The Minnesota Wild skated off the ice with a winning record when the final horn sounded on Thursday night in St. Paul. Filip Gustavsson had recorded a 41-save shutout. All of their stars recorded points. The Wild held the Florida Panthers’ potent offense scoreless, even with Jared Spurgeon out of the lineup. The Wild power play cashed in. Maple Grove’s Brock Faber recorded his first NHL goal in front of his hometown fans. The sold-out crowd of 18,976 was on their feet and cheering.
The Wild improved to 9-1-1 in season openers at the Xcel Energy Center. The team beat their Eastern Conference foe and started the season positively.
That was not the case last year. The Wild also played their first game against an Eastern Conference opponent on home ice. The New York Rangers came to town and throttled Marc-Andre Fleury and the Wild, 7-3.
There were questions about how the then 37-year-old Fleury would hold up as the starter. After playing nearly 1,000 games, how much longer will he play at an elite level? Flower’s track record gave fans optimism for the season. His performance against the Rangers? Quite the opposite.
Fleury followed up that performance by giving up seven goals to the Los Angeles Kings. They were 0-2 when they returned home to play the Colorado Avalanche. However, Fleury gave up six goals in that game, too.
To steal a quote from Herb Brooks/Kurt Russell, “It’s everyone’s net.” Fleury will regress as he gets older, but was he really cooked? Just like that? The answer to that is no. Fleury turned in a respectable season, but his numbers were a bit worse than he’d become accustomed to. Fleury has had a 2.58 GAA and a 0.913 save percentage throughout his career. Last year, Fleury recorded a 2.85 GAA and a .908 save percentage. Still solid, just not a goaltender you want to ride with the entire season.
After those first three games, the sky was falling for Wild fans. It was clear from the season's first week that Fleury could not be the guy. Welcome, Filip Gustavsson. Gus stole the net away from his future Hall of Fame partner, and y’all know the rest.
The Wild started the season with Gustavsson this year. Still, there was plenty of uncertainty about him after his new contract and his lack of starts. But he silenced all fears with a deafening shutout against last season's Stanley Cup Final runner-ups.
But Gus’s success is not the only positive outcome from Thursday’s opener.
Many questions surrounded Faber and how he would fare with defensive stalwart Jonas Brodin. The duo led the team in time on ice, and Faber recorded his first career NHL goal. Faber did not look out of place when the Wild paired him with Brodin. His postseason flashes seem to have carried over to this season.
While we knew Marco Rossi would get a longer look this season, the 22-year-old looked fantastic against the Panthers. Rossi battled for pucks in the corners and along the boards. The Austrian almost recorded his first NHL goal, but Florida’s offside challenge took it off the board. It’s disappointing that the goal didn’t count because it would have topped off Rossi’s otherwise stellar performance.
Minnesota’s power play is always the subject of criticism. Last season, the Wild had the best power play percentage in franchise history (21.4%), but it was only good enough to finish 15th in the league. In the offseason, the Wild hired Jason King to help out with the powerplay. It seems to have worked. Minnesota capitalized with the extra man. The television broadcast panned to King, giving Joel Eriksson Ek a pat on the back.
The Wild only scored two goals, but their best players were all over the scoresheet. Minnesota’s three most important offensive players recorded their names on the scorecard against Florida.
The only really concerning thing from the Wild’s opener is how much the defense caved in. Florida was aggressive, dominating in the shots department. Florida had an incredible 68.24 Corsi For %, which is almost unheard of. They also had more high-danger chances, with 84.62%. Minnesota’s expected goals against was 2.04. Still, Florida didn’t score. You can thank Gus for that one.
Thursday’s season opener was far from the catastrophic opener from a season ago. The Wild turned up the pressure on themselves as things fell apart around them last year. Everything that could have gone wrong for the Wild did. This time, they settled themselves and the fanbase by starting the season with a win.
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