With an over-capacity crowd of 19,298 fans cheering them on, the new-look Minnesota Wild took to the ice on Hockey Day in Minnesota for their first game of the season and first of three in four days. The first period started quite slow for Minnesota and saw them quickly fall behind within the first three minutes of the game off of a John Mitchell wrister set up by Steve Downie and Wild killer Milan Hejduk. Newly acquired tough guy Zenon Konopka decided enough was enough and introduced himself to the Avs Cody McLeod to try to liven things up at the Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota went into the dressing room trailing Colorado 1-0 and even the most devoted Wild fans were left wondering if their team had spent too much on acquiring Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The shots on goal after one were Colorado 12, Minnesota just five.
The Wild took to the ice after the first intermission a different animal altogether, scoring on a power play goal by Dany Heatley from Parise and Wild captain Mikko Koivu just 3:26 into the period. Young Finnish phenom Mikael Granlund, who made his NHL debut last night after two long seasons of watching him dominate in Finland’s SM-Liiga, scored less than a minute later off of a brilliant tip-in on a Jared Spurgeon shot. Devin Setoguchi collected the second assist on Granlund’s goal. It should also be noted that Granlund became only the second rookie in franchise history to score in his NHL debut that was also a season opener. The last Wild rookie to do so was first ever franchise draft pick Marian Gaborik who scored the first goal in Minnesota Wild history.
Minnesota’s power play struck again just after the halfway mark of the game as Dany Heatley once again found himself in the blue paint and deflected a Parise shot past Colorado netminder Semyon Varlamov. Captain Koivu once again was credited with the second assist. The Wild entered the locker room after an 18 shot/3 goal second period that saw Colorado only put five on net. It was 3-1 Minnesota.
The third period saw some great goaltending at both ends of the ice with Minnesota firing 12 shots on net and Colorado 10. Cody McLeod found himself in perfect position to bang home an Olver rebound behind Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom and into the back of the net to make it 3-2 Minnesota at the 5:09 mark of the period. Former Wild defenseman Greg Zanon was credited with an assist on the goal as well. However, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who had not skated in an NHL game since January 4th, 2012, sealed the deal late in the period with a beautiful forehand top shelf wrister that caught a scrambling Varlamov out of position. Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak were credited with the assists on Bouchard’s 99th career NHL goal. Though Minnesota couldn’t pot one into Colorado’s empty net, the writing was on the wall and the Wild secured their home opener with a 4-2 win in front of the 6th largest crowd the Xcel Energy Center has ever seen. Minnesota improved their record to 11-0-1 in home openers.
A few thoughts from this Minnesota Wild writer:
Minnesota did not have their legs under them. This was especially true in the 1st period. Once this team gets more comfortable in the next few weeks, we’ll start seeing some fancier play and guys like Granlund and Bouchard will be anywhere and everywhere at once. That’s going to be a lot of fun to watch unless you’re the goaltender in front of them.
Minnesota’s power play is unquestionably improved from last season. Like Coach Yeo said earlier in camp, Minnesota essentially acquired a complete top power play unit this offseason with the additions of Parise and Suter and the clean bill of health given for Bouchard, Heatley and Koivu. This unit will certainly be heavily relied upon for the success of the team.
Ryan Suter looks good. Obviously he’s not used to playing Minnesota’s system, but he’s coming along nicely and has vastly improved Minnesota’s power play and top defensive pairing. Minnesota has never had a true #1 defenseman until now and he certainly looks good in the Red, White and Green.
The top line of Parise-Koivu-Heatley is a work in progress but they had some solid chances last night and they certainly produced beautifully on the man advantage. Give them a few games to gel and get their legs back under them and they’ll be fine.
Mikael Granlund is going to be just fine. The young man played with confidence and poise in his first career NHL game and didn’t disappoint. Not only did he play a very smart game and score his first career NHL goal, he also played some great defense, even going as far as dropping down to block a Colorado shot in the defensive zone. Wild fans have a lot to be excited about when looking at what this superbly talented young man brings to the table.
It should be noted that Granlund was one of a few young men to score in their NHL debuts last night. Highly touted youngsters Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida, one goal and two assists) and Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis, two goals) also played key roles in their teams’ success. While it may be too soon to tell, these three young men could all be up for the Calder trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year by the end of the year. No matter what, it certainly looks to be an exciting season so buckle up, hockey fans; it’s going to be a “Wild” ride.