The Minnesota Wild’s season is just under a week away from starting. Thursday night will see the year kick off for Bruce Boudreau and company, in familiar territory. The Pepsi Center in Colorado has seen some high highs and some very low lows for Minnesota, but it’s just the start.
Over the first twelve days of the season, Minnesota face Colorado, Chicago, Nashville, and Las Vegas. Those four teams represent an opportunity for Minnesota. Chicago has fallen from when they were the perennial buggaboo for the Wild in the postseason, but still mount a challenge. Las Vegas made the Stanley Cup Finals last season. The Avalanche are a divisional rival who seem to always challenge Minnesota. The Predators are also a divisional rival who seem to always have the Wild’s number.
These four games all take place within the space of 11 days. Mixed in, just two days prior to Minnesota traveling to Nashville, the Wild take on the Carolina Hurricanes, and the day after leaving Nashville they return home to take on the Coyotes.
In the first 12 days of the season, the Wild will play 6 games, or just under 10% of their season. The wild could come out of the first week and a half of their season with 12 points.
More than any of the standings points, importance of divisional wins, or anything else: this run represents a chance for Minnesota to make a statement out of the gate.
Obviously six wins of six would be huge. But managing to play six competitive manages in 12 days this early in the season could indicate to the rest of the league that the Wilda aren’t here to mess around.
A Familiar Foe
Away at the Avalanche is a tough way to start a season; the altitude comes into play, the Avalanche fans hate the Wild on several levels. Not only did the Wild spend a few years beating up on the Avalanche, but there’s still some bad blood from the Matt Cooke-Tyson Barrie incident of that same time frame. The Avalanche have struggled for a few years, but made the playoffs last season with 95 points; their most since 2013-14 when Nathan MacKinnon burst onto the scene. After a tire fire 2016-17 season, the Lanche seem to have turned themselves around and will be looking to start the season strong at home.
New Kids on the Block
As far as making statements goes, few teams in the league have more recently done so than the Las Vegas Golden Knights. After an expansion draft and offseason which lent most to believe the Knights would struggle to be competitive, the newcomers went to the Final after a magic season. The NHL has certainly seen teams fall fast (see the Colorado Avalanche 2014-15 season), and the Wild would love to ruin the Knights’ sophomore year.
The Demons of Old
If there’s one team that seems to haunt the Wild, it’s the Blackhawks. While in the regular season the Chicagoans haven’t always given the Wild a headache, in the postseason the Hawks were, for years, the impenetrable wall through which the Wild could not pass. In the regular season, in fact, the Wild have a winning record (technically). All time, the Wild are 44-41-1, and are 25-18-0 at home (from mcubed.net). Still, it’s a fool who writes the Hawks off before the game has begun.
The Palette Cleanser
Just two days after welcoming the Hawks, the Wild face off at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes have not made the playoffs since the 2008-09 season, also their last season with a winning record if you count OT Losses as losses (if you count OT losses different from regular losses, the Canes have 4 ‘winning’ seasons since 2009, including the past 3 immediate seasons). Realistically, this is a game that could be the Wild’s first win, at home to an opponent that Boudreau will be counting on beating. Because of this, a loss here could also serve as a red flag for the Minnesota Wild.
The Final Challenge, Part I
Again on just two days of rest, the Wild travel to Nashville to take on the Predators. Just two years off making the Stanley Cup Finals, the Predators look to continue a strong streak of seasons. It’s been four years since the Predators haven’t made the playoffs, and three since they haven’t made it past the first round. The Wild and the Preds are .500 all-time: 33-33-5 (again from Mcubed.net). When you isolate the games in Nashville, the Wild are 13-20-2; this will be a tough test for the Wild. This game, perhaps more than any other in this stretch, will be a sign of if the Wild can compete this season or not.
The Final Challenge, Part Deux
As if three divisional rival games to start the season wasn’t enough, the Wild end this stretch with a back-to-back at home against the Coyotes. The Coyotes haven’t made the playoffs since 2011-12, when they lost the Conference Final to the LA Kings. They also haven’t won more than 40 games in a season since 2011-12. Put simply: this game is only tough for the Wild as it’s on the back end of a tough stretch. Normally, this game would be one the Wild wouldn’t need to worry about. With the run of games the Wild have leading up to the face-off, it’s one Minnesota cannot afford to overlook.
There are chances for both good and evil in this early run for the Wild. Minnesota could come out of the stretch with 12 points and a firm handle, or (conceivably) no more than 4 points. in 6 games. It will be important to remember that individual games don’t represent the outlook for a whole season, but systemic issues or clear points of concern should arise as a pattern through the early season. On the one hand, this stretch of games is tough way to start the year. On the other, it could tell Bruce Boudreau a lot about how to make this team the best he’s ever had.