Alright, folks, it's that time of year again. The weather is getting cooler, the crops are drying up and my Huskers are in their usual mediocre form. Yes - all is indeed right with the world, especially considering the 2015-16 NHL regular season gets underway in just a few short days.
Your Minnesota Wild have just two games this week, but they could be some doozies. Both the Avalanche and Blues would like nothing more than to steamroll the team that knocked them out of the 2014 and 2015 Western Conference Quarterfinals, respectively. However, from what we've seen/heard/read on Russo's Twitter stream in a limited preseason sample, the Wild look good. They look very good. Does the trend continue this week?
This Week's Schedule
Monday, October 5th - Minnesota Wild Season Preview 6:30 PM and 10 PM CT (FS-N)
Thursday, October 8th - Minnesota Wild @ Colorado Avalanche 8:00 PM CT (NBCSN)
Saturday, October 10th - Minnesota Wild vs St. Louis Blues 7:00 PM CT (FS-N, FS-WI)
Game of the Week
Vladimir Tarasenko and the Blues aren't likely to forget last spring's early six-game exit to the Wild, so expect them to be out for blood. The Notes didn't exactly add any big names in the offseason, with Troy Brouwer and former Minnesota workhand Kyle Brodziak being the two most, um, Note-able (yeah, I know, quarter in the pun jar) additions. The team's biggest departure came in the form of T.J. Oshie (#Merica), who is now sitting quite pretty alongside Alexander Ovechkin in the nation's capital. With few additions, fans in St. Louis are dearly hoping continued growth of the youngsters will be enough to lift the team into a deep postseason run. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Key Player of the Week
There are so many to name. Devan Dubnyk, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise - the list goes on and on. However, if Minnesota is going to improve the power play and significantly increase offensive production from the back end, it all comes down to Matt Dumba.
Considered by many to be a bit of a risky pick by the Wild in 2012, the Regina, Sask. native has proven himself to be capable of an elite NHL future. In 58 games with Minnesota in his first full professional season, Dumba collected eight goals and as many assists for 16 points, an impressive plus-13 rating and even two power play markers. But it wasn't until after the AHL All-Star break (5g, 14p in 20 games with Iowa) that he really began to break out at the NHL level. Along with Minnesota, Dumba's numbers dramatically improved from January 15th onward. The dynamic youngster would collect seven goals, 12 points and a plus-17 rating in that span. Dumba finished the season alongside grizzled vet Jordan Leopold, and averaged 15 minutes of ice time per night - not bad for a rookie third-pairing defenseman. He also managed to make some noise in the playoffs, scoring two goals and four points in 10 games.
This year, Dumba will have a shot in Minnesota's top-four, where he's penciled in to the right of his best friend and Swedish stud Jonas Brodin. Wild fans have been dreaming of this pairing for years, and it certainly hasn't disappointed this preseason. Together, the duo has been able to defend well while maintaining puck possession and creating great offensive chances at every opportunity. If they can keep it up, it gives head coach Mike Yeo three great defensive pairings and also gives Ryan Suter some much needed rest.
Key Opponent of the Week
Some might say Tarasenko, but don't sleep on Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon.
After an incredible rookie campaign that saw the 2013 first overall pick win the Calder and his team the Central Division, Mac hit the proverbial sophomore slump in 2014-15. He would score just 14 goals, 38 points and a negative-7 rating in 64 games as the Avs went from division champs to cellar dwellers in one season. MacKinnon would finish the season on the sidelines with a fractured foot, far, far away from the two goals, 10 points and plus-2 rating he piled up in seven games against the Wild in the 2014 postseason.
Now healthy, look for the Halifax, Nova Scotia native to have a bounce back campaign, and it all starts Thursday against a team that absolutely stoned Colorado in it's first two games of last season. Odds are good that history won't repeat itself - at least - not this season.
Finally, I just want to say thanks to everyone who has supported me through this difficult time with thoughts, prayers and kind words. You have no idea how much they've meant to my family and I. God bless you all.