Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche:
What a great way to close out another wonderful Hockey Day Minnesota. After watching the high school games on in Grand Rapids, we got a chance to watch the Wild in its home opener against the Colorado Avalanche. Sometimes I have to remember to count my lucky stars that this is actually my job. But enough about me, let’s get to the Takeaways.
The first thing that stuck out tonight was the energy flowing trough Xcel Energy Center (literally and figuratively). Fans had a lot of pent up emotion following the NHL lockout, which put a damper on the Wild’s offseason signings and delayed the start of the season. But not to sound like a Hippy, there was definitely a good vibe in the building. The home crowd used the player introductions before puck drop let out that pent up energy and showed their appreciation for the Wild players. Minnesota fans are some of the most knowledgeable in the league, and tonight they also were some of the most feverish. There is a buzz around this Wild team throughout the State of Hockey, and it was palpable in the arena tonight.
“The place was rocking and we fed off it,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said.
We’ve spent a lot of time, well six days worth of training camp, watching the Wild’s top power-play unit and anticipating what kind of potential they might have. Well, the top unit of Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Pierre-Marc Bouchard hit pay dirt twice in the second period. With five left-handed shots, a concern is that the Wild wouldn’t have anyone to one-time the puck on the back door. That wasn’t a concern tonight, as Heatley’s net front presence didn’t need to use a one-time blast. Heatley scored both of the Wild’s power-play goals, but more on Heater in a moment.
The wall play on the right boards is what makes this power-play unit tick. Parise and Koivu are two of the most tenacious battlers along the sidewalls in the NHL. Throw in Ryan Suter keeping pucks in at the right point and that’s a pretty deadly triple threat on the right side. Parise set up both of Heatley’s goals by accepting passes from Koivu and busting hard to the net. The Wild has a recipe for continued success on the man advantage. Just wait till they build a little chemistry.
Last season, Heatley was one of the few players to skate in all 82 games, many of them on an injured leg. After the year, he had surgery and with the lockout, plenty of time to recover. Tonight is a small sample size, but the big winger came into camp in great shape and had a lot of jump in training camp practices.
A pure goal scorer, Heatley needs good players to feed off of. “There was a lot of heat on him, and he played most of (last) year without Mikko,” Yeo said. With a healthy Koivu and the addition of Parise is a deadly top line. Heatley had 24 goals last season, not to shabby for most, but a down year in his mind. The former all-star looks motivated, primed for this shortened season and ready to reestablish himself as an elite scorer.
Mikael Granlund is a star in his native Finland for dazzling goals, prestigious puck handling and how-did-he-see-him passes. Well, if he continues to play like he did tonight, he’ll be a star in the State of Hockey, too.
The rookie made his NHL debut and looked extremely comfortable on the ice at Xcel Energy Center. Sometimes, especially when a player has to adjust from the “European Style” to the “North American Style,” you worry if he can handle the rigors of the NHL. However, Granlund has been on the world stage since he was an 18-year-old and he is a comfortable, confident player.
Granlund scored his first-career goal in his first-career game, but it might’ve been a play in the waning minutes of the third period that really showed his gumption. The center threw himself in front of a point slapper to help preserve the Wild’s third-period lead. Known more for his offensive potential, he showed his willingness to sacrifice himself for the team. And that will go a long way in the Minnesota locker room and with fans in the State of Hockey.
In the first period, the Wild started the game strong out of the gate. However, the Avs took the play to the home team for the remainder of the first period, leading 1-0 heading into the second.
The Wild regrouped between periods and came out in the second like a ball of fire, melting the Avalanche momentum. The Wild outshot the Avs, 18-5, in the second frame and the game wasn’t in serious doubt in the third. The Wild has a very strong veteran presence with its offseason additions, and another year of maturation of its homegrown blueline. By all accounts, the team has gotten along very well in the early going, and that might be attributed to the number of players who skated in Minnesota during the lockout—and that is an advantage most fans and media don’t understand, nor get to see. When a locker room is strong and guys are fighting tooth and nail for each other, it’s contagious. Sure, it’s only one game into the season, but the Wild are undefeated and look to have a good thing going on and off the ice.