While the matchup between the Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks may not look like the most intriguing on paper, this early season matchup was actually loaded full of storylines from the outset.
It was to be the home opener in the 20th season of the Wild franchise, but the first without a crowd full of fans. It would see the return of goaltender Devan Dubnyk and winger Ryan Donato to the Xcel Energy Center. And it was a wonderful chance for Minnesota to begin their season on a 4-1 note as they held a 60 percent chance of winning the contest, according to Money Puck.
And it wouldn’t take long for Minnesota to gain the early lead in the contest as Ryan Hartman would send a pass along the wall to the stick of Jordan Greenway on the nearside. The defenseman would search for space, as he was surrounded by four Sharks’ defenders, and flick a nifty low-flying shot towards Dubnyk. The netminder would fumble the puck and Joel Eriksson Ek was right there to clean up the scraps and send a sweet nutmeg of a goal into the back of the net to get the blood flowing.
Joel Eriksson Ek breaks the ice for Minnesota!#MNWild pic.twitter.com/tUWpDReQ4N— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) January 23, 2021
But San Jose would respond almost instantly with a goal of their own, nearly before Minnesota’s public address announcer could finish describing the previous goal, when Matt Nieto would receive a pass and skate right down the middle of the Minnesota defense and finish around Cam Talbot, who had his vision impaired in front of net, to even the tilt at one.
Speaking of Talbot, he would suffer what looked to be a non-contact injury near the later part of the first. And while he took to the ice before the beginning of the second frame, he would leave the ice only moments afterward and Kaapo Kahkonen would assume his role in net for the remainder of the game, and have a spectacular effort in relief, stopping all 17 shots he faced.
The rest of the first period, and much of the second was an absolute defensive battle as there were attempts for both clubs, but nothing of major substance in way of scoring chances, as both goaltenders played well for their respective sides throughout.
However, Minnesota would finally be able to break the ice and re-gain the lead on the first goal of the season from Zach Parise, as he would convert from the doorstep past his former teammate in Dubnyk off a rebounded shot from Nick Bjugstad to give home side the 2-1 advantage.
bjugstad with the initial shot and parise is there to clean up the garbage pic.twitter.com/I2vSqGlCsu— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) January 23, 2021
But despite the goal, both sides held tough for the rest of the period on the defensive end, which was highlighted by a last minute penalty kill from Minnesota that saw Marcus Johannson defend for most of without a stick in a real test of strength.
While Minnesota’s powerplay defense was spectacular, their offensive attack with a man advantage continued to struggle, as the Wild were held scoreless on all three of their attempts.
In the final frame, the defensive nature of the game continued as neither side could really gain much of an upper hand on either side of the ice.
With Minnesota still holding their 2-1 lead and it beginning to get late in the contest, San Jose elected to empty their net for an extra attacker, and the Wild defense bared down once again as Kevin Fiala would pick off a pass and skate all the way to the other end of the ice for an easy finish and the first goal, of hopefully many, on his campaign to stretch the lead to 3-1.
Jordan Greenway would add one of his own from long range to make the final score 4-1 in favor of the home side.
1. Can the power play build on their Wednesday night success?
Simply put, nope. Minnesota was unable to convert on any of their three opportunities with a man-advantage in the contest. However, their defensive effort when playing down a man was outstanding and the Wild were able to thwart all three of San Jose’s attempts. We have to look at the positives, right?
2. When will Fiala or Parise get their first points of the year?
Zach Parise was able to score his first goal of the season in the second period of the contest. It was a moment that was simply inevitable, and he found himself in the right place at the right time for a rebound goal past his former teammate in Devan Dubnyk.
Meanwhile, Fiala was able to finally get the monkey off his back with an empty-net goal to finish off the game. It might not be the exact way we want to see him get on the score sheet, but it still counts.
3. How will Donato and Dubnyk look in their homecoming?
Despite sacrificing two goals, Devan Dubnyk had a very respectable effort in his first game back in the State of Hockey. He was able to save 25 shots on 27 attempts and was a constant throughout the game. The former Wild goaltender was also honored before the game with a video package from his former club.
On the other hand, it was a less than desired effort from Donato who despite being tied for team lead shots could never really find anything of substance against the swarming Minnesota defense and even looked visibly frustrated after flinging a decent attempt wildly over the netting near the end of the second period.
Minnesota will look to make it three in a row on Sunday night, as they will once again take on San Jose inside of Xcel Energy Center at 7 p.m.