that slow.
But then, as seems to be the case far too often, the Wild got their wakeup call and began skating in the third. Only trailing 2-1, they had numerous opportunities to tie the score and looked like a completely different group. It was unclear if the Avalanche had dropped into a prevent defense, the Wild had simply decided to try or it was a combination of both.
“When we had a sense of urgency in the third period, we were the quicker team,” said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who made line changes in the third period that seemed to get the attention of his team. “When you’re standing around watching plays and you’re not moving your legs, you’re in trouble. I thought in the first two periods why there was a great shot discrepancy was because we were standing around and watching. In the third period, when we were being proactive and going after them, we were coming up with pucks and getting good opportunities. We just couldn’t hit the net.”
So what’s on the next page of the script? I’m confident it calls for a 6-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday night in the Wild’s home opener. This game will be filled with grit, desire, heart (insert a few more cliches) and 60 minutes of effort. The Wild’s new goal song will play on repeat, the crowd will be standing and Fenton will look down from the GM’s booth with a smile on his face.
Don’t be fooled.
This is how the Wild go about their business.
Some advice for Fenton: Be sure to enjoy the moment because soon thereafter your team is sure to return to its apathetic ways.