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Don’t panic! The Wild gets right back to work against the improved Hurricanes

Minnesota gets a second shot at ruining an opponent’s home opener.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

MINNESOTA WILD AT CAROLINA HURRICANES

6:00PM Central, PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina

TV: Fox Sports-North

Streaming: Fox Sports Go app

Radio: FM 107.9 KQQL and affiliates

Ok, sure, maybe Thursday’s game in Detroit wasn’t quite the start that the Wild was hoping for, as it simply didn’t get the result. And yes, you’re correct when you say that Minnesota is currently on pace to go 0-82 this season. But the Green ‘n’ Wheats actually did a lot of things really well in that game, and if a couple things had gone in favor of the good guys, we might all be thinking that Minnesota is on pace for an 82-0 season. So remain calm, for one game does not a season make.

Bruce Boudreau’s boys get a chance to bounce right back and get themselves in the win column tonight, as they take on a hugely improved Carolina Hurricanes team that many pundits think will return to the playoffs this season for the first time since 2009. The Wild has the advantage of having already played a regular season game, whereas this year’s version of Carolina has yet to experience meaningful hockey.

If Minnesota can clean up a couple ugly little spots on its game, bring a similar effort to what we saw in Detroit, and have less than 50% of its goals waived off, then we certainly have a good chance of spoiling the Hurricanes’ home opener tonight.

CAROLINA HURRICANES

In times like these, isn’t it a little insensitive for your team to be named the Hurricanes? Just saying.

On paper, Carolina appears to be the most improved team in the league after the offseason. An organization that already had an exciting and very young core of players in the fold got a lot stronger thanks to some shrewd moves by General Manager Ron Francis, and the roster additions have fans in Raleigh feeling optimistic that this team could finally have a successful season after nearly a decade of poor play.

Sean Tierney had a neat graphic to show just how much better the ’Canes got over the offseason… Try not to pay attention to where the Wild logo appears on this graph.

The biggest moves of the summer for the ’Canes were the additions of Justin “Mr. Game 7” Williams to provide leadership and experience, Marcus Kruger to bring depth down the middle, Trevor van Riemsdyk to strengthen the third defensive pairing, and Scott Darling to finally move Cam Ward out of the starting goaltending role.

The move to trade for Darling’s rights and quickly sign him to a four-year deal is a brilliant one by a team that has been absolutely hamstrung by its netminding in recent years, with the Ward/Eddie Lack combo finishing last season amongst the league’s worst with a .899 save percentage. Darling—who has never been a starter—brings a .923 career save percentage into this season. He’ll surely see some periods of struggle, as he gets accustomed to being “the guy” and not playing behind one of the most potent teams in the NHL, but this is a clear and obvious upgrade at the one position that can single-handedly decide if a team can contend.

Playing in a small and non-traditional market, the Hurricanes have some up-and-coming studs that have stayed largely under the radar in the hockey world. Worth keeping tabs on are Noah Hanifin, Sebastian Aho, and Jaccob Slavin. Also, don’t forget about Jeff Skinner, who notched 37 (!) goals for a toilet team last year. Not bad for a figure skater.

Carolina has gone without an official team captain since the departure of Eric Staal in ’15-’16. The team addressed that vacancy by naming Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk co-captains, because this is 2017 and everybody gets a participation trophy. “You’re a captain! You’re a captain! EVERYBODY’S A CAPTAAAAAAAIIIIIIIINNNNNN!” Staal will be the home captain, while Faulk will don the “C” on the road. How dumb is that?!

STORYLINES

Aside from half of its goals not counting, the biggest issue for Minnesota on Thursday was obviously the power play. Michael Russo made some really good points in The Athletic about the struggles that may arise from the Wild only having two right-shot forwards this season and two right-shot defenders, as well as the misstep of having Charlie Coyle playing the point on the manpower advantage. My favorite thing about Boudreau, though, is that he sees when things are not working and isn’t too proud to change them. Hopefully he saw—as the entire State of Hockey did on Thursday—that this plan isn’t a good one. At some point, BB will get the power play figured out because offense is definitely his bag… baby.

UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT! I actually think Marcus Foligno is going to be a good addition to this team. He demonstrated throughout the pre-season that he has more skill than (I think) people realized, and in his first official game in a Wild sweater on Thursday, he scored the first of hopefully the only two goals that get negated for Minnesota this season by simply crashing the net. He also put a couple punishing hits on Detroit defenders below their goal line, an element that we haven’t seen in recent years.

Speaking of being below Detroit’s goal line, when did Minnesota become a big, imposing squad with dominating wall play low in the offensive zone? There were 5-on-5 stretches on Thursday when Detroit literally couldn’t touch the puck in their own zone for multiple minutes at a time. It was as if the Wild was on power plays, except it was better because the Wild’s power plays weren’t very good. Continuing the brawny play deep in the offensive zone will bode very well against a young Hurricanes defense this evening.

Bruce said there’s a “good chance” that Alex Stalock gets his first start of the season tonight, and that’s because the NHL schedulers are total morons. The Wild has four days off after tonight’s game, then plays Thursday/Saturday again, then has five days off and plays Friday/Saturday. Those gaps are probably too long to wait to get the team’s newly-anointed backup some playing time. You had one job, NHL schedulers!

INJURIES

Obviously no Zach Parise again tonight, but we should still have Granlund in the lineup, even though he didn’t practice yesterday Granlund is also out due to an apparent ankle injury. :(

For Carolina, Lee Stempniak is out for a couple weeks due to hip/back issues.

The Gamethread will post at 5:30PM Central. Below are the projected lineups, thanks to DailyFaceoff.com. Thanks for reading!

**UPDATE: Since Granlund has been ruled out, the Wild will dress Gustav Olofsson as a 7th defenseman, so take the below lineups with a grain of salt.**

DEFENSE PAIRINGS:

RYAN SUTER // JARED SPURGEON

JONAS BRODIN // MATT DUMBA

MIKE REILLY // KYLE QUINCEY