WINNIPEG – They’re the Winnipeg Jets closest NHL neighbours and they’ll be spending a lot of time together from now on, but the Jets and Minnesota Wild won’t be swapping recipes.
As division rivals, they’ll be trying to claw their way past the other to secure a playoff spot in the realigned Central Division, with their first meeting of the season Thursday in St. Paul. Minn.
“We need to establish ourselves as a team that wants to beat them, which is exactly what they’re going to want to do,” says Jets coach Claude Noel.
There has been a lot of talk about a natural rivalry, since the two are so close. Minneapolis-St. Paul is half the distance from Winnipeg as Calgary, for example, and Winnipeg hockey fans regularly drive south to watch games at the Xcel Energy Center.
“Our fan base goes down there a fair bit and voices their opinions, so that creates some anxiety in different parties and I think that’s healthy,” says Noel.
But he also suggests it would be nice to play a few games before talking about a rivalry. The two teams met exactly twice during the regular season in 2011-12 and twice during this pre-season.
“We haven’t created a rivalry yet,” said Noel. “It’s the potential, everybody talks about it, so it will get created, probably through the media.”
Jets forward Devin Setoguchi knows the Wild well, after playing two seasons with them before being traded to Winnipeg.
“They’re a pretty structured hockey club,” he says.
“They play a north-south game and they try to eliminate turnovers and they work hard. It’s pretty simple the way they play. They’ve got some skill over there as well.”
That skill level took a big bump with the addition of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in 2012 and the Wild made the playoffs at the end of the last lockout-shortened season, although they were eliminated in five by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.
Setoguchi says the Jets aren’t spending much time thinking about how the Wild will play though, they’re focused on their own game.
“You can do the pre-scout as much as you want but at the end of the day we need to have better starts and we need to stick better to our structure,” he said.
But he too sees the potential for a great rivalry.
“I remember when I played there it used to be about half Winnipeg fans in the crowd.”
Setoguchi has been fitting in well as part of Winnipeg’s revamped second scoring line, with partners Evander Kane and Mark Scheifele.
Right now they’re tied at eight points with last season’s top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler.
The addition of Setoguchi and Michael Frolik, who has helped create a more effective third line, seems to have given the Jets some of the depth they were lacking up front.
But they’ve still been outshot 108-77 in their first three games, despite posting a record of 2-1-0, and have been working on defence to try and give goalie Ondrej Pavelec a little more help.
“I don’t think we need to worry too much about them (Minnesota) right now,” says Noel.
“That’s no disrespect to them (but) we have enough of our own situations that we have to get squared around so we’re going to be focusing on our game. We know what they do, we know how they play, and we know where we have to be better.”
The Jets will play the Wild five times this season and after Thursday’s game they return home to face another division rival Friday, the Dallas Stars.
Noel says he was glad to have a couple of days of practice this week and he knows the team wants to get better.
“We know where the areas are and it was good we got a couple of days of practice because its been very busy right from the onset of training camp,” he said after practice Wednesday.
“I sense our guys want to succeed and they want to win and they’re not only words that they’re talking about, they want to be helped and they want to be successful.”