Last season, due to the work stoppage, Wild fans didn't get to see any non-conference games against the Eastern Conference. To me, this is unacceptable. One of the nice things about the NHL is the non-conference play. I would think, that fans from the Western Conference, would want to see the best players and teams from the Eastern Conference match-up against their favorite teams.
This season, things are back to normal, there will be no work stoppage and Minnesota Wild fans will get to see Eastern teams playing at the Xcel Energy Center, after a one-year hiatus.
Montreal Canadiens Vs. Minnesota Wild - November 1st
The Montreal Canadiens will be the first team from the Eastern Conference to invade the Xcel Energy Center this season. Les Canadiens de Montréal, an original six team from the Eastern Conference, have won 24 Stanley Cup Championships during their storied history. Their last Stanley Cup win came in 1993.
While there is no connection to the "State of Hockey" on the Montreal Canadiens, their roster sports seven American born players.
The Canadiens are led by defenseman and Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban. The flashy, offensive minded, defenseman is a threat to score whenever he's on the ice. Last season, he scored (11g-27a-38pts); 26 of those points came on the power play, including seven power play goals.
Incidentally, Subban beat out Wild defenseman Ryan Suter by 36 points for the Norris Trophy. Many Wild fans were disappointed that Suter didn't win the Norris, but Subban was a worthy and deserving pick.
Last season, picking the NHL awards would have been a difficult task, for the members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. With the lockout, they weren't able to see any cross over play between the east and west teams. That would make the task of voting on the NHL awards a little more difficult. This season, there will be a chance to compare the Wild's top players against the best players from the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey Devils Vs. Minnesota Wild - November 3rd
Mark this game on the calendar folks. In my opinion, this is another must see game. This will be the first time that Zach Parise plays against his former team the New Jersey Devils; since he signed with the Minnesota Wild last summer. Of course, Devils fans were unhappy with Zach's decision to move back home to the State of Hockey and sign with the Minnesota Wild. Many of them felt slighted by Parise's move.
In his first season with the Wild, Parise was the Wild's leading scorer with (18g-20a-38pts). Seven of Parise's 18 goals were scored on the power play.
Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Minnesota Wild -November 13th
Another game against an original six team, this time the Wilds opponent will be the Toronto Maple Leafs, from the Easter Division. The Toronto Maple Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967. Their 46-year drought without a Stanley Cup victory is currently the longest for an original six team.
They're planning a victory parade...
Some might say they're jumping the gun. Tim Leiweke, the new chief of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., is so confident the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to win the Stanley Cup this season and end the Maple Leafs 46-year Stanley Cup drought, that he's already planning the victory-parade route for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yeah! If I was a head coach of a team in the Eastern Conference, I would use this as bulletin board material every time my team played the Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs have two "State of Hockey" connections. Former Minnesota Golden Gophers forward Phil Kessel makes his return to the State of Hockey. Also, Maple Leaf defenseman, former Wisconsin Badger Jake Gardiner, played his high school hockey at Minnetonka, Minnesota.
Toronto has one of the most exciting young line ups in the NHL. They "should" be a lot of fun to watch this season. The Expectation in Toronto are very high for the Maple Leafs this season.
Incidentally, the Maple Leafs were very close to eliminating the Stanley Cup runner-up Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, before the epic collapse in the third period of game seven.
Washington Capitals Vs. Minnesota Wild - January 4th
The Minnesota Wild haven't played against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals at the Xcel Energy Center since October 28, 2010. The Minnesota won that game 2-1.
The Washington Capital have two connections to the "State of Hockey" former Colorado College Tiger forward Jack Hillen, who played his high school hockey at Minnetonka, Minnesota; is a member of Capitals defensive corp. Also, former Minnesota Golden Gophers Defenseman Nate Schmidt signed a free agent two-way deal with the Capitals after the Golden Gophers were eliminated by the eventual National Champion the Yale Bulldogs.
In my opinion, the main reason to watch the Washington Capitals is Alexander Ovechkin. I think he's worth the price of admission. Last season, Ovechkin scored (32g-24a-56pts) in 48 games. Ovechkin is one of the top forwards in the NHL and has scored (371g-364a-735pts) in 601 NHL games. This past season, Ovechkin won the NHL's Hart Memorial Trophy, for being awarded the NHL's Most Valuable Player and also the Maurice Richard Trophy, for scoring the most goals in the NHL.
Boston Bruins Vs. Minnesota Wild - April 8th
The month of April is going to be a death march for the Minnesota Wild. The Wild play the Blackhawks, Penguins, Jets, Bruins, Blues and Predators during the final month of the season. There is some good news, only two of those games are going to be away games for the Minnesota Wild (Blackhawks, Jets).
One game, that's a must see is the game against the Boston Bruins. The Bruins and the Wild have not played in the Xcel Energy Center since February 19, 2012. Last time the Boston Bruins were at the Xcel Energy Center, the Wild shut out the Bruins 2-0. Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom stopped 47 Boston Bruins shots for the shutout.
This game will also give Wild fans a chance re-introduce themselves to the "Little Ball of Hate" Brad Marchand. During the 2013 Stanley Cup Eastern Finals, former Penguins forward Matt Cooke and Marchand had many a battles. Both players will end up playing the role of their team's agitator during the 2013-14 season.