Jackets look to play spoiler role against Wild
Monday, 02.06.2012 / 6:22 PM
David Kalan - NHL.com Staff WriterWILD (25-19-8) at BLUE JACKETS (14-32-6)
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: Minnesota 4-4-2; Columbus 3-6-1.
Minnesota has taken both of the first two meetings of the season with Columbus, including their most recent matchup, a 4-2 win for the Wild at Nationwide Arena on Nov. 15, 2011.
As Columbus returns home following a difficult road trip, it will look to play the spoiler role as Minnesota comes to town clinging to the eighth spot in the West.
Minnesota may no longer be atop the Northwest like it was during its surprising start, but the Wild would still be in the postseason field if the season ended today. That fate is tenuous, however, as the Wild hold a mere two-point advantage over ninth-place Dallas with roughly two months of the season still to be played. Those two points may sting even more, as Minnesota missed a valuable opportunity to gain distance in its last game by falling to the Stars in a shootout Saturday night.
Still, even if Minnesota is barely in the top eight, they could climb up it as well. The Wild trail seventh-place Los Angeles by just two points and have a game in hand, meaning their tenuous position could go in either direction. More reassuring might be the fact that a difficult January for the Wild may be behind them. Minnesota has gone 3-1-1 in its last five games.
: Columbus is in the midst of a tough season that only seems to get tougher by the day. The Jackets recently completed a brutal six-game road trip in which they went 1-4-1 and allowed an abysmal 3.5 goals per game. Keeping the puck out of the net has been a problem for Columbus all season, but even more so recently. The Jackets have given up at least two goals in every game they've played over the past month.
There is some positive news for the Jackets, however, considering their road-trip finale Friday night in Anaheim. Not only did they grind out a 3-2 overtime win, but they also saw the return to the lineup of Jeff Carter
, who scored a goal in his first game since Jan. 8. As well, the road-weary Jackets will get to spend more time in the Buckeye state. Seven of their next nine games are at home.
: Derick Brassard
is giving the Jackets a boost lately, tallying two goals and two assists in the last four games. ... Dany Heatley
is providing the Wild with the scoring they expected when he was brought in from San Jose, scoring four goals and adding four assists in his last five games.
Columbus recently lost Brett Lebda
to a broken thumb and Nikita Nikitin
to a left knee injury last month, but the continued absences of James Wisniewski
(broken ankle) and Kristian Huselius
(groin) continue to loom large. Minnesota is still without Mikko Koivu
, who is recovering from a left shoulder injury. Clayton Stoner
is questionable with a lower-body injury.
: The Wild may need to improve on their pedestrian 12-12-5 road record if they want to solidify their playoff standing and Columbus might be the place. The Jackets' eight home wins are the fewest in the League.
: Much like Columbus, Minnesota, too, can look forward to spending more time at home as Tuesday's game will end a three-game road trip. Given how tight their race is, however, the Wild will need to start winning at a more consistent rate to ensure they aren't playing golf in April. If the Jackets can build on their win Friday, that could be tough for Minnesota. And if Columbus finds a way to relish its position as spoiler, it could be tough for the rest of the Western Conference.