Minnesota Wild look to make way in playoffs

Minnesota hockey fans can rejoice because the Minnesota Wild’s season has begun. The “State of Hockey” is looking forward to another cold winter, which brings both ice and the hockey season. Whether it be peewee, high school, college or pro hockey, the fanbase is excited for another season. The Minnesota Wild has boasted a supportive fanbase, one that sticks with them during their highs and lows. The team looks to improve on another great season, with many veterans looking to advance in the playoffs for a chance to win the Stanley Cup.

During the offseason, the Wild did not make any big splashes in free agency, and they began the season with a similar roster as last season. The Wild added some depth through the signings of forward J.T. Brown and defenseman Greg Pateryn. Brown, a Rosemount native and University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog, has returned back home after playing for Tampa Bay and Anaheim. Pateryn played in 73 games for Dallas last year. Additionally, the Wild re-signed Jason Zucker, who has consistently been one of the team’s top goalscorers for the past four seasons. They also signed 24-year-old defenseman Matt Dumba, who is coming off a 50 point season, to a contract extension. However, and perhaps most importantly, stars Ryan Suter, who missed the playoffs after fracturing his tibia, and Zach Parise, who struggled to stay on the ice with numerous injuries, were given time to heal. Both appear to be at 100 percent early in the season.

Coming off a 101-point season and a third place finish in the Central Division, fans are excited. However, in order to make it a truly memorable year, the Wild will have to overcome their playoffs demons. For six straight seasons, the Wild have made the playoffs, but have only been able to advance past the first round twice, and both times, lost in the second round. Last postseason the Wild were humiliated by the Winnipeg Jets. They only won one game in their first round seven-game series. However, making the postseason is certainly not a given in the competitive Central Division. Rivals Nashville, Winnipeg and Colorado all made the playoffs last season and are off to hot starts. Furthermore, Chicago, St. Louis and Dallas are all looking to bounce back from disappointing seasons.

If the Wild are to make the postseason, they will need their first line of Eric Staal, Zucker and Mikael Granlund to produce like they did last year, when Staal scored 42 goals, Zucker lit the lamp a career high 33 times and Granlund assisted on 46 goals.

Furthermore, the Wild will need captain Mikko Koivu to contribute more than he did during a sluggish 2017-18 season in which he only scored 14 goals. Also important, the Wild will need to stay healthy. This may be a challenge considering that the Wild are the oldest team in the league in terms of average age. While their age offers valuable NHL experience, older players are also more injury prone. Lastly, the Wild will need to win on home ice, something they have done in past seasons at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

After a slow start this season, starting 1-4, the Wild are back to playing their usual brand of hockey. They have won three straight games, beating the Arizona Coyotes, the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Overall, the Wild have gained ten points in their first eight games. This puts them fifth in the Central Divison, behind the Nashville Predators, Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks.

Hometown favorite Zach Parise leads the team with 10 points, accounting for three goals and seven assists. Ryan Suter is not far behind with two goals and five assists in the first eight games played.

Goalie Devan Dubnyk started 3-1 with three unfortunate overtime losses. He has allowed 2.11 goals a game, boasting a .944 save percentage, putting him fifth in the entire NHL. The defense currently allows 38 shots on goal a game and will need to cut this number if the team is to be successful this season.ESPN currently has the Minnesota Wild ranked 18th on their NHL Power Rankings, which is a bit surprising considering the great season the team had a year ago.

Hopefully, the Wild can maintain their hot streak for the foreseeable future, otherwise, Coach Bruce Boudreau may find himself on the hot seat. The Minnesota Wild have a nice home stretch, playing  the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 25 and the Avalanche on Oct. 27 before heading on the road to play seven road games in a row. They will play the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 29, the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 30. and the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 3.