DENVER – Shots sailed wide, passes missed the mark and the Wild put itself offside a few times — the usual signs a team was playing a game that counted for the first time in nearly six months.
But perhaps the most obvious tell that the Wild was just settling in for another season was it neglecting Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon, who was skating untouched to the front of the net and burying the decisive goal in a season-opening 4-1 loss for the Wild on Thursday night at Pepsi Center — a result that didn’t catch up to the feeling of the game until the waning minutes.
“A tough first one,” defenseman Ryan Suter said, “but we got a lot more to go.”
With 9 minutes, 34 seconds left in the second period, MacKinnon cut to the middle while all the attention was on puck-carrier Mikko Rantanen. Once Rantanen heaved the puck from the flank toward the crease, MacKinnon was there all alone to redirect the feed over goalie Devan Dubnyk’s left skate.
“He can get there,” said Dubnyk, who totaled 36 saves. “He’s fast.”
By then, Colorado was mostly in control — regularly getting quality looks on Dubnyk and limiting the Wild’s time in the offensive zone.
Even the team’s lone goal came off a quick stint in front of Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov.
After winger Zach Parise collected a turnover, he funneled the puck deep and then connected on a Mikko Koivu pass at 6:14 of the first period to give the Wild an early lead.
Dating to last season, including the playoffs, the goal was Parise’s ninth in his past nine games — an encouraging sign for the 34-year-old after his 2017-18 campaign was cut short because of a fractured sternum.
“I felt great, really,” Parise said. “Made some good decisions with the puck and had a lot more opportunities to get another one.”
But the Wild struggled to build off the goal, finishing the frame with only five shots, and that opened the door for the Avalanche to tie it — which Colorado did at 12:29 when center Carl Soderberg ripped a shot by Dubnyk’s glove after a Wild turnover in the neutral zone.
At the end of the first, Colorado had 14 shots and tacked on another 18 in the second; the Wild had mustered only 13 through two periods. Varlamov ended up with 20 saves.
“We didn’t do nearly enough to generate offense,” Parise said.
The Wild caught a break early in the third when winger Colin Wilson batted the puck out of midair into the net with his glove, wiping the goal off the board.
Soon after, the Wild received a power play but Minnesota couldn’t convert. It ended up going 0-for-3 with the man advantage.
Later in the period, Rantanen added an empty-netter with 1:53 to go before center J.T. Compher had one of his own on the power play with 20 seconds remaining. The Avalanche went 1-for-4 with the man advantage.
As for Suter, he logged 25:21 in his first regular-season game since he suffered a severe ankle injury March 31.
“There was some sloppiness that you’re not going to see in Game 20,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
“Pucks bouncing over the sticks and overskating the puck and things of that nature. But … they should have known and — I think they did know — how quick the pace was going to be faster than the preseason. But it took us a while to get up to it.”