This is the first in a two part article covering the Wild's 2013-2014 season. Part II analyzes the impact of young Wild talent last season.
The Wild’s 2013 home opener ended up being a microcosm of their entire season, the team watching an early 2-1 lead dissolve into a shootout loss. The only thing the game didn’t foreshadow was the Wild’s trouble with keeping a goaltender healthy, as Niklas Backstrom actually played the entire game, something he’d do a mere 21 times throughout the year.
Backstrom was one of seven goaltenders to suit up for the Wild (five of them started). Josh Harding carried the team on his back until just around the Olympic break, when trouble with his MS medication took him out for the rest of the season. The second half of the season was the Darcy Kuemper show, as he played impressively until a concussion sidelined him late in the season. Illya Bryzgalov then stepped in and played like the Russian goalie that frustrated Wild fans when he was in Anaheim and Phoenix, helping the Wild secure the seventh playoff seed in the west.
The Wild also dealt with injuries to several veteran forwards. This forced young, inexperienced players to step into important roles. Erik Haula, who wasn’t even on the NHL roster when the team broke training camp in early October, was recalled early in the season to fill the void left by injuries.
2013-2014 had some less than stellar moments for the Wild as well. They blew a three-goal lead twice on home ice, something that good teams just don’t do. The end of December found the team in a six-game skid that put head coach Mike Yeo on the hot seat. Fortunately after the New Year the team became more consistent, leading to their playoff push and eventual first-round playoff defeat of the Colorado Avalanche.
Hopefully next year the Wild can build off their success in 2013-2014 to be a better, more consistent team.
Part two, covering the role of young players on the 2013-2014 season, will be released later this week.
Peter Ripka is the co-host of the Rambling On podcast. He's a blogger and analyst who specializes in sports, particularly hockey and baseball. Reach him via email or find him on Facebook and Twitter.