The Minnesota Wild opened the 2014-2015 season on home ice in St. Paul on Thursday Night. With expectations for a successful season higher than ever, the Wild did not disappoint. The 5-0 beatdown over Central Divison rival Colorado was a dominant performance by the home team from start to finish.
Early penalties to Ryan Carter and Marco Scandella within the first seven minutes of the opening period gave the Wild two early chances to get the penalty kill off to a good start. Whether or not the Wild can improve on last year's 4th-worst-ranked penalty-killing unit (78.8%) will go a long way towards determining the team's success this season. Strong efforts from penalty killers Mikko Koivu, Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak, Erik Haula, and Nino Niederreiter helped swing the momentum the Wild's way by successfully killing the first two penalties. Employing a very active, aggressive penalty kill, the Wild kept the Avs on the perimeter by constantly pressuring the puck.
After an unsuccessful power-play of its own, the Wild opened the scoring at 14:54 of the first period. Following an Avs dump-in, Jonas Brodin settled the play down behind his own net, then slid the puck to his left for Ryan Suter. From the bottom of the face-off circle, Suter fired a long cross-ice pass off the right-side boards. Skating backwards, Granlund caught the puck in stride, and turned to skate forward, catching Avs defenseman Brad Stuart up ice and out of position. As Granlund wound up from the top of the right cirlce, Zach Parise drove the net hard, tying up Avs defenseman Erik Johnson in the process. Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped the initial shot, and the rebound kicked right to hard-charging Wild forward Jason Pominville. Pominville gathered the rebound and fired it into the yawning net to give the Wild a 1-0 lead that would hold up through the first intermission. Wild outshot Colorado 17-5 and seemed to get better as the period went on.
The Wild really broke the game open with a 4-goal second period. At the four-minute mark the line of Parise, Granlund, & Pominville absolutely swarmed the Avs in one of the more memorable shifts of the game. Defensemen Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon joined their forward linemates in the Avs zone. All five attackers were in perpetual motion, hemming the Avs in their own zone for more than 45 seconds. The relentless forecheck caused the Avs fits and multiple turnovers, culminating with Parise sliding a pretty pass accross the slot to a breaking Spurgeon. Spurgeon one-timed the pass from Parise between the legs of Varlamov as the Wild doubled their lead to 2-0.
Six-and-a-half minutes into the second period, the Wild's 4th line of Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, and newly-signed Ryan Carter bottled the Avs up with a fantastic shift, culminating with a little dust-up after the whistle. The highlight was Carter flying in out of nowhere to stick up for Zucker by jumping Avs known-thespian Max Talbot. This is exactly the kind of shift that 4th lines can provide valuable momentum swings with.
Good first impression for Carter
The ensuing neutral zone face-off saw Granlund school Nathan McKinnon while taking left wing Gabe Landeskog out of the play, and pushing the puck ahead to Parise. Using defenseman Jan Hejda as a screen, Parise fired a hard wrister from the high slot that Varlamov stopped. Parise beat Hejda to the loose puck, firing another shot into Varlamov. Hejda was unable to contain Parise, who back-handed that rebound into the open net, proving the third time to indeed be the charm.
From there the Wild kept the pressure on. Thomas Vanek rescued the Wild from a rare anxious moment at the 9 minute mark of the 2nd by sweeping a loose puck from the Wild goal mouth. Two-and-a-half minutes later Nino Niederreiter, who was a horse all night long, made it 4-0 Wild after charging the Avs net and taking advantage of some shoddy, non-communicative back-checking by Colorado. Suter capped the 4 goal period for the Wild by hammering a one-timer off a beautiful setup from Parise. A brilliant play to keep the puck in the Avs zone by Brodin going skate-to-stick sent the puck into the corner where Coyle outmuscled Talbot, lead to Parise emerging with the puck behind the net. Parise slid a backhand pass to a breaking Suter, who hammered a one-timer from the top of the circle past Varlamov, into the net, and the route was on.
Not the crease Vanek typically hangs out near
El Niño somehow turns this into a goal
The Wild can expect to see a very different Colorado team as the home-and-home series heads out west to Denver on Saturday night. Great start for the Wild. Yes, we'll take 81 more of those, please. Then again I would settle for 16 of those between mid-April through the month of June...
*** 3rd Star: Ryan Suter (1G, 1A, +3, 25:31 TOI)
** 2nd Star: Mikael Granlund (2A, +4)
* 1st Star: Zach Parise (1G, 2A, 9 SOG, +4