Welcome back folks! Another NHL season is upon us and sort of like going on a blind date this is where you get your initial impression of what this 2018-19 version of the Minnesota Wild is all about. Will it make fans eager for another date (game) or will they be be turned off by what they see? All of these questions were unknowns going into tonight’s season opening game.
Colorado dominated Minnesota last season and had one of the best bounce back performances of the 2017-18 season with a 47-point improvement on their way to a wildcard berth in the NHL playoffs. Will Colorado’s dominance of the Wild continue or will Minnesota earn a nice road victory?
1st Period Thoughts: If you’ve seen any Rocky film; it more or less goes like this in the big showdown (movie formula spoiler alert). Rocky struggles to deal with the superior strength and speed of his opponent, more or less gets mauled and simply tries to weather the storm. Then Rocky throws one punch that cuts or damages his opponent much to their surprise. This was pretty much describes the 1st period for the Wild where they struggled mightily with Colorado’s superior team speed / quickness. Devan Dubnyk was ok; bailing out Joel Eriksson Ek on a terrible turnover in his own zone as Tyson Barrie wired a shot that he blocked aside. Minnesota continued to just try to hold on and with one small play down low by Mikko Koivu to center a puck towards the top of the goal crease where Zach Parise buried it by Semyon Varlamov. 1-0 Wild. Unfortunately, the Wild did not turn the surprise tally to take over the momentum of the period. Instead Minnesota would get into a little penalty trouble as Greg Pateryn and later Matthew Dumba found their way to the box. Colorado took full advantage of the time and space and the offensive zone resembled a shooting gallery. A failed offensive zone rush came back to bite the Wild as Nick Seeler backed off Carl Soderberg giving him plenty of room to unleash a heavy wrist shot that seemed to surprise Dubnyk tying the game at 1-1. It was a soft-ish goal as it appeared Dubnyk had miscalculated the angle a bit. The truth is the Wild were just holding on and as Colorado raised their physical intensity Minnesota appeared to be overpowered and confused as to how to deal with it. Thankfully the period came to an end with both clubs tied at 1-1, but Colorado holding a well-deserved 14-5 advantage in shots on goal. Parise crashing the net was a good sign, but Minnesota can’t expect to win generating so few shots on goal.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Rocky-like plot continued in the 2nd period. The Wild earned its first power play early on and I must admit I enjoyed watching Mikael Granlund work the left side and Eric Staal on the right with Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker roving down and around the goal. After some good initial chances, the Wild followed it up with a solid effort by the older vets as Parise batted a puck out of the air that rang off the base of the post and out. Unfortunately that was as close as the Wild would get. Minnesota again struggled with Colorado’s superior team speed. In just about every meaningful race for the puck, the Wild just appeared to be a step or two too slow. The Avalanche would put Minnesota on its heels and a lazy backcheck by Mikko Koivu and some absent-minded defense by Jonas Brodin made for an easy tap in goal for Nathan MacKinnon after a nice cross-ice pass by Mikko Rantanen. 2-1 Avalanche. Dubnyk had no chance on the goal, but he made a number of saves to keep his club within one. The physical play would ramp up a bit as Nikita Zadorov got into a bit of a battle near the Wild bench with Matt Hendricks who seemed to be looking to drop the gloves. The physical play continued as Barrie got his stick into the skates of Marcus Foligno who caused the Wild tough guy to careen dangerously into the boards. Fortunately he was not injured and only had to be helped off the ice by the Wild training staff Minnesota would get a power play but the Wild were indecisive and made it fairly easy for the Colorado penalty killers to thwart. At this point in the Rocky movie, one can only hope this is the part where the lovable ‘Italian Stallion’ goes rogue from the advice he was given in the corner and tries to get Colorado mad and provoke them into being reckless and perhaps tiring them out in the process. It doesn’t look like Colorado is tired or even winded in my opinion, but we can only hope the Wild can dig deep to make a game of this in the 3rd.
3rd Period Thoughts: There was a plot twist early as there was some controversy as a puck was chipped high off the glass behind the Wild goal where it was batted out of mid-air by Colin Wilson. 3-1 Avalanche, or was it? Replay would clearly show Wilson hit the puck with his glove and the officials confirmed the same conclusion and it was ruled a ‘no goal’ keeping Minnesota within one, 2-1. The Wild certainly dodged a bullet with this call, but could they take advantage of it? A Colorado tripping penalty seemed to give Minnesota that opportunity to tie the game up. Instead the Wild stayed on the perimeter like a scared animal. No one seemed to want to make a play or take a shot on goal and Varlamov didn’t even have to make a single save on the man advantage. The Wild had a few bursts where they swarmed a bit; flinging a few shots on goal but too often they were solo efforts that were fought off by the physically assertive Avalanche skaters. The Wild could only manage a few chances from the perimeter that were fairly routine saves for Varlamov. Nick Seeler was set up late by Charlie Coyle but Varlamov dismissed him with his blocker. The Avalanche would seal the deal with an empty netter from Rantanen to give Colorado a 3-1 lead over the Wild. J.T. Compher would add another empty net goal a minute later. 4-1 Colorado. No Rocky-like ending (unless you perhaps count the 1st movie) for the Wild this time.
Devan Dubnyk was relatively decent, making 36 saves in the loss. I think he may want the Soderberg goal back, but beyond that he was beaten by quality shots and didn’t have a lot of help in front of him. Minnesota’s defense looked passive and allowed way too many open looks all night. The penalty kill was mostly pretty solid, even though it did get tagged with Compher’s empty net goal at the end.
Offensively the Wild were a pop gun attack. Beyond Parise’s goal the Wild did very little in terms of generating shots and quality scoring chances. Minnesota was settling for perimeter chances from its defense and while Matthew Dumba has a great shot but most goaltenders will make those saves especially if there is no traffic to take away their vision. Minnesota looked slow and tired in game one which is disappointing considering they had 5 days to get ready for what they knew would be a tough divisional game.
The effort was especially disappointing when you consider the lack of push the Wild had to try to tie this game. Dubnyk kept Minnesota within 1 goal for most of the contest and the Wild could only manage a pittance of chances. That isn’t good enough, but I’m sure we’ll hear cliches about developing chemistry and shaking off the rust. Its not panic time yet, but it wasn’t a good first impression for a club that is supposedly trying to prove the doubters wrong.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Matthew Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, Nick Seeler and Greg Pateryn. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Nate Prosser and J.T. Brown were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Nathan MacKinnon, 2nd Star Carl Soderberg, 3rd Star Devan Dubnyk
~ Attendance was 18,086 at Pepsi Center.
~ Eric Fehr wore #21 for the Wild joining Kyle Brodziak, Mikko Koivu, Cam Stewart, Eric Chouinard, Mark Parrish, and Ryan White in having worn the number.
~ Matt Hendricks wore #15 for the Wild joining Andrew Brunette, J.J. Daigneault, James Sheppard and Dany Heatley in having worn the number.
~ Greg Pateryn wore #29 for the Wild joining Josh Harding, Jamie McLennan, Jed Ortmeyer, Jon DiSalvatore and Jason Pominville in having worn the number.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Connor Dewar (Everett, WHL) ~ the smart center is off to a fast start for the Silvertips as he lit the lamp against in-state rival Tri City Americans on Saturday night in Everett’s 3-2 victory. The Pas, Manitoba-native has 3 goals, 5 points, and 6 PIM’s in 4 games this season.
RW – Shawn Boudrias (Gatineau, QMJHL) ~ the big (6’5″, 218lbs) power forward is making his presence felt as he had two goals in Gatineau’s 3-2 loss to Baie-Comeau on Saturday. The Terrebonne, Quebec-native followed it up with another goal in the Olympique’s 4-1 win over defending Memorial Cup champs Acadie-Bathurst. He then added a helper on Thursday in Gatineau’s 2-1 overtime win over Rimouski. Boudrias has 5 goals, 9 points and 2 PIM’s in 5 games.
C – Alexander Khovanov (Moncton, QMJHL) ~ The diminutive center had an assist in the Wildcats’ 4-2 loss to Halifax on Sunday. Khovanov has 2 goals, 3 points, 8 PIM’s in 3 games this season.
C – Damien Giroux (Saginaw, OHL) ~ the Hammer, Ontario-native scored his first goal of the season as well as adding a helper in the Spirit’s 6-2 win over in-state rival Flint on Wednesday. Giroux has a goal, 3 points and is a +3 in 5 games.