The second Marcus Foligno was given the role of alternate captain and had a letter on his chest for the Minnesota Wild, every single person knew that this was going to be a big year for the veteran winger.
Always involved, always chatty, and always up for throwing his body around — the forward that goes by Moose is the heart and the core of this current roster and it showed up in the season opener.
Both teams were held at a stalemate for the majority of the game, a desperate 1-1 draw whose most likely conclusion was a weird and bland shootout, was shaken loose by Foligno scoring a very Marcus Foligno Goal in the dying seconds of regulation. Just 7.4 seconds left and he willed the game-winning goal into existence.
MARCUS FOLIGNO GAME WINNER W SEVEN SECONDS LEFT pic.twitter.com/gnSlA5DhVy— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) October 16, 2021
It wasn’t pretty but it wasn’t easy. Foligno was able to shovel that thing behind the Anaheim Ducks’ netminder Anthony Stolarz and earn the win for the Wild to have the honor of a 1-0-0 record to begin their 2021-22 campaign.
But that goal wasn’t the only way the hero contributed to the win. In the dying moments of the first period, a scuffle between Ducks winger Max Jones and our precious leader Foligno occurred to the site of Cam Talbot as his net was knocked of its moorings somehow and someway.
marcus foligno is quite upset with max jones pic.twitter.com/oid5U5HUxe— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) October 16, 2021
Whether or not the fact was that it was a fairly even bout for who started it — even though Foligno certainly got the better of Jones in the actual fighting part — the officials thought that the Wild winger deserved another penalty and the Wild were on the kill stretching to the start of the second. Well, that’s how the Ducks nabbed their first goal; a wraparound tally scored by Jakob Silfverberg.
Foligno had to sit in the penalty box for 17 whole minutes in the middle stretch of the game — that rest and relaxation certainly attributed to his energy output for the game-winner, but still, imagine just not doing anything in the middle of a very intense test for this club, and coming back full throttle.
With or without Moose on the ice, the Wild really took control of the game at even-strength. They finished with 63.16 percent of the shot attempt share and 73.39(!) percent of the expected goals share at 5-on-5. Just utter dominance from this crew and it was honestly a different approach than what we saw early on last season.
It might have been the shortened season and its effect, but we often saw the Wild get dominated, Talbot bail them out at times, and then score random goals to win by exactly one. This time, it was a consistent offensive barrage — just annoying scoring chances that seemed to be endless and the Ducks better buy Stolarz a gigantic steak dinner after this one, even though they lost.
All of the constant peppering of shots eventually paid off in the late minutes of the second period, as Kevin Fiala was able to combine with the other great Wild forwards for a power play goal — yeah, a goal on the power play — for the team’s first of the season and the equalizing tally of this game.
Fiala gets the Wild's first goal pic.twitter.com/kXTKnTNiHd— Internet #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) October 16, 2021
One noticeable difference was also the much more fluid approach from the blue line and their contribution offensively. No defenseman was really scared to shoot the puck, but it was Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba especially that were simply unloading it from the point and driving up the ice with ease and complete trust in their forwards to cover any hole behind them.
A simple, cohesive five-man unit and it worked.
From the start of the game, honestly, it was the depth players that were most impressive at even-strength. Whether it was the third line and Frederick Gaudreau zooming up the ice, or Brandon Duhaime consistently pressuring anyone with the puck — even if he started the game on the wrong foot completely — the two bottom lines were really running the show.
Man Duhaime has some wheels pic.twitter.com/61JAIv6B4l— Internet #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) October 16, 2021
And maybe that will be a common theme, as just endless waves of forwards come at the opponents and the hope is to wear them down enough for a sneaky opportunity on the power play or more goals squeaking in their favor.
The only Wild players that were able to nab any points were: Kaprizov, Foligno, Fiala, Zuccarello, Dumba, and Jonas Brodin, with just one each. A simple scoresheet that was highlighted by Talbot’s 28 saves on 29 shots.
If the Wild are able to keep on playing like this, they will certainly get the better of other teams often enough. They just happened to either misfire some chances or succumb to facing a goaltender playing out of his mind for some damn reason. Controlling play like the elite teams of the past is enough of a reason to be excited for what this group of players can do, and there’s only hope for them getting more offensively juiced in the future.
Next up is the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night. Puck drop is at 9:30 p.m. (Yikes)
How will the new top line debut in a real game?
Until the second half of the game, the trio of Eriksson Ek, Kaprizov, and Zuccarello could only really get the spotlight on them during the opportunities on the power play. They were certainly overshadowed by those six depth forwards that just came out of warm-up with something to prove. But as the top line settled into their roles, they vastly improved their play and put on display what they can do: Eriksson Ek doing the board battles and getting the puck to Zuccarello or Kaprizov to then set up the other. It’s an easy enough strategy and it’s just nice to see it play out in the first game.
Can Cam Talbot have some more early success?
Honestly, that and more. Talbot was back to his game-stealing prowess as he was last season, but in this very first game, it seemed like the Wild really needed to lean on him at points and he was certainly the team’s best penalty killer.
A little spotty on the early Ducks goal, but goaltenders never look pleasant after allowing a wraparound — always appearing to be out of position — but he more than made up for it in the following periods.
Will Alex Goligoski handle the top-pairing minutes?
The old adage of “if you don’t notice a defender, they’re usually doing a good job,” has certainly applied to Goligoski’s debut tonight. Spurgeon was all over the ice and unloading shots from the point, setting up the offense in his usual way, but his new partner was able to certainly supply that initial breakout pass enough of the time to be productive offensively and was just solid positionally in the back end.