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Wild can’t hold late lead, falls in shootout in home opener

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Minnesota Wild Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Wild are going to have to fight and claw to rid the taste of last year in fans’ mouth all season. It doesn’t help when not only does 95 percent of the team returns, but the same habits still exist after two games. Hell, they even did the player intros to “Psycho” by Muse like they did last season. It all felt the same. A glitch in the Matrix. Deja vu.

Saturday night, the Wild welcomed their fans by hosting a block party on West 7th Street in St. Paul aptly named “Hocktoberfest.” Let’s hope some good, real beer was served, because fans needed beer goggles to make that game look pretty.

Minnesota, on the other hand, had to take on the reigning Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas took the league by storm last season and beat every team except the Wild. The Wild beat the Golden Knights thrice in three meetings last year and looked like a legit NHL team when facing them. However, the Knights pretty much caved the Wild for 60 minutes in every category except the scoreboard, before eking out a win in the shootout. Matt Dumba scored his first of the season, while Max Pacioretty tied the game late and Erik Haula snuck one through Devan Dubnyk as the final shooter in the skills competition.

Minnesota wasn’t particularly great at the on-set. A couple turnovers could have proven costly, but Dubnyk looked to be on his game. The Wild’s offense consisted of mostly one-and-done chances, and that’s even if they got a shot on goal. Matt Dumba blocked a shot, started a breakout, and gained the Knights’ zone. He dumped the puck down the boards to Charlie Coyle. That pass helped bring the back-checkers of the Golden Knights deeper into the zone. Meanwhile, Dumba stopped just inside the blue line. Coyle retrieved the puck along the half-boards and passed back to the blue line where Dumba awaited for a one-timer. He teed it up, and rang it off the post and in. Minnesota had an early 1-0 lead.

But Dubnyk was forced to do the heavy lifting the rest of the period. The Wild got out of the first holding on to their lead for dear life.

After seeing what happened against the Avalanche, the Wild, you’d hope, would come out for a better second period. Instead it was more of the same. Dubnyk stood on his head...again. One such play saw Dubnyk slide over and stack the pads on Jonathan Marchessault. The shot was blocked wide, but Marchessault was quick to retrieve and center. Jared Spurgeon got down and made a heroic save with Dubnyk still out of position on Reilly Smith. Dubnyk also had to make a couple point-blank saves on Ryan Reaves from the slot.

The thing plaguing the Wild’s offense is two-fold. They can’t seem to execute their passing, and when they do get a small window of skating room, there’s just not enough speed to create separation. They’re chased down easily by, in this case, Vegas back-checkers. It just doesn’t allow them to enter the zone cleanly without dumping the puck in, or with any sort of speed to create chances.

Somehow the Wild held the one goal lead after 40 minutes. It wasn’t pretty. Minnesota, in the past, wouldn’t win the shot attempt battle, but they were quite good at keeping teams out of their kitchen, while stealing cookies from the cookie jar in other teams’ dining hall. That just isn’t happening.

For the third period, the Wild actually looked like they woke up a bit. They finally out-shot the Golden Knights. They had some good zone time even. Marc-Andre Fleury had to be good on a couple occasions. It was actually almost a carbon copy of the season opener against the Avalanche. Though, the lack of an insurance marker would come back to bite them.

They’d also be without defenseman Greg Pateryn for a stretch. Antagonist Ryan Reaves made a blind side shoulder-to-shoulder hit to Pateryn after he made a pass along the boards inside the Wild zone. Pateryn would fall head-first into the dasher, and he’d stand up to few drops of blood on the ice. He’d go off, likely to get stitched up, and perhaps for concussion protocol after such a vicious hit, but returned eventually. As for Reaves, he had to answer the bell from Marcus Foligno. Reaves handled Foligno pretty easily, but didn’t receive any other penalty for the hit on Pateryn.

With 1:40 left to go, immediately after an icing infraction by the Wild with the Golden Knights’ net empty, Eric Staal lost the faceoff and Vegas tied it up. The puck found Max Pacioretty in the left offensive faceoff circle for a one-timer that beat Dubnyk, who had made 37 saves at that point. The Wild did play better in the third, but couldn’t seal the deal in a 6-on-5 situation.

Marchessault took a penalty before the period expired giving the Wild a power play that carried over into the overtime period. They fed Matt Dumba a healthy dose of pucks for one-timers. The problem with that is the scouting report is out, and Fleury knew the Wild were trying to do exactly that. He made some tough stops on Dumba, but he was often square to the puck because no one else even thought about shooting the puck on net.

The rest of the overtime would play out 4-on-4 until just over a minute remained and the period had its first stoppage. During 3-on-3 not much happened except when Zach Parise gave and extra shove to a Vegas player and was called for roughing.

Sixty-five minutes were not enough to decide a winner and the game headed to a shootout.

Minnesota now has a record of 0-1-1 with 1 lonely point on the season. Which, if the Wild are fighting make sure this season isn’t a copy of last season, they’re failing. Through two games last season, they had a regulation and a shootout loss through two games and one point. It’s an uphill battle already trying to differentiate this and make it not just a continuation of last season.