Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hello Hockey Season!!!

I don’t know about you, but I was counting down the hours on Thursday until the puck dropped on the 2014-15 Minnesota Wild season.

For the Minnesota Wild, they were coming off a play-off run that included beating the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the play-offs. Ironically, the Minnesota Wild was the team that Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy last faced as a goalie before he retired after the 2002-03 season. It seemed very fitting that the Minnesota Wild handed him his first play-off series loss as an NHL head coach. As we all know, the Wild ended up facing the Chicago Blackhawks and lost that series in six games…

Fast-forward to October 9, 2014. The date of the home and season opener for the Minnesota Wild and their opponent that night—none other than the Colorado Avalanche, 
who the Wild knocked out in the first round courtesy of an overtime goal scored by Nino Niederreiter.

The State of Hockey flag going around in the stands during
 the introductions (courtesy of the Minnesota Wild on Twitter)
The Wild came out with all cylinders firing from the start. They must have gotten the memo that it was okay to shoot at the net because they were making shots on goal. The Wild did take two minor penalties within the first seven minutes in the first period and held the Avalanche to ZERO shots on both times they had the man advantage.

The first goal of the season was scored by Jason Pominville at 14:54 in the first period with assists by Mikael Granlund and Ryan Suter. The Wild had the shot on goal advantage at the end of the first period 17-5. The Avs were unable to get any kind of offense going and the Wild’s defense looked solid through one period of play.

Then came the second period….

Jared Spurgeon opened the scoring in the second period to make it 2-0, followed with goals scored by Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter, and Ryan Suter. Again, the Wild outshot the Avs in the second period 21-8. The Avs had their third power play opportunity and were held without a shot again. 
The Wild's Erik Haula taking a shot against
Avs Goalie Reto Berra
(Courtesy of Chad Graff, Pioneer Press)

Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov was pulled from the game and replaced by Reto Berra at the beginning of the third period. The Wild managed 10 more shots during the third period and basically made Nathan MacKinnon (2014 Calder Trophy winner) and Gabriel Landeskog non-factors in their first game of the season. Landeskog didn’t take a shot during the game.

The Wild broke a franchise record for shots on goal in a single game with 48. Darcy Kuemper recorded his first shutout of the season, having only faced 16 shots from the Avs. In addition to the offense, the Wild’s penalty kill held the Avs to zero shots on all four power play chances they had. The Wild totally dominated the first game of the season, but they knew Saturday night was going to be a whole different story in Colorado. 

The Wild simply outplayed the Avalanche on Thursday night. Avs' Captain Gabriel Landeskog made this statement to the Star Tribune's Michael Russo:

"...that's what happens. A team that wins battles looks that good against a team that doesn't" 

Patrick Roy did make an idiotic and controversial statement to the Denver media on Friday. I am not going to repeat that statement or discuss it because (in my opinion) it doesn’t need to be rehashed. I will say is that it shows the idiotic and “goon” mentality on the part of Roy and his statement is uncalled for. 

Round two Saturday Night in Denver----

Heading into Saturday night’s rematch in Denver, the Wild knew the Avs were not going to make it easy on them. It was the Avs home opener and they knew they got embarrassed on Thursday night in Saint Paul.

The Wild once again came out at the start shooting at Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov. Charlie Coyle started the scoring for the Wild with his first goal of the season coming in at 1:51in the game, with assists from Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin.  The Wild had their first power play of the game and managed to rack up eight shots on goal during the man-advantage. They also outshot the Avs in the first period 15-9.

The Avs' Jan Heidja pushing Nino Niederreiter into Semyon Varlamov
 that resulted in a goal for the Wild being waived off. (Andy Cross, Denver Post)

The Avs definitely brought the physical game, even though there were cheap shots made. Minnesota native and former Gopher Erik Johnson was assessed a major penalty and tossed from the game for his hit on Erik Haula late in the first period.  The Wild ended up with three minutes of power play time (two minutes of the five minute major were negated due to an “interference” call on Thomas Vanek). 

Thomas Vanek and the AVs Jan Heidja battling for a puck
during Saturday night's rematch in Denver
(courtesy of Zalubowksi, AP)

Jason Zucker added his first goal of the season at the 11:50 mark of the second period from Thomas Vanek and Matt Dumba to make it 2-0 Wild. The Wild still managed to pull off 10 shots on goal, while the Avs managed to post 11shots on goal during the second period. 

Roy pulled Varlamov with 2:58 left in the game for an extra attacker and they had a 6-on-4 power play when Matt Cooke got called for interference with 2:33 left to play. The Wild managed to kill off that penalty with some spectacular goaltending by Kuemper. Parise scored on an empty net to seal the deal for the Wild with three seconds left for a 3-0 win. The Avs managed to out shoot the Wild 10-9 in the third period, but the Wild still held the shot advantage 34-30 for the game. 

Darcy Kuemper’s play in the net Saturday night was amazing to watch. Charlie Coyle stated in the Pioneer Press that “He came up huge on a number of occasions and bailed us out a few times when we had a defensive lapse…We didn’t play bad, but he definitely helped us out big time.” (Chad Graff, Pioneer Press 10/12/2014). Right now, I would have to say Kuemper is definitely making his case known to be the Wild's #1 goalie. 

After watching these first two games of the new season, I think it's safe to say the Wild are a much different team than they were this time last year (after starting the season 0-1-2 in their first three games). All eight Wild goals were even-strength goals. However, the Wild need to work on their power play. They are 0-8 so far this season with the man-advantage, even though they have taken more shots on the power play. Overall, the Wild have definitely added excitement to this new season and it's going to be a fun season to watch!

The Wild are one of two clubs to start of the season with back-to-back shut outs (the San Jose Sharks are the other, both Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock have each recorded a shut out this season for the Sharks). Darcy Kuemper is the youngest goaltender to open the season with back-to-back shut outs at 24 years old. 

It was also announced this morning that the Wild have come to terms on a six-year contract extension with Jonas Brodin. I haven't read anything on that new deal, yet. But knowing he's now locked in for a while, that is a good thing. 

The Wild are off until Friday. 

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