Minnesota Wild: Three takeaways from the season opener

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 5: Dylan Larkin
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 5: Dylan Larkin /

The Minnesota Wild’s first game ended in a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. What takeaways are there from the season opener?

The NHL season is a long one. Using the first game to predict how the entire season plays out is like a pre-teen predicting their college major before middle school. With 82 Regular season games, the chances that everyone’s favorite team wins on opening night are slim. Even our beloved team, the Minnesota Wild

That being said, don’t worry too much about the loss on the road against Detroit. The Minnesota Wild will look to bounce back Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. Before they do, let’s consider a three takeaways from the loss against the Red Wings. 

1. The power play needs to improve.

Last season, the Wild saw a big improvement in their power play. Or at least, it looked that way on paper. The offensive-minded Bruce Boudreau helped bring the team from 15th in power play percentage at 18.5 percent to 9th at 21 percent. While this looks like a significant improvement from last season, the Wild actually scored fewer power play goals last season (47) than in 2015-2016 (48).

Why? Well, they were on the power play less in 2016-2017 (224 times) than 2015-2016 (259). With the league cracking down on calls this season, the Wild can be sure to see more time on the power play. In turn, they should see an uptick of power play goals. Yet, missed opportunities against the Red Wings had to leave everyone not in a red jersey frustrated.

In fact, the Wild failed to convert on four opportunities, producing seven shots. This also featured a two-man advantage for 1 minute and 37 seconds in which lacked puck movement and vision to find the open man. Too often, players looked flat footed or tried to force passes through the crease in hopes of a lucky bounce or tip.

A question many may be wondering is why right-handed, offensive defenseman Matt Dumba was on the second unit. Last season, six of Dumba’s 11 goals came on the power play, ranking third behind Nino Niederreiter (7) and Mikael Granlund (8). Usually known as a shoot-first type of defenseman, the Wild could have benefitted from his quarterbacking up top. Instead, they elected to move around the perimeter of the zone and force passes down low.

Meanwhile, Detroit managed to move the puck quickly and ended up capitalizing twice in 23 seconds on the man advantage. The Wild needs to improve its puck movement and quality of shots on the man advantage if they want to keep themselves in close games.

2. The Wild received quality production from its third line.

The depth that the Wild had last season was evident again in the season opener. The trio of Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek and Chris Stewart found themselves on the scoreboard for both of the Wild’s goals. Eriksson Ek netted a quick wrist shot early in the third period with assists by Stewart and Foligno. 48 seconds later, Stewart tied the game after driving hard to the net.

Eriksson Ek finished the game with one goal, three shots, and a plus-1 rating in 10:56 minutes. Stewart finished with a goal and an assist, two hits, and a plus-1 rating in 11:24 minutes. Foligno finished with an assist, two shots, and was a plus-1 in 13:13 minutes. This is exactly the type of production the Wild needs to see from their big-bodied, bottom six forwards.

3. The Wild were aggressive down low and shot the puck.

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Despite being unable to capitalize on the power play, the Wild had no shortage of full-strength opportunities. They outshot the Red Wings 39-31 and had two goals overturned due to goalie interference calls.

The first was a scramble in front of the net where an array of Wild forwards swarmed the puck. Marcus Foligno was shoved into Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard as the puck crossed the line, thus overturning the goal that would have been credited to Eric Staal.

The second overturned goal featured a Ryan Suter shot from the point that squeaked through Howard’s glove. But, Mikael Granlund was bumped by Red Wings defenseman Mike Green into Howard’s glove and head, thus impeding his ability to make a save.

Despite the goalie interference calls, it was nice seeing forwards crashing the net, looking hungry to swarm and score.

Next: Minnesota Vikings Week 5 preview against Chicago Bears

While the loss is disappointing, there were plenty of good things to come from the Wild’s season opener. Look for Minnesota to get back to their winning ways hopefully as soon as Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes!