Finally, we can put the CBA talk behind us and get back on the ice. Gary Bettman hasn’t crawled out from under his rock to issue any statements today. So LET’S PLAY HOCKEY!! On a cold Hockey Day in Minnesota, The Minnesota Wild opened their season against the Colorado Avalanche and took the victory 4-2 in front of 19,298 fans crammed into the Xcel Energy Center. The game was really a tale of two periods. The first dominated by the Avalanche, the second by the Wild. Colorado controlled play throughout the opening stanza. The Wild had trouble maintaining pressure in the offensive zone. John Mitchell scored the lone goal of the first on a wrister in traffic in front of Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom. Minnesota picked up Zenon Konopka in the off season and he showed the fans why he is here. Less than 3 minutes into the period, he dropped the gloves with Cody McLeod . In a rather long fight, Konopka landed several good shots with the crowd roaring their approval of the new enforcer. The Wild still seemed flat through the 1st, being out shot 12 to 5, and lucky to escape the period only down 1-0.
The second period belonged to Minnesota. I’m not sure what was discussed in the locker room between periods but it worked. The Av’s Steve Downie decided it would be a good idea to cross check d-man Jared Spurgeon not once, but twice, with a referee nearby. The ensuing 4 minute power play showed just how deadly the Wild’s revamped power play is going to be this season. The #1 unit of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Ryan Suter, Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise controlled the power play with Heatley scoring after slick passes by Koivu and Parise. Later in the 2nd, rookie Mikael Granlund scored the first goal of his NHL career, redirecting a Jared Spurgeon slapshot from the point. The Avalanche spent the rest of the period scrambling to regain momentum. A Ryan O’Byrne holding penalty led to the Wild’s third goal. Scored by Dany Heatley with the assists again going to Koivu and Parise. The goal was the 350th of Heatley’s career. The #1 power play unit is scary good and should give opponents nightmares this season. Make ‘em pay on the power play. Five penalties by the Avalanche totaling 12 minutes effectively killed any chances for the visitors by allowing the Wild to dictate the action. A double minor for high sticking by Jan Hejda opened a cut on Konopka’s nose up by his eyes that required 30 stitches to close. Ouch! Thugh the Wild were outshot 12-5 in first, the second saw them post a huge 18 to 5 shot advantage. The top defensive pair of Suter and Spurgeon were effective throughout the game with smart first passes out of the zone and tight defensive play.
In the third period, the Wild had at least 6 glorious chances to open up a big lead, but couldn’t quite find the back of the net. On the plus side, if they can continue playing well, the goals will come. Colorado brought the score to a one goal deficit when McLeod backhanded one past Backstrom just over five minutes in. The play was tight for several minutes as some in the crowd wondered if we’d see another third period collapse by the Wild. Pierre-Marc Bouchard took care of that with his 1st goal of the season on a feed from Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak at the 18:25 mark. With goalie Semyon Varlamov pulled the Avalanche frantically tried to close the gap but could not. Heatley nearly scored on an empty net only to have the puck poked away at the last moment. For the game, the Wild outshot the Avalanche 35 to 27. The Avs totaled 7 penalties for 19 minutes, while the Wild had just 4 infractions for 11 minutes total. The home team took just a single penalty in the second period and none in the third. That was a welcome change from last season, when untimely penalties killed momentum time and time again. All in all, the Wild’s season opener was a successful one. The boys continue their season-opening three game home stand at 7:00 Sunday night against the Dallas Stars. If tonight was any indicator, this should be a great season for the Minnesota Wild!