The Minnesota Wild will get their 2021-22 campaign underway on Friday night when they visit the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center. Minnesota will look to build after easily exceeding expectations last season with a 35-16-5 record and postseason appearance that ended in seven hard-fought games against the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round. Anaheim has already played its season opener, as it picked up a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night as a +134 home underdog.
This was a one-sided series last season, with the Wild holding a 7-1 advantage over the Ducks.
Wild hope to take next step after breakout seasonA young Minnesota team was better than anyone expected last season, as the Wild were comfortably in the playoff picture all season long and came close to pulling off an upset of the mighty Golden Knights in the first round, eventually losing in seven games. Minnesota enters the 2021-22 season projected to be the second-best team in the Central behind the Colorado Avalanche, and could be in line for a deep run if some youngsters like Calder Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov can develop further.
Kirill Kaprizov put on a show in his rookie season. 😲 pic.twitter.com/5LMj9BDBPc— NHL (@NHL) September 10, 2021
There were still some changes to the roster, as Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are both gone after spending nine years with the Wild, with defenseman Ian Cole and Carson Soucy also leaving during the offseason. Half of Minnesota's top six on the blueline will be different in 2021-22, with Alex Goligoski, Dmitry Kulikov, Jordie Benn and Jon Merrill all getting signed in free agency. Highly-touted prospect Marco Rossi should also get in the mix at some point, although he will start the season with AHL Iowa.
“He’s kind of got that ‘it’ factor, and it’s not something that you can just teach or learn,” said Wild general manager Bill Guerin to the Associated Press regarding Kaprizov, who signed a five-year contract extension during training camp. “Big personality. Always smiling. Always working hard. He’s brought guys together, and then he goes out on the ice and he performs at such a high level. That’s leadership.”
The Wild were up a significant amount on the money line last season as they comfortably exceeded expectations, and were also solid against the spread at 29-27. Overs went a strong 34-22 for the Wild in 2020-21, including 18-10 in road games.
Minnesota's strength last season was an offense that ranked eighth in scoring at 3.23 goals per game on an average of 28.3 shots per contest. The Wild's defense was right around league average, with opponents managing 2.85 goals and 30 shots per contest.
Kaprizov was an instant star, racking up 27 goals and 24 assists to easily win the Calder Trophy as the best rookie in the NHL last year. Jordan Greenway had a breakout season at the age of 23 with six goals and a team-high 26 assists, while Kevin Fiala enjoyed a strong year with 20 goals and 20 assists. Cam Talbot is back as the No. 1 goalie after allowing a 2.63 GAA with a .915 save percentage in 33 starts a year ago.
Rookie winger Matt Boldy is sidelined for around six weeks by a broken ankle suffered late in the preseason, but the Wild are otherwise healthy ahead of their opener.
Ducks turn in impressive effort in season openerWhile most project the Ducks to be one of the worst teams in the NHL again as they continue an extensive rebuild, they looked great in every facet to open the season with an upset win over the Jets. Kevin Shattenkirk tallied the first goal of the season for Anaheim 6:11 into the game before 18-year-old Mason McTavish became the youngest player to score in Ducks history later in the period, with Adam Henrique and Rickard Rakell also finding the back of the net to seal the comprehensive victory.
Isac Lundestrom and Jakob Silfverberg each recorded two assists apiece, while the victory was keyed by Anaheim going 2/5 on the power play. The Jets outshot the Ducks 34-22, but John Gibson came up huge with 33 saves to shut Winnipeg down.
“Last year, it was always something we seemed to struggle with if we were up one, to get that next one and then that next one to put the game away,” Henrique told the Orange County Register after scoring in the second period.. “It’s something we need to grow into and be able to do, and we did that tonight.”
The Ducks didn't win enough to be up on the money line last season with an overall record of 17-30-9, but were a good team against the spread at 34-22. Overs went just 21-33-2 for the Ducks last season, and this year started with another under against the Jets.
Anaheim was the lowest scoring team in the NHL last season with an average of 2.25 goals and 26.8 shots per game. The Ducks defense graded out as the better unit but was still below average, with opponents putting up 3.19 goals and 30 shots per contest.
Max Comtois enjoyed a breakout season with 16 goals and 17 assists at the age of 22 to pace the Anaheim offense. Rakell scored nine goals while dishing out a team-high 19 assists, while defenseman Cam Fowler helped out the offense with five goals and 18 assists.
Winger Max Jones is day-to-day with an illness after tallying 11 points in 46 games last season, but the Ducks expect to have everyone else available on Friday night.
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The Ducks were impressive in their season opener, but that has caused them to be overvalued here as they still figure to be near the bottom of the standings all season long. This is a tougher challenge against a Wild team that figures to make a return trip to the postseason in 2021-22, and the far superior scoring depth for Minnesota will be the difference on Friday night.
Advanced metrics backed Minnesota as an excellent offense a year ago with the team piling up high-danger chances at one of the highest rates in the NHL, a scary proposition for opposing teams if youngsters like Kaprizov, Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek get better with another year of experience. Even though the Ducks easily won on Wednesday night, they gave up a ton of scoring chances with just 34% Corsi, and Gibson won't be able to hold up against that kind of pressure from the Wild offense, as good as he is.
There are even more problems offensively for the Ducks, who had only 22 shots on Wednesday after grading out as the worst unit in the NHL a year ago, and they probably can't rely on rookies like McTavish to be consistent enough every game to beat good teams. Minnesota dominated the Ducks a year ago, and the puck line is worth a shot at these plus odds as Anaheim won't match its performance from the opener.
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While the offense should be elite again for the Wild while putting a ton of pressure on the shaky Ducks defense, there are some questions about the Minnesota defense after it posted middling numbers a season ago. The Wild did a lot over the offseason to address the blueline, but the unit probably won't have great chemistry in game one after half of the top six from a year ago got replaced.
The Ducks did pile up seven high-danger chances against Winnipeg to put four goals past the excellent Connor Hellebuyck on Wednesday, and Talbot is a solid but far from shutdown netminder. Minnesota will do most of the damage here, and the Ducks have enough to make up the difference after a strong season debut.