The Minnesota Wild players, coaches and managers said all the right things last year in regards to a treacherous opening to the 2009-10 schedule. When asked about starting the season with five of six games on the road, everyone talked about the chance to bond with new teammates, and getting the road tests out of the way early.
They probably didn't feel that way after limping home from a five-game West Coast road trip without picking up a point, holding a 1-6-0 overall record and that one win coming at home.
The slow start crippled the Wild, which roared back up the standings with an impressive stretch from late November through January, but was never able to claw back into the top eight due in large part to the horrific start.
The schedule gods appear to have paid the Wild back this year, slating eight of 10 games at Xcel Energy Center following the team's return from two games against Carolina in Helsinki, Finland on October 7 and 8.
The North American and home schedule kicks off on Thursday, October 14 with a visit from the Edmonton Oilers, and most likely their top pick in this weekend's NHL Entry Draft - Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall.
The Wild, which has sold out all 409 home games in club history, shouldn't have any trouble filling the seats for the opener, and several other key dates. For the first time since November 24, 2008, Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will visit Xcel Energy Center on October 28. Two nights later, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks make their first of two visits. They will return on Monday, February 28.
Last October, Wild fans were cheated out of seeing Marian Gaborik face his former team in a New York Ranger uniform due to an injury. He'll get another shot at the team that drafted him in 2000 when the Rangers come to town on Saturday, November 20. Four nights later, the Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia Flyers will celebrate Thanksgiving Eve in Minnesota, where they were shut down last year by rookie goaltender, Anton Khudobin.
With three of the best Minnesotans in the NHL - Erik Johnson, T.J. Oshie and David Backes - on their roster, the St. Louis Blues will be a fitting opponent to celebrate the fifth annual Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday, February 12.
Hockey fans will also want to be in the Capital City starting on March 17th, when the WCHA Final Five (which now has six partipants due to recent expansion), kicks off. Prior to the championship game on Saturday, March 19, the Wild will face the Columbus Blue Jackets in an afternoon matinee, which will mean a whole lot more than a college third place game. The very next night, the Wild will host the Montreal Canadiens, marking the first time since March of 2002 that two Wild regular season games will be played on back-to-back days at Xcel Energy Center.
For the second straight year, the Wild will close the season at home with a game against the Dallas Stars. Of course, last year, Mike Modano played what many expected to be his last game as a Star, and quite possibly, as an NHLer. However, Modano still hasn't decided on his future, and he's currently a Dallas Star. Is it possible that he returns to Dallas and makes that his new farewell game?
Those might be the highlighted opponents at Xcel Energy Center this year, but there are plenty of desirables that dot the schedule. The Wild's biggest division nemesis, the Vancouver Canucks, will visit three times - October 19, January 16 and February 15. The Detroit Red Wings will pop in twice with a post Christmas affair on December 26 and a Sunday afternoon game on February 20. Olympic MVP Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres come to town on March 6. Montreal's March 20 visit will be followed two days later by another Original Six club, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who will be making just their fourth appearance ever at Xcel Energy Center.
As for road trips, the Wild avoids having to embark on any five-game treks, unlike last year which featured a five-game, 11-day trip in October. Minnesota hits the road for four four-game trips, but two of them (November 6 through November 14 and December 4 through December 12) will allow the team to return home following the first game, before leaving for the final three days later.
Add all that up, and we could be looking at the first 82-0-0 season in NHL history. Of course, none of the players, coaches or managers will say that. They still need to say the right things.