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Updated: October 3rd, 2013 11:42pm
Myers: Newcomers shine for Wild in opener, despite shootout loss

Myers: Newcomers shine for Wild in opener, despite shootout loss

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by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Los Angeles Kings have stayed with mostly the same roster that had them hoisting the Stanley Cup two seasons ago, and battling Chicago in the Western Conference finals last June.

By contrast, the Minnesota Wild's opening night roster on Thursday featured eight players who were not on the ice in St. Paul last January, when the 2013 season began, after a long lockout.

After playing well, very well at times, and still coming out with a 3-2 shootout loss to show for their efforts, perhaps the Wild are wondering if eight is enough.

To be sure, one of the more prominent "new guys" needed barely a minute, and all of one shot on goal, to make an impact. On his line's first shift of the season, Matt Cooke managed to erase all of the built-up controversy (in the minds of some Wild fans) about his checkered, suspension-filled stints in Vancouver and Pittsburgh.

Linemate Kyle Brodziak fired a shot from the corner that glanced off Cooke's leg and past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. After a lengthy video review to determine whether or not Cooke had kicked it in (more controversy), the goal was allowed to stand.

"It would have (been) better if I scored with a couple of minutes left," said Cooke, who was encouraged despite ending up on the wrong side of the scoreboard. "I think that we went out, we played hard, we played physical, we carried the pace of play. And we play like that most nights, we're going to win games."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter disagreed that the goal should've counted, but stopped short of expressing it, at least not in so many words.

"The first goal was...there's no sense talking about it," Sutter said, offering his own assessment of the replay. "I reviewed it."

Two more Wild players who weren't here on opening day last season -- defenseman Jonas Brodin and forward Nino Neiderreiter -- provided the only other Minnesota goal of the night, crashing the net on a power play. The Wild looked primed to put the game out of reach in the second period, out-shooting the Kings 13-3. Instead, the tide effectively turned, as Quick kept the puck out of the Los Angeles net again and again.

"That's what a goalie like Quick can do to you," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "You start all of a sudden looking for the perfect play, you forget about how to score and you got to make sure you stay on top of that. You can't let them take you away from your game."

Newly-signed defenseman Keith Ballard, a familiar face and name for Minnesota hockey fans after helping spur the Gophers to back-to-back NCAA titles a decade ago, made an immediate impact as well, recording his first shot, and his first fight, as a member of his home-state club.

"I think I was just trying to get into the game a little bit and didn't really plan on getting into a fight, but that's hockey, that happens," Ballard said. "I think we were pretty solid throughout our game."

Solid, for sure, but one game proved that despite all their changes, the Wild are still a work in progress, with many, many games to play. The Kings, who won't visit Minnesota again this season, had many solid reasons, and one huge reason in goal, to essentially stand pat in the offseason.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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