Wild vs. Rangers: 3 keys to watch in regular season opener

Joel Eriksson Ek had a hat trick in the Minnesota Wild's home opener last season. What will Thursday hold against the New York Rangers?(Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Joel Eriksson Ek had a hat trick in the Minnesota Wild's home opener last season. What will Thursday hold against the New York Rangers?(Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

ESPN+. . 7 p.m. CST. 1-0-0. 95. Thursday, Oct. 13 . 0-0-0. 98

The Minnesota Wild feasted on the Eastern Conference last season with 23 victories. That includes a 14-0-2 mark against the Metropolitan Division.

But that was then.

The Wild, who set franchise benchmarks both team-wise and in terms of individual players during the regular season, open a new campaign on the heels of last spring’s first-round flameout against the St. Louis Blues.

And the first challenge is the New York Rangers, a Metropolitan Division team that lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The matchup is the first of four straight home games for the Wild to open a season in which the team might not be considered a Stanley Cup favorite, but still has high expectations for.

“It’s very exciting,” Wild coach Dean Evason said in a media availability session Wednesday. “When you get to camp, everbody’s optimistic, everybody’s excited and everbody is winning the Stanley Cup. Right?

“I mean that’s what we’re here for, that’s what we’re building towards,” he said. “(The regular season) is the next step.”

Here are three keys for the Wild against the Rangers.

Special teams

The Rangers had the fourth-best power play in the NHL last season, one that clicked at 25.2%. They went 1-for-4 in man advantage opportunities against the Lightning in their home opener on Tuesday.

New York’s penalty kill finished seventh in the league in 2021-22, turning aside 82.3 of opponent’s chances. The Rangers also had a shorthanded goal against Tampa Bay.

Minnesota’s maligned power play units ranked 18th in the league last year at a 20.5$ conversion. That number dropped to 16.7% in the playoffs.

But the Wild looked like the training camp work has paid off as the power play clicked at 22.6% in the preaseason schedule and the team killed off 30 of 32 penalties.

Home-ice domination

The Wild set a franchise for home wins with a 31-8-2 regular-season record at the Xcel Energy Center.

That run started with a wild home opener against Winnipeg in which Joel Eriksson Ek scored the tying goal with 59 seconds left in regulation and then completed a hat trick in overtime.

It wasn’t the last time during the season in which the Wild would receive some home-ice magic.

The hope is it continues this year.

Minnesota has an 8-6-2 record in St. Paul against the Rangers in the series history. The Wild The Wild  are also is 8-4-1 in its last 13 games against the Rangers at the Xcel Energy Center, with seven of those games decided by one goal

Jacob Trouba

Yes, there are bigger names on the Rangers roster, but the 28-year-old Trouba is one who has been a bit of a force against the Wild.

The defenseman and Rangers captain assisted in both goals that New York scored in 3-2 loss to the Wild in New York last year, and was held off the scoresheet in a 5-3 Minnesota win in St. Paul  He has two goals and 10 points in 26 games against the Wild overall.

He is a physical player who registered 207 hits last season, and also is someone who can produce a bit of offense as he finished with 39 points.