Three road games into the season, things haven’t looked great for the Minnesota Wild. Winless to start the season with some of their key players struggling, perhaps a little home cooking is what this team needs to get things right and earn their first victory in 2019.
There’s precedent for this, as the Wild have historically performed very well in their home openers over their history. They have failed to earn at least a point in only one of their 18 home openers, with 13 wins, three overtime or shootout losses, one tie, and one regulation loss. They’ve outscored their opponents 66-39 and have earned two shutouts.
So, before the Wild welcome the Penguins to start their home slate of games in the 2019-20 season, let’s take a look back at the five most memorable home openers in team history.
No. 5 — October 15, 2016: Minnesota 4, Winnipeg 3
The 2016 home opener marked the Xcel debut of new centerman Eric Staal, new head coach Bruce Boudreau and an early example of what has become a recent staple of Minnesota Wild hockey — the team disappearing for an entire period. Boudreau reportedly gave the team a stern talking-to after a first period where the Wild were thoroughly outworked by the Jets and faced a two-goal deficit heading into the second period. However, unlike recent efforts, the Wild bounced back thanks to Eric Staal’s first goal in a Wild uniform, strong efforts from defensemen Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin and a Gordie Howe Hat Trick from Chris Stewart. The win brought Minnesota to a 14-0-3 (one tie) record in home openers.
No. 4 — January 19, 2013: Minnesota 4, Colorado 2
The lockout-shortened 2012-13 season’s opener saw the introduction of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but it was Dany Heatley who stole the show. Heatley scored a pair of power-play goals during a second period in which the Wild outshot the Avalanche 18-5, thanks primarily to a string of Avalanche penalties and a nearly two-minute 5-on-3 advantage. The Wild victory also saw the NHL debut of 2010 draft pick Mikael Granlund, who scored his first-ever NHL goal on a nice tip-in on a Jared Spurgeon shot. The Wild would go on to make the playoffs for the first time in five years, earning the eighth seed in the Western Conference, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in five games in the first round.
No. 3 — October 6, 2009: Minnesota 4, Anaheim 3, OT
Cast your mind back to a time of hope. A time where fans anticipated the Todd Richards era of wide open, offensive style hockey to replace the locking, trapping, defensive style of Jacques Lemaire. When Martin Havlat was going to make us all forget about losing Marian Gaborik to the New York Rangers for absolutely nothing. And all of this was thanks to the new GM, Chuck Fletcher, who was brought in to help take the Wild back to the Western Conference Final like they did under former GM Doug “He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named” Risebrough. And for one shining moment, all of this looked possible. Despite starting off with a disorganized defensive effort that spotted Anaheim a three-goal lead heading into the third period, the Wild took over the third period on goals by Eric Belanger, Mikko Koivu and Petr Sykora, and capped off the overtime win with a net-crashing goal by Andrew Brunette. The good times didn’t last long, as the Wild went on to miss the playoffs for the second straight year, and would not make the postseason in the Todd Richards tenure as coach.
No. 2 — October 5, 2005: Minnesota 6, Calgary 3
The Wild of the mid-2000s weren’t known for high-scoring games, especially against Calgary netminder and noted Wild-killer Miikka Kiprusoff. But even short Marian Gaborik and Mikko Koivu due to injury, Minnesota managed to put up a six-pack on the defending Western Conference champion Calgary Flames in their 2005 home opener. Marc Chouinard scored early and often, getting his first goal just 1:43 into the game, and capped off his hatty with an empty-netter to seal the 6-3 win. Pascal Dupuis added three assists, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard offered a pair of helpers as well.
No. 1 — October 9, 2014: Minnesota 5, Avalanche 0
In 2014, the Wild were coming off their deepest run in the playoffs in ten seasons, having defeated Colorado in a seven-game, first-round thriller. And to begin the 2014-15 season, they would take on the team they vanquished in the playoffs in a rare home-and-home series, beginning with the home opener in St. Paul. Continuing their success against the Avalanche, the Wild dominated on both ends of the ice in a 5-0 rout of Colorado, thanks to a franchise-record 48 shots on goal and a stifling performance by Darcy Kuemper, who stopped all 16 shots he faced on the night. Five different players scored for the Wild — Jason Pominville, Jared Spurgeon, Zach Parise, game seven hero Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Suter. And to add to the thrill of a decisive home victory was the 3-0 shutout that would come two nights later, earning Kuemper yet another shutout and Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker scoring their first goals of the season. But for how promising the season started for Kuemper and the Wild, things would turn by 2015, as yet another midseason swoon (and an on-ice meltdown at practice by head coach Mike Yeo) would culminate in the trade that brought Devan Dubnyk to the Wild and turned around Minnesota’s season, as they fought back to not only make the playoffs, but advance to the second round for the second year in a row.
If the Wild are to earn their first win of the season, history has shown us that the place to do it would be the home opener. Will they get it done against the Penguins? Tune in to find out on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. CT.