Midway through that period, the Avalanche put themselves in another precarious spot. Downie was whistled for both cross-checking and roughing, giving the Wild an extended extra-skater situation.
Then, Ryan O'Byrne picked up a penalty for holding the stick, and the Wild were given an opening-night gift — nearly 2 minutes of a 5-on-3 advantage. Varmalov denied Matt Cullen, Parise and Heatley.
But the Wild stayed patient, crisply passing the puck back and forth until picking their shooting spots, and Heatley muscled for position at the crease to redirect a short try from Parise.
"I love the fact that I'm going to get to be up here ... and talk about how good he is," Wild coach Mike Yeo said, adding: "The work ethic is just relentless."
The Wild outshot the Avalanche 18-5 in the second period.
"It doesn't matter who's out there. You can trust that they're going to do the job," Koivu said.
By adding Mitchell to their third line and P.A. Parenteau to the second line, the Avalanche have some more complements for standout forwards Gabe Landeskog, Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk and David Jones.
But they're missing center Ryan O'Reilly, who remains unsigned after leading the team with 37 assists last season.
The Avalanche have a capable veteran backup goalie in Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but they're counting on Varmalov, who finished an up-and-down first year in Colorado strong, posting a 1.88 goals against -average over his final 18 starts.
Landeskog, the Calder Trophy winner last season as the league's top rookie, is the other young piece of the Avalanche core as the youngest captain at age 20 in NHL history.
McLeod scored on a rebound of Greg Zanon's slap shot from the point after the Avalanche won a faceoff in the Wild zone, but that was the extent of their attack after controlling the first period and holding a 12-5 edge in shots.
"There's no question that penalties on us changed the momentum of that game," coach Joe Sacco said. "Before that, everything was going pretty good."
NOTES: The Wild improved to 11-0-1 in home openers in their history. This was the sixth-highest attendance total in team history. ... Mitchell had 16 points and a plus-10 rating for the Rangers last season.