Barring admission into Sunday afternoon’s preseason opener at the Xcel Energy Center, this was a first chance for many to see their Minnesota Wild take the ice in the new season. Filled with excitement surrounding a developing core, the wild faithful were hopeful to see the likes of Brandon Duhaime, Sam Steel, Tyson Jost, and others fill a larger role this season. The starting lineup showcased some of these new names in tandem with some familiar faces.
The action started just 19 seconds into the game when former Boston College Eagle found a rebound in front of the net as the Wild’s defense left new signee Filip Gustavsson out to dry very early in his Wild debut. However, the Wild collected themselves and struck back on a Matthew Boldy-Alex Goligoski ran power play. Sam Steel found tonight’s alternate captain, Tyson Jost open in front of the net to beat the Avalanche goaltender and tie the game at one. Chalk it up Jost from Steel and Boldy.
In what felt like a case of deja vu, the Wild power play struck again. Boldy, patiently waiting at the half wall ripped it to Steel at the goal line who one timed a pass to Tyson Jost. After a big save on Jost’s initial shot, the seeming veteran, at least on this roster, found his rebound and made no mistake — 2-1 Wild.
With time winding down in the first period, Dakota Mermis took a shot from the point where Steven Fogarty found it with an open cage. Unfortunately Fogarty’s skates caught the crease and the goal was quickly waived off by the ref. After a short review, the call stood and the period came to a close 2-1 Wild. Similar to the first, the Avalanche got on the board early. Although this time, it took them 20 seconds. Martin Kaut found a loose puck in front of the net giving Gustavsson no chance, tying the game once more at two.
As the game approached the middle of the second, the Avalanche subjected Filip Gustavsson to a “Fleury” of shots. However, the new understudy for our flower stood strong and looked good doing so. The Wild came back in a hurry with the Boldy-Steel-Jost line to develop some chances of their own, but Francouz was up to the task as well. With Zane McIntyre into the net for Gustavsson, the power play kept buzzing late in the second as good forecheck from #12 in white produced a loose puck in front of the net. Eager to impress Billy Guerin and Dean Evason, Petan made no mistake about it and put it upstairs at 14:49 in the second period to put the Wild back up 3-2.
A few shifts later, the Wild’s work ethic paid off when a shot from Goligoski bounced out for Vladislav Firstov who buried it into the empty net for his first goal in a wild sweater. Definitely good news for Wild fans as Wild newcomers and youngsters showed promise for goals three and four.
As the period came to a close, a familiar face hopped back on to the score sheet as other alternate captain Duhaime (although accredited to Dewar by Wild twitter) picked up a loose rebound to put the wild up 5-2 at 19:51 in the period.
The third showcased both special teams units, as the refs tightened the game in an effort to avoid any exhibition-extra-curricular injuries.
All in all it was a pretty successful night in Denver as the Minnesota youngsters and roster hopefuls took down the Avs 5-2. Gustavsson and McIntyre both looked solid in goal saving all but two of their 41 shots. As the wild front office looks for ways to replace the 85 points produced by Kevin Fiala last season, part of that answer could have been on display tonight. Forwards Sam Steel, Tyson Jost, and Nic Petan looked good. However, while the exhibition games progress and the season draws near, look for Marco Rossi and the Wild’s big guns to return to the ice to truly see if that production can be replaced before what will hopefully be another successful campaign.
Will the first line look good enough to stick together?
Undoubtedly, the first line looked good enough to keep together. But will it be enough? While the Boldy-Jost-Steel tandem connected a few times tonight, there simply isn’t a big enough sample size, specifically against a real NHL team to say for certain. They seemed to play well together, and even hinted at some chemistry development, but it is too early to say that a Marco Rossi or Brandon Duhaime won’t look better paired with Boldy on the second line.
Can Gustavsson Impress?
Yes. Filip Gustavsson stood tall the entire twenty-five minutes and thirty-nine seconds Evason kept him in tonight. saving 26 of 28 shots. Both goals he was all but hung out to dry by his defense, and was able to make many convincing saves keeping the Avalanche power play off the board and shutting them down off the rush. Time will tell if he can live up to Cam Talbot, who he aims to replace this year but things definitely looked tonight for the twenty-four year old netminder.
Talent missing, but how will the special teams look?
Any questions about this group’s ability to put the puck in the net were put to rest as the wild went 3-for-10 on the power play, and three for the first five. Boldy looked cool, calm, and collected as always. This allowed Steel and Jost to go to work around the net scoring two nice goals. Nic Petan was also able to capitalize on Boldy’s efforts by tallying one of his own in the second. It’s unsure if the Wild will be able to correct their special team woes from last season, but it seems inevitable that Matthew Boldy will need to be a big part of that success.
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