I can hardly believe it. The NHL is back and on Hockey Day in Minnesota as well! The Minnesota Wild will open the 2012-2013 season 8:00pm Saturday night! Hope for a season was fading fast then Bettman and his minions forged a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Players association (NHLPA). No more lockout, well not for 8 years at least. This year the season is a 48 game sprint. The Wild will play 48 games in 99 days. Every game is important, every injury critical, every single point a must have. The Wild demonstrated that last season. When the team was healthy and confident they were at the top of the NHL. That ended when the squad was beset with injuries that required call-ups again and again and again. Confidence sagged and the Wild tumbled from the top team in the league in January and fell to 12th in the Western Conference when the season ended. This season even a short losing streak could dash playoff hopes. The Wild need to come out of the gate quickly if they hope to be in the mix in late April. They received a gift from the NHL schedulers with 3 straight home games to start the season and 3 of 4 to finish the regular season. Hopefully a lengthy playoff run will follow.
Now let’s look at Saturday’s season opener against the Colorado Avalanche.If history is any indicator Saturday night should be a win for the home team. The Wild have won 9 of 11 home openers with a single tie. The only loss in that group came against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010 opener. Overall the Minnesota squad has a record of 6 and 5 to start the season. The Av’s finished the 2011-12 year 7 points and one position above the Wild (81 pts. 12th) in the Western Conference standings. The Wild are healthy and focused heading into this sprint of a season. All time the Wild are 32-29-8 against the Avalanche and 18-12-4 at Xcel Energy Center. Centers Koivu and Cullen lead hte Wild in points against Colorado captain Mikko Koivu has 30 points (11goals-19 assists) in 41 games against the Av’s while Matt Cullen has 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 39 games. Probable starting goal tender Niklas Backstrom has posted a record of 20-5-2 with a 2.16 GAA, a .928 SV% and four shutouts in 27 career battles against Colorado. The #1 power play unit for the Wild consists of Suter, Bouchard, Koivu, Parise, and Heatley. That should strike fear in the hearts of opposing net minders and penalty killing units. Following are what I see to be the probable lines and defensive pairings for the Wild vs. the Avalanche.
Line #1 Heatley-Koivu-Parise; #2 line Setoguchi-Granlund-Cullen; #3 line Bouchard-Brodziak-Clutterbuck #4 line Powe-Konopka-Mitchell.
That leaves Matt Kassian as the odd man out and probable scratch.
Suter-Spurgeon; Stoner-Gilbert; Falk-Prosser and Dumba. Matthew Dumba is allowed only 5 games at the NHL level before he burns the 1st year of his contract we may see him play in place of Tom Gilbert, who strained a groin in the 1st period of the Red-White Intra-Squad game on Wednesday. I doubt we’ll see Dumba after that 5th game and he will most likely be returning to the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL.
Goaltenders: Backstrom, Harding
Head Coach Mike Yeo has not named a #1 goalie so it’s quite probable the Wild will use the tandem goalie system throughout the compressed schedule this season. It has worked well for them in the past. That being said I see Niklas Backstrom getting the nod on Saturday.
Currently Minnesoata has 22 players on their roster. Marco Scandella and Wild first round draft pick Jonas Brodin are on injured reserve. Both are close to returning to the lineup and that would mean one player would be heading to the Houston Aeros or waiver wire.
The Wild will face Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamovwho has been solid against the Wild, posting a 4-0 record, a 1.00 GAA and a .962 SV%. The Wild went 3-3-0 against the Av’s last season with each team taking a single win on home ice. Minnesota will also mark the first game in the captaincy of Gabriel Landeskog. Who became the youngest captain in NHL history at 19 years, 286 days. This should be a good battle between two teams who faded out of the playoff picture and realize how precious each point is, especially in this lockout shortened season.
I’m predicting a win for the Wild with something along the lines of a 5-2 final. Be sure to check in with GonePuckWild.com after the game for the latest news and notes as the Minnesota Wild finally kick off the 2013 campaign. There are some Minnesota connection on the Avalanche. Defenseman Erick Johnson is a Bloomington native and played for the Gophers at the University of Minnesota. Two former Wild players are now suiting up for Colorado, Chuck Kobasew and shot blocker extraordinaire Greg Zanon. Here’s to an exciting opening night and a W for the Minnesota Wild!