Minnesota Wild Off To Great Start

Thursday night’s win at Pepsi Center was nothing short of thrilling for Minnesota Wild fans. Then came a very solid win in the home opener back in Minnesota against the Blues last night.  It has certainly been a great start to the regular season for the Wild!

On Thursday the Wild came out flat (mostly due to not playing any games for almost a week), but really showed some excellent poise to shake off an awful first two periods against the Avs and totally dominate the third and final frame. The heart and leadership shown by Zach Parise to shake off the hit by Gabriel Landeskog and score his second goal of the game was what can be pointed to as the spark that got the Wild going.

Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Last night at Excel, the Wild were ready from the first drop of the puck and went into the first  and  second intermissions with the lead. The Wild allowed a lot of shots (29), but Devan Dubnyk was up to the test. They obviously took the momentum from Thursday night and parlayed it into another great win against another Central Division rival.

When I looked at these two wins it was really due to the heart and leadership of Zach Parise.  Still I saw much more that can be attributed to the Wild’s wins, so here are a few of my observations from the games that you might have missed.

1) Mikael Granlund Played Well – I was impressed to see that when the final horn blew in Denver that Granlund had played 21:28 minutes and against St. Louis he played 20:07.   On Thursday that was the third most play time on the Wild roster, with only Suter and Spurgeon logging more ice time. Last night it was good enough for third most play time as well. Moreover, he had three assists and finished at +3. These are the types of performances we are hoping for from him to reach that potential we didn’t really see from him last season. He might not have put the puck in the net, but he sure did a lot to make sure others did.

2) The Avalanche Were Blocking a Ton of Shots – The Wild may have been trailing by 4-1 heading into the 3rd period, but they actually were out shooting the Avs 20 to 18, and the final tally was 30 to 23 in favor of the Wild. On top of those shots that made it on net, the Avalanche blocked 29 additional shots by the Wild. That shows me that the Wild were pressing the play throughout the game and shooting a lot, despite what the score said after two periods. The difference came in the third period when the Wild were finally able to get around much of that shot blocking by the Avs.

 

Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

3) Thomas Vanek Has Found His Goal-Scoring Touch – Most of Vanek’s press this off-season was on how he needed to step up and score. He has certainly heard that call by tallying two goals in these first two games. I think it’s a combination of being healthy and having an aggressive “shoot first” mentality with the puck. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this Vanek take the ice.

 

4) The Power Play is Solid – Against the Avs the Wild were 1 for 2 with the man advantage, and were 1 of 3 against the Blues. The off-season work that the team did with Adam Oates is certainly paying off. I think everyone knew the Wild had the offensive talent to have a good power play, they just lacked the right game plan and system. It would seem that in the first two games they have that plan and system down.

 

5) The Penalty Kill Needs Work – As fate would have it, as the Wild improve on the Power Play, they have seemingly taken a step back on the Penalty Kill. They allowed two goals on two chances to Colorado and allowed one goal on three chances to St. Louis. That’s not many penalties, so the Wild really don’t need to cut back on trips to the sin bin. I’d start with the reasons that the Power Play has turned around; the Wild need to concentrate on the game plan and following a good system while on the PK. Hopefully Mike Yeo makes it a point of emphasis, because this Wild team killed 86.3% of penalties last season for best in the NHL with virtually the same personnel.

 

I’m very encouraged and excited by this start.   Lots can happen during an 82 game season, but it would seem that the Wild are starting strong out of the gate.  That is something this team needs to keep up if they want to keep pace in a Central Division that will prove to be as good or better than last season. For now the Wild will look to continue this great start in Arizona on Thursday against the Coyotes.