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  • RULE: Weird Start to the Season for Winless Wild

    Heather Rule

    For those who like to panic over a small sample size for a favorite sports team, the first two games in the 2017-18 Minnesota Wild season lend themselves perfectly to yelling, head banging and throwing smartphones across the room.


    The Wild are 0-1-1 after road games against the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes – and they were extremely lucky to get the “loser point” in Saturday’s 5-4 shootout loss in Raleigh. Mikko Koivu scored a buzzer-beating goal as seconds ticked down in the third period to tie the game, but the Wild failed to score in overtime or the shootout.


    Now, let’s not freak out too much. It’s two games of an 82-game regular season. Not every team can get off to super-fast starts like Alex Ovechkin and his back-to-back hat tricks, or the Chicago Blackhawks who beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins 10-1 on Thursday.


    That aside, fans will have to wait a while for the first Wild win of the season -- no thanks to a spread-out schedule.

    Now, let’s not freak out too much.

    There have been plenty of odd things in the first couple games to point to for this Wild team. To start, two goals were waved off in the first period of the season on goalie interference calls. Saturday, we saw the crackdown on faceoff violations -- the Wild were assessed a two-minute bench minor, which is new this year -- and the effort NHL referees are making to get tough when it comes to slashing penalties. I’d expect these kinks to get worked out as the season moves along.


    Against the Red Wings, the Wild went down 2-0 instead of being up 2-0. To their credit, they tied the score in the third period. But then, as coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game, the Wild let their foot off the gas. It was like they were satisfied with just tying the score. Detroit scored another pair of goals to win the game in their new home building, Little Caesars Arena. Devan Dubnyk didn’t look 100 percent sharp, though he did make an acrobatic save that should make highlight reels all season.


    Here’s maybe the weirdest thing of all: Tough-guy Chris Stewart is the team’s leading goal scorer with a goal in each game. He also has an assist, giving him a team-leading three points.


    Not exactly Wild hockey v. the Canes

    Taking a closer look at the Carolina game, the Wild played some pretty uncharacteristic hockey for a club that usually is focused on a strong defensive game.


    They looked loose all night. Carolina took more than 40 shots on goal against Alex Stalock, getting his first minutes in net this season. The Wild held 1-0 and 3-1 leads in the game before letting the Hurricanes back into it.


    The game was also tough to judge from a 5-on-5 standpoint, since it was a constant march to the penalty box. The high-point of momentum for the Wild was Eric Staal’s breakaway goal in the second to give the Wild their two-goal lead. It came on the heels of the Wild killing off 5-on-3 and 5-on-4 situations without allowing much room for Carolina. It should have been an opportunity for the Wild to keep pressing and close the door.


    Instead, Carolina narrowed the gap with a power-play goal, followed by more of that previously-mentioned march to the box. The Wild couldn’t find the net again, turned the puck over and just didn’t seem to make clean passes. So, playing loose.

    There have been plenty of odd things in the first couple games to point to for this Wild team.

    Carolina took a 4-3 lead late in the third period and looked well on their way to a victory. That’s when Koivu jammed the puck in with 0.3 ticks showing on the scoreboard. The puck was loose in the crease with a bunch of guys milling around. It was a pleasant surprise, but with the scrum in the crease, the play went under review. Time to prepare for the Wild to see a third goal taken away for goaltender interference, right?


    This time, officials ruled it was a good goal. Go figure. It was exciting but almost a little unfair. The Wild didn’t play well enough to win.


    100 percent healthy, they are not

    On the injury front, Zach Parise is still out with a back issue. Mikael Granlund apparently injured himself during practice last week and still played the season opener, but then sat out against Carolina with a groin injury. Forgive me for always having the name “Marian Gaborik” come to mind. The Wild were lucky last season to keep major injury bugs at bay. This year is already off to a bad start when it comes to health – and the mumps and/or flu haven’t even arrived yet.


    To sum up, the Wild lost two games to two teams that failed to make the playoffs last year. Stalock – who also robbed a goal from the opponent Saturday - and Dubnyk each have four goals allowed on the 2017-18 resume. They’ll have plenty of time to regroup and practice in preparation for a division game against the Blackhawks in Chicago on Thursday. If they don’t win there, fans could be a bit on-edge when the team skates in the home opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets.


    Seriously, what a weird start.



    Listen to Heather Every Week on the Cold Omaha Staff Pod!


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