It took me a while to realize why I was more wrapped up in the Wild's season-opening win over the BJs tonight than I thought I'd be. Then it dawned on me that the anticipation for this season that was borne of the inspiring moves made by Chuck Fletcher this summer was building this first game up to be more than just one out of 82.
The full plan was on display tonight, too.
From the re-tooled first line (which put out exactly like we hoped they would) to the youth movement (Scandella, Spurgeon, Stoner, Bulmer) getting legit minutes in all situations, to the new coach with his "Go ahead and underestimate me, I freakin' dare you" look that I absolutely adore.
On this one night, I hope Fletcher was satisfied. It's not the end of the road, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was conclusive evidence that they're on the right path.
As for the game itself, the Wild had the jump on the BJs for the majority of the first two periods and then shut it down effectively in the third. The first two goals of the season came not from the exciting first line but from the defense (a sophomore to a freshman, no less) and the 2nd line. As nice as it is to be able to expect offense from our top line, getting offense from that second line is beyond huge.
Backstrom was tremendous. I've been having trouble deciding if he or Latendresse was more important to the ultimate outcome of the season, and I think it has to be Backstrom. With the younger blueline, should they show their age at all, Bax has to be able to clean up any spilled milk with regularity if the Wild is going to have any success this year.
The BJ TV announcers were talking about the speed of the Wild making a difference in the game and that made me think about Yeo's great quote in the FSNorth pregame about the difference between being a fast skater and playing fast hockey. I'm going to remember his line and I have a sneaking suspicion it will come to represent his style of hockey.
After the game ended, I turned to the Sharks/Coyotes game to see Burns' debut. I remembered how Todd Richards had been an assistant with San Jose, and how Yeo was an assistant with Pittsburgh. Well, the Penguins won a Cup while Yeo was there and the Sharks, well we all know about their struggles in the playoffs. Maybe the difference between Yeo and Richards is as simple as that: they're both new coaches, with similar pedigrees, but one has seen what it takes to win at the NHL level and the other hadn't.
Which leads me to my expectations for this Wild team. I want to see two things: 1. consistent effort. That's been missing from Wild teams since before Lemaire left. 2. Playing meaningful games in March. I don't know if they're a playoff team, and I hate pre-season predictions. But staying in it past the trade deadline would be a solid step in the right direction from where they were last season.