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Wild aims to re-establish a once dominant home-ice edge

Coaches, players believe struggles in St. Paul last season were an aberration

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- For nearly two decades, Xcel Energy Center has provided the Wild with one of the best home-ice advantages in the NHL. 

But last season was different.

Minnesota struggled to the tune of a 16-18-7 record in downtown St. Paul, its worst home record in terms of points percentage in franchise history.

The hope inside the Wild dressing room is that was an aberration; a one-year blip on the radar that will be corrected this season. 

The effort to do just that begins on Saturday when the Wild hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins at Xcel Energy Center in the home opener.

"We've talked about it. I truly believe that last year was just an anomaly," said coach Bruce Boudreau. "When you look at the history of the Minnesota Wild, their home ice record has been pretty impeccable, as compared to other teams. And last year was bizarro world, where the home ice wasn't good and the road record was real good."

The Wild was 21-18-2 away from home last season, with its 21 victories tied for third-most in the Central Division, one behind division-champion Nashville and runner-up Winnipeg. Minnesota finished 17 points behind the Predators and 16 back of the Jets in the overall standings.

Minnesota's sub-standard home record was virtually the entire gap. Both Nashville and Winnipeg had nine more victories in its home rinks than the Wild did.

That was the difference between making the postseason and missing it for the first time in seven years.

The key, according to Eric Staal, will be faster starts.

"I think the key is scoring first and playing with a lead," Staal said. "I felt like, a lot of the time at home last year, we were playing from behind or down one. I don't care where you are, that can be difficult to be doing that consistently, so it's trying to be prepared and ready and riding the momentum of the energy in our building and being confident in that."

The energy inside the arena is palpable. There is a much different feel to the crowd when the team is playing from ahead instead of coming from behind. 

The Wild, it seemed, were always fighting back from deficits and -- understandably -- that had a big effect on the energy of the building.

"Oh yeah, I think that's fair for any building," Staal said. "If you can quiet the home crowd on the road with a goal in the first or a couple of good momentum shifts, it makes a big difference." 

"And vice versa, when you're at home and you can get that first one or get the energy and them excited early, you get that momentum."

After three games away over the first week and a half of the season, including two home openers for other teams, Wild forward Zach Parise said he's eager for a chance to prove that last season was out of character.

"It'll be good to play at home. We're looking to redeem ourselves a little bit," Parise said. "We played some good teams that are traditionally good on their home ice and we didn't get the results that we liked. Now, we're paying attention to tomorrow's game and trying to get in that win column."

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