There is a saying about the calm before the storm. And that is precisely what we have with tonight's game against the Colorado Avalanche. This is the start of what will surely be a whirlwind of a season where the games come at you rapid fire until Spring and what Wild fans hope leads to having a team in the playoffs. In a twisted way the Wild probably couldn't have been scripted any better as the debut with a home game on Hockey Day Minnesota. I am sure the Hockey Day Minnesota event organizers were most appreciative for the timing since it just adds that much more buzz to a day that has rapidly become a tremendous hockey tradition in the State of Hockey. Of course for many fans it will be all about the new faces that will be in the Wild's lineup and many feel the team has its best chance to qualify for the post season, something it hasn't done in 5 years.
The Colorado Avalache also feel they're getting closer to being a serious contender to make the post-season. They have a young and talented team who will hope to upset the celebration that is Hockey Day Minnesota. They want to make a statement that the Wild shouldn't punch their ticket to the playoffs just yet as well as make a case that they could surprise in the Northwest Division. Former Wild defenseman Greg Zanon makes his first return to the State of Hockey since being a late-season trade last year. Will Colorado spoil the Wild's big day?
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1st Period Thoughts: Let's just say one thing. It's obvious that it took this long for the first game of the season. If you were expecting mid-season polish tonight, it's not only wishful thinking on your part, but downright delusional. Case in point, John Mitchell's goal for the Avalanche just over two minutes in. It felt like the Wild skaters as well as Niklas Backstrom just weren't ready. While the Wild players were conditioning during the lockout, it's plain as day that we didn't have players playing actual competitive hockey all across Europe. As a musician, I can practice all the scales in the world, but if I'm not playing actual music I'm not ready for a big concert. The unpreparedness once again showed itself midway through the period, and it took a lot of scrambing by skaters and Backstrom to keep it from being a 2-0 game. Sadly, basic things like passing and skating are severely lacking tonight. I feel like I'm watching a pre-season game with a bunch of prospect and tryout players, and not one with high-priced skaters like Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Instead, we're watching an unphysical, ill-prepared team. Now Colorado on the other hand looks fabulous, but then next to the Wild an adult beer league team would look pretty good. One thing I've noticed so far tonight is something we're most likely going to see all season. Colorado it taking the body, and doing so as if to say "well if you're going to take the top two free agents and for exhorbitant contracts, we're going to try and make you look foolish." Just seconds before the end of the period, the Wild got their first real close look at a goal. However, too little, too late and no chance of getting anything past Semyon Varlamov. I'd love to say "the game can't possibly get worse" but I don't think we even have that going in our favor.
2nd Period Thoughts: Nothing like getting a power play early in the period. Considering how tonight's game has gone, I dreaded the first power play attempt. Yet, color me surprised. Now, it took a bit of time to get things settled down, but through hard work of Pierre-Marc Bourchard maintaining the zone, the Wild managed to find their first goal of the night on the power play. However, it wasn't Parise or Suter scoring the first goal, it was the often league-wide maligned, Dany Heatley. And then to make things even better and crazy, during a replay, Wild rookie Mikael Grandlund scored his first NHL goal. He won the face off, and shortly thereafter was able to tip it in. Crazy part though, you would expect a rookie to be grinning ear to ear when scoring one's first NHL goal. However, during the PA announcement, he had the world's most stoic face ever. Power plays seemed to then pile up for the Wild. First, Steve Downie decided that not just one infraction on Jared Spurgeon was enough, but he decided to take two, right in front of an official. With a four minute double minor, Ryan O'Byrne decided to hold a stick as well, which then netted a just under 2 minute 5-on-3. Once again, hard work by the top power play unit, most notably Dany Heatley, finds the Wild up 3-1 with his second power play goal of the night. In the last quarter of the second period, the Wild found themselves on a penalty kill after Cal Clutterbuck held Jaime McGinn. Surprisingly, the Wild found even some offense just after the end of the penalty kill, with a break away by Bouchard, however Varlamov was up to the task. The Wild however find themselves back on a four minute powerplay after Jan Hejda got the stick up high and cut up Zenon Konopka's face with his stick. Definitely a turn around of fortune between the first and second periods, and the Wild will start the third period with the power play.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild managed to get close on the power play that started the third period. However, an ill-timed broken stick by Mikko Koivu ended that bit of offense. However they came back, and another show got close, but somehow it managed to avoid the back of Varlamov's goal. One thing that has clearly improved since the beginning of the game has been the placement of the sticks by Wild players. They're in the Colorado passing lanes when they need to be and they're more prepared for passes from their teammates. One thing that has NOT improved has been Backstrom. He seems shaky at best. And then as you start to get comfortable, Cody McLeod backhands one in past Backstrom. In years past, that would almost take the Wild down a path of distruction, however the Wild found a way to skate back down the ice and get a good shot on goal. It's shots like those that eventually have to and will go in. Spurgeon and Devin Setoguchi seemed to find chemistry when many of their teammates struggled to find it with their linemates. The Wild would once again find themselves back on the power play just past the midway point of the third period after John Mitchell earned a roughing minor on Clutterbuck. While the power play time is good, and the team has been successful, you never want to see your team score nothing but power play goals (yes, I realize Granlund's goal was even strength). Clearly some 5-on-5 work during practice (which is limited during this condensed season) is needed. My least favorite time of any game is when you hit right about give minutes left in regulation, especially when the Wild are up. While five minutes isn't much in the grand scheme of things, in hockey that is a lot of time. So much can (and often does for the Wild) go wrong. Now it got close with a Colorado shot off of the pipe (that I was sure was in), Minnesota came back. Not only did they come back, but they were able to sustain a long stretch of offensive zone time. That is something, we often don't see. Due to that long offensive zone time, we find another Wild goal (and an even strength goal to boot) by Bouchard. While it took time to get there, this is the result you want to see. However, I don't know about you, but I don't care to wait an entire period to get past the shaky start. From here on out, Minnesota needs to come out solid and strong, because our opponents will be going after us.
~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cullen, Darroll Powe, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Devin Setoguchi, Mikael Granlund, Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Justin Falk and Nate Prosser. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.
~ The 3 Stars of the game were: 1st Star, Dany Heatley. 2nd Star, Mikael Granlund. 3rd Star, Zach Parise.
~ Attendance for tonight's game at Xcel Energy Center was 19.298.