WINNIPEG – Welcome to the Central Division.
It may be just an NHL pre-season game but the Winnipeg Jets crumbled 4-1 before new regular rivals the Minnesota Wild Thursday. And the Wild didn’t dress their highest-priced talent, while Winnipeg iced their top two lines.
“We played terrible,” said Evander Kane, his left hand wrapped in an ice bag after a game that got more physical as frustration built. “We had our two so-called top lines in and we didn’t perform.
“It’s an exhibition game but we’ve got to be better.”
Pre-season rust is no excuse, said Kane, who accounted for seven of Winnipeg’s 28 shots. Bryan Little had only two shots, but one of them was Winnipeg’s (1-2-1) only goal.
“We have to come out, especially in our building, and be a lot hungrier and get on them a lot quicker than we did in the first period,” said Kane. “We can’t wait until the game is late and out of hand to start playing with a little emotion.”
Mathew Dumba, Charlie Coyle and Kris Foucault scored for the Wild (2-1-0), while Steven Kampfer added an empty-net goal. Winnipeg and Minnesota have played just twice since the former Atlanta Thrashers relocated in 2011 and the Jets won both.
Coyle, who had the winner in the second period, also was pleased the Wild faced a lot of Winnipeg’s top players.
“We’d rather go up against a lineup like that than younger guys,” he said. “We want to see what other teams have and that was a good win for us to go against those guys and it just proves it doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup, just stick to the system.”
The Jets will face the Wild six times during the regular season as they move from the old Southeast Division to the new Central Division.
Travel will be easier, but Winnipeg also faces three teams that made the playoffs last season and one of them—the Chicago Blackhawks—won the Stanley Cup.
Jets coach Claude Noel wasn’t necessarily taking the loss as a portent of what lies ahead, although he wasn’t pleased with what he saw.
“I don’t believe this game does that,” said Noel. “Sometimes you get caught looking at the roster and . . . you get led down the path where you think it’s going to be an easy game and you’ll have success . . . There is no easy way to win games. . .
“That is something that we’re going to deal with tomorrow.”
The Jets will get a chance to redeem themselves Saturday when they play the Wild again at the Xcel Energy Center.
Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter were all missing from the Minnesota lineup.
The tone was set early when Dumba scored on a loose puck that floated in and out of a scramble in front of the Winnipeg net past a sprawled Al Montoya.
The Jets had trouble getting shots off in the first period and went 0 for 3 on the power play. By the time the game ended they were 0 for 7.
The Jets were stingier with chances but the Wild also struck out on the three they were handed.
The Jets only goal came when captain Andrew Ladd intercepted a sloppy pass just past the slot and spun it back to Little who flipped a backhander past Josh Harding.
Things got worse for Winnipeg in the second. The Jets gave up two quick goals just 16 seconds apart.
It started with a two-on-one that led to a give-and-go play between Coyle and Dany Heatley. Coyle cashed in, then another goal came from Foucault on one more rush the Jets were unable to stop.
On their last power play of the game the Jets pulled Montoya but even six-on-four didn’t work with Kampfer flipping one down the ice to make it 4-1 at 18:55.
Darcy Kuemper took over in the Minnesota net in the third.