In a preseason game billed as being one for the “kids,” the lone Minnesota Wild player born in the 70s stole the show.
Niklas Backstrom made an outstanding return to the net, making 12 saves in 31:19 in his first appearance since Jan. 20. The Wild ultimately lost 2-1 on a a pair of goals after Backstrom had been replaced, but the 36-year old netminder served notice that any Wild goaltending talk starts with the 2007-08 Vezina Trophy finalist.
His positioning so good that he’s not often spectacular, Backstrom’s highlight-reel save came in the first period, showing great lateral movement to rob Mathieu Perreault, who scored a goal with five seconds left in OT against Backstrom in Oct. 2013 with Anaheim. Lateral movement is huge, of course, for a goaltender coming off a couple seasons of lower body injuries.
"It's early in camp," Backstrom said. "It's fun to play. I still have a ways to go."
Onto the kids— a lineup so young that third-year forward Charlie Coyle wore an “A” along with veteran defenseman Keith Ballard. Tyler Graovac, a 2011 draft pick who scored 13 goals for Iowa last season, got a goal in the closing minute.The lineup was far from intimidated against a Jets team that dressed most of their regulars in an arena that was in its mid-season boisterous form.
The top line of Coyle, Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter was sharp and fast, drawing a couple of power plays with their speed. Zucker took a hard hit into the boards by Chris Thorburn late in the second period but shook it off to return a shift later. He set up Charlie Coyle who hit the post midway through the third.
Michael Keranen is a guy who’s flown under the radar a bit the last week. Signed from the Finnish Elite League, where he was one of the top scorers, is super skilled. He showed good chemistry with Jordan Schroeder, who is as fast as advertised, and Tyler Graovac. Graovac scored the Wild’s goal with 13.6 seconds remaining after more than two minutes with the extra attacker.
The Wild was physical when it needed to be, too. Stu Bickel, in a dogfight to make this team as a seventh defenseman, might have bolstered his chances with a couple of fights. His latter one was versus Anthony Peluso, who tried to fight Curt Gogol, but the pair dropped their helmets and the linesmen stepped in.
"He's making a statement and showing us he wants to be here," Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said about Bickel.
The young D played well, too. Christian Folin showed the ability to jump up into the play and has a blast from the point, while Gustav Olofsson moves the puck really well.
The Wild plays at Pittsburgh on Thursday— more veterans expected to dress— while returning to Xcel Energy Center on Saturday for the first preseason game, a rematch versus the Jets.