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LAKE VERMILION… The 2018-19 season for the Minnesota Wild is off to a slow start, figuratively and literally with early season fan angst in full bloom along with that of some Metro area scribes. In observing both games there were negatives and positives to ponder. The season opener, on the road in Denver versus the Avalanche, well, I think recent history shows that this just isn’t a good matchup for the club at this point. And not to make excuses but you are also opening the season in their barn filled with mostly their fans, and this game was going to be an epic challenge no matter what. The game unfolded as I thought that it might. The Av’s kicked in their speed game, the Wild could not match their pace of play, skating or passing-wise and what I figured would turn out to be a long evening, did. I knew at the 2nd intermission that with the shot clock at 32-13 in the Av’s favor that the chance the Wild would be leaving town with 2 points was weak. In most cases recent team history hasn’t been good to the Wild when they are outshot in this manner. It held firm once again as the Wild went down 4-1.
A plus within this game was that netminder Devan Dubnyk had a strong outing, giving up only 2 scores on 38 shots against for a .947 SP. The Av’s final two goals were ENG. Plus number two was Zach Parise scoring the games and seasons opening goal which can only be interpreted as a good sign that he is ready to go. But as usual I cringed every time I witnessed an Av’s defender crosscheck him to the lower back, and in some cases drop him to the ice. I don’t know about you, but I think its past time that the league put a total ban on this play. It’s barbaric and should no longer have a place in the game. And if the league doesn’t make a strong statement about this type of play, then how about having the officials call the penalties that this is supposed to receive? We teach youth players not to do this and then they watch a professional game and it’s an actual playing maneuver/strategy that by and large is permitted and goes unpenalized. Holy mixed signals Batman. The NHL has done so many positive things for amateur hockey and then they have also failed in so many ways. Yikes.
My takeaway from the opener is that the Wild didn’t (and probably couldn’t) match the pace of play from the Av’s, “Duby” had a stellar performance that made the game look closer then it really was, the line combo’s were largely ineffective and neither the players or Head Coach Bruce Boudreau had any answers for the actual Avalanche that roared down upon them. Game one-zero points. Saturday eve on the other end of the street where I grew up the Vegas Golden Knights came calling to downtown St. Paul for the Wild home opener. Inside and outside of the Xcel Energy Center it was a festive atmosphere but peppered with some fan skepticism as to what to expect from this edition of the Home team. The owner, Craig Leipold said the club only needed “tweaks” to be a top contender, and Paul Fenton, the new team GM delivered. With perennially poor draft positioning and no trade partners in the offseason this edition of the club looks mostly like last years model. There are a few new parts, but no players of any significance. The fan base has noticed.
But perhaps Fenton is smarter then the fans think he is. Leipold wanted tweaks, he got tweaks. When the tweaks don’t pull this wagon to the promised Stanley Land or Stanlandia, maybe then Fenton will get the rebuild orders this club should have gotten after the Jets beatdown in last years tourney. An example in ownership and management guts occurred just last season when prior to the trade deadline the NY Rangers came to the realization that the roster they had was not a Cup contender and wasn’t going to be. They started moving players and amassing draft picks. Would Leipold ever be so bold? We shall see. So, is it time to panic as some Wild fans are doing already? No. This is a club with a solid core of strong vets with a lot of experience and pride. This is a hard-working team. They will elevate their game and get after it, I’ll guarantee it.
Even though the Wild dropped the home opener to the VGK, they had another solid performance from Duby and the team was winning until Max Pacioretty tied it late in the third after pulling goalie Marc Andre Fleury for an extra skater. Matt Dumba opened the scoring midway thru the first. The OT frame was scoreless and lo and behold the Knights won the shootout on a goal by former Wild player Erik Haula. That wasn’t lost on some of the fans at the game. Of course, playing the second guess game on the exposure of Haula to the expansion draft will always be a 20/20 equation. There isn’t a fan or psychic out there who saw Haulsie notching 29 goals last year.
The common threads to these two games are that the VGK played with more pace and outshot the Wild 42-30, with the team mustering only 13 shots in the first two frames. The only reason it was close was the guy between the pipes. On the evening of the day you will read this, the suddenly resurgent Chicago Blackhawks will be in town and with the start they have had the Wild had better elevate their game. IF they have only 12-13 shots by the end of the 2nd period they will lose this game too. Former Carolina goalie and SC winner Cam Ward was picked up by the Hawks over the summer as a backup in the event that #1 Corey Crawford had not recovered from concussion symptoms. He hasn’t. Ward has played ok as needed and if he hasn’t the Hawks have just turned their games into track meets. Last evening, they dropped an OT decision to the Maple Leaf’s in the Windy City 7-6. The Wild have 2 goals in 2 games with Coach Boudreau switching the top three lines up at practice today. I don’t have a good feeling about this game.
THE EARLY RETURNS; The ATHLETIC, 18th, with a 48% chance of the SC playoff, 2% chance of SC win, The SAGARIN, 21st, 0-2 (the Sagarin only tabs wins or losses), 10th hardest schedule, NHL Standings, 26th on a .250 points %, tied for 6th in the Central on a 0-1-1 record for 1 point. 27th in GF (2), 9th in GA (5), 23rd on PP at 0.0%, 12th on the PK at 83.3% and tied for 10th in PIMS against…. PEACE