Key offseason acquisitions have provided the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators with offensive boosts. Now both teams hope their defenses can respond with similar success.
Minnesota and Nashville try to avoid defensive breakdowns that plagued them in their season openers when the teams meet at the Xcel Energy Center on Saturday.
The Wild ranked 25th in the NHL in scoring last season, but made an effort to change that by swinging a draft-day deal to acquire Pavol Demitra from the Los Angeles Kings. The veteran right wing, who had 25 goals and 37 assists in 58 games last season, took little time jelling with new linemates Marian Gaborik and Branko Radivojevic, who spent the previous two seasons with Philadelphia.
The high-powered line accounted for Minnesota's first two goals Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche en route to a 3-2 overtime win. Radivojevic and Gaborik, the team's all-time leading scorer with 135 goals and 141 assists, both scored in the win while Demitra had two assists.
"It just seemed like that puck was going to go in, no matter what," said Wild goalie Manny Fernandez, who made 29 saves. "It's incredible. Last year, nothing really seemed to go our way. If it's a sign, this year is going to be a good year."
To ensure that good year, the Wild will need to do a better job of protecting leads. Minnesota was up 2-0 before allowing a short-handed goal in the second period and the equalizer with 6:06 to play in the third.
"We feel that we can play with a lot of teams in the NHL, but we've got to be careful," said Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, whose team won on Todd White's overtime goal. "We just can't open up. We've got to play a solid game."
Lemaire's team added defensemen Keith Carney, Kim Johnsson and Petteri Nummelin in the offseason, but it was Fernandez who limited the damage Thursday. The veteran netminder, with the Wild for all six seasons of the franchise's existence, fought off a 5-on-3 Colorado power play in the second period and stopped 12 of 13 shots in the third.
Carney left the game with a strained back and is day-to-day.
Fernandez is 6-7-3-0 with a 2.41 goals-against average in 16 career starts versus the Predators, including victories in both outings against them last season as he stopped 62 of 65 shots.
He faces a Nashville team which played very well offensively in its opener, but lost 8-6 to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Nashville got goals from new acquisitions J.P. Dumont and Josef Vasicek, along with two goals and an assist from veteran David Legwand, but blew two leads in the defeat.
"I think that was a good wake-up call for us," said Predators defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who scored to put his team up 2-0 in the first period. "We got a lot of offense, but we can't win games like that."
Timonen has played in 494 NHL games, compared to a combined 419 for the five other Nashville defensemen who took the ice for the opener. The Predators matched their franchise worst in goals allowed.
Nashville got a shaky performance from goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who stopped 25 of 32 shots he faced in his first game since April 1. The 30-year-old veteran missed the final eight games last season and the playoffs due to blood clots.
The Predators are opening a stretch of 10 of 13 games on the road, where they went 17-17-7 last season. They haven't won at the Xcel Energy Center since Oct. 31, 2001, going winless in seven straight meetings there.
The Wild are continuing a season-opening five-game homestand. They went 23-16-2 at home last season.
Nashville leads the all-time series 9-6-5-0, but the teams split four games last season as each won twice on home ice.