Newcomers contribute, but first win still elusive
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A few ticks short of 40 minutes into the Minnesota Wild's 3-2 shooutout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the reasons for two off-season acquisitions could be seen on the ice, and on the Nationwide Arena scoreboard.
Goals from newcomers Matt Cullen and Eric Nystrom gave the Wild a 2-0 second period lead. The advantage faded away, with the Jackets forcing overtime and winning the ensuing shootout 2-1, dropping the Wild's preseason record to 0-3-2. But the promise of the future supplied by the new faces might be the silver lining that Wild fans can cling to as the final preseason tune-up looms later this week.
For Cullen, it was his first goal in the uniform of a Minnesota hockey team since he was a St. Cloud State Husky in 1997. Nystrom, the former Michigan Wolverine, doubled the Wild lead later in the second period. That pair, and defensive forward John Madden (another former Wolverine) were the most talked-about additions to the Wild roster over the summer.
But another new face, rookie defenseman Justin Falk, is quickly becoming well-known in Wild circles as well. Falk blocked four shots in the game and was called upon often, especially late in the game, as the Wild blue line crew played a man short. Marek Zidlicky was hurt early in the game, meaning the Wild rotated five defensemen rather than six for more than 60 minutes. That shortage as much as anything likely contributed to the Blue Jackets' 12-5 shot advantage in the final 20 minutes, and the tying goal from Nick Holden that forced the overtime.
"As a team, I think we're getting better here as we work through the preseason, we just need to find a way to finish things off," said Falk, who uses his 6-5 frame and long reach to his advantage on the blue line. "I thought we played great for the first two periods and were all over them."
Niklas Backstrom started in goal and was expected to play for two periods as well. But Wild coach Todd Richards left Backstrom in for the entire game, rather than playing Anton Khudobin in the third, as he had originally planned.
"Through two periods we played pretty sound defensively," said Richards, who added that Zidlicky had a Charlie horse and is going to be evaluated when the team returns to Minnesota. "We gave up a couple of really good chances but (Backstrom) was great. And then we relied on him too heavily in the third."
Richards stressed getting his entire lineup involved, offensively and defensively as a key to the Wild closing out games, rather than letting leads slip away, as they have done in a pair of shootout losses thus far in the preseason.
"It's tough to win games in this league with only 14 or 15 guys," he said. "You really need contributions from all 19 guys in the game, excluding the backup goalie. We need everyone firing on all cylinders."
The next, and last, opportunity for a 19-player preseason effort by the Wild is Thursday, when the Blue Jackets visit Xcel Energy Center.