This season’s first matchup against the Blues was always going to hold significance.
After all, the Blues were the ones who cut the Wild’s franchise-best run in 2016-17 short when they bounced their Central Division rival from the first round of the playoffs earlier this year in five games.
But the importance of the reunion, which takes place Saturday in St. Louis and is the first of four meetings, has only increased with the Blues pacing the pack in the Western Conference amid a terrific start to the season.
“Any time you’ve got a division game, it’s a measuring stick,” winger Chris Stewart said. “They’re one of the hottest teams in the league, and they sent us home early last year. That’s something we haven’t forgot. We’re going to be ready to go. We’ve had that game circled on the calendar, and the boys are going to be excited.”
Led by former Wild bench boss Mike Yeo, the Blues’ formula for success hasn’t changed despite some new faces.
Their goaltending, with Jake Allen, is steady. St. Louis’ offense is dynamic and returns key cogs in wingers Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. But the addition of center Brayden Schenn via an offseason trade with the Flyers has given the team another scoring threat.
And the blue line continues to be headlined by captain Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, who made his season debut earlier this week after fracturing his ankle during training camp.
“They’ve always been good ever since I’ve been in the league,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “They have that core group that’s been there for a while now. So every time we go in their building, we know it’s going to be a tough game.”
It almost looked like the Wild wouldn’t require overtime to get by the Avalanche 3-2 Friday at Xcel Energy Center. The team was pouring on the pressure in overtime — outshooting the Avalanche 6-0 with many of those looks in prime scoring spots.
“Their goalie came up huge,” said center Charlie Coyle, who scored in the shootout. “That’s a good sign. We just want to get that going, make sure we get that extra point. Obviously did in the shootout. We’ll take it any way we can.”
The Avalanche’s Gabriel Landeskog, center Nathan MacKinnon and winger Mikko Rantanen have been almost unstoppable lately, combining for 17 goals and 42 points in Colorado’s previous 10 games.
But only Landeskog managed an assist Friday, and give credit to the Daniel Winnik-Koivu-Mikael Granlund line for quieting that trio.
“All three of those guys are very good defensively, whether it’s Koivu, Winnik or Granlund,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They know how to play defense, and they did the same thing for two straight games against the Couturier line. They take this and it was on the board that we were going to do a hard match tonight against those guys. They take that to heart, and they did a really good job against them.”
Not only did winger Nino Niederreiter match the franchise record for longest goal streak when he scored in a sixth straight game Friday, but he also extended his power-play goal streak to five games and point streak to eight games — all career bests. Niederreiter became the first NHL player to score a power-play goal in five consecutive games since teammate Eric Staal did it with the Hurricanes in 2010.
• Koivu’s assist on Niederreiter’s goal was his seventh during a five-game assist streak and sixth during a four-game run of setting up power-play goals.