The Minnesota Wild come into the season with high expectations for the team of 18,000, and the biggest one of all is not to repeat the disappointment the team experienced last season.
After a poor start, especially on the road, the Wild never seemed to recover and limped through the season plagued with injuries, poor chemistry, and a low morale.
This year looks to be different, it looks as if Minnesota may finally be a contender to reach the playoffs this year with the offseason additions, the new coaching staff, and overall added depth in offense to their roster.
However, after five preseason games, the Wild are winless (0-3-2), and many are questioning whether or not this team can be competitive with the powerhouse teams in the Western Conference and Northwest Division.
Here are five keys that Minnesota must follow if they would like to achieve a successful season, successful meaning reaching the playoffs.
One thing that has been discussed by both the coaching and the front office staff is the importance of good team chemistry.
Head coach Todd Richards, during training camp, related the lack of chemistry on the team last season to its poor performance.
This offseason, not only was Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher trying to fill voids in the roster with talent, but he also wanted to change the attitude in the locker room.
Fletcher explained just before the NHL Entry Draft that he was looking for players that would work hard and work hard all game.
This is important in a couple ways: first, with the Wild's new offensive style of play requiring constant puck pursuit. Minnesota cannot let down its attack since offense is its number one weapon.
It is also important for overall team building. If you have 20 players that want to work hard and achieve a goal and everyone is in it together, you usually get exactly that.
This season may get a good head start for Minnesota, as they travel to Helsinki, Finland to play two games against Carolina as part of NHL's Premiere Week.
Eight days together as a team overseas where you have to see each other should be a good experience for the team, explained head coach Todd Richards during training camp, and hopefully Minnesota can build chemistry quickly.
Injuries have plagued this team over the last few seasons, especially with injuries to key players.
Brent Burns only appeared in 47 games last season, a critical part of their defense, and being an offenseman turned defenseman, he is a vital part of a new system that could use the blue line for a fourth guy in the zone.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard missed all of last season due to side effects sustained from a concussion. A wonderful play maker and scorer, he was missed badly last season with the lack of offense the Wild had in parts of their season.
Clayton Stoner, after appearing in eight games, was sidelined after a hernia, and he will be a vital physical new addition to the blue line this season for Minnesota.
James Sheppard broke his knee-cap recently during the offseason, which will keep him out until at least February. Still a young player, Sheppard has stuck with Minnesota after being a let down the last few seasons.
Minnesota must stay healthy this season if they are to compete in a tight Northwest Division, which looks to be back to its old self, a five-team dog fight and a competitive Western Conference.
On the other hand, the Wild have added plenty of depth to their roster, and depth that could easily fill in holes to an injured lineup if need be, something Minnesota has been missing for several seasons.
3. Road Kill
The Wild were absolutely atrocious on the road last season, only winning 13 games on the road (13-24-4). This is an area that will definitely have to improve if Minnesota wants to win.
The Wild lost their first eight road games in a row and didn't pick up a road win until Oct. 31, where Minnesota beat Pittsburgh 2-1.
4. Home Sweet Home
While Minnesota may have been extremely bad on the road, its always nice to have one of the better home records in the entire NHL.
The Wild won 25 home games last season (25-12-4), and it is no surprise that the Xcel Energy Center has been good to Minnesota since its inception in 2000.
This is the cornerstone of success for Minnesota this season, and unlike last season, the Wild will open up the season mainly at home.
This will help boost the team's overall morale, confidence, and build that much needed chemistry the team needs.
5. Four Lines
Head coach Todd Richards explained to the media prior to training camp that he would be comfortable running four lines this year, and looking at the roster, they have the talent and depth to do so.
After the departures of enforcers Derek Boogaard and John Scott, Minnesota officially began to replace grit with offense.
That doesn't mean, however, that the Wild are without a bad guy. Newly acquired forward Brad Staubitz from San Jose will be the new watchful eyes for the Wild. Besides being an enforcer, he can add offense as well.
If Minnesota can run four lines of offense consistently, not only does that allow for his top lines to gather some rest and not be over worked, it also allows the team to come at the opponent in four different ways.
Every line works differently, and like Wild teams of the past, it is easy to figure out two lines: adjust your defense and hold a team back.
Four lines keeps the defense on its toes, keeps them guessing, and allows Minnesota to control the flow of the game, important in an offense-first philosophy.
If all these keys are met, Minnesota could be back in the playoffs for the first time in three years. If not, they will be back at home come second week of April, no playoffs, no Stanley Cup, no glory.
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