|Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher made it clear that his offseason priority was to add offense to his club. The Wild were one of the summer’s most active clubs, making two blockbuster trades just weeks apart that could be deemed “win-win” for all parties involved. After finishing third in the Northwest Division last year with 86 points overall and missing the playoffs by 11 points, Fletcher decided it was time to bolster the Wild and attempt to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2008. |
Fletcher made his first splash of the summer at the NHL Entry Draft, which was hosted by the Wild in Minneapolis-St. Paul. He traded All-Star defenseman Brent Burns and a second-round pick to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Devon Setoguchi, prospect Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick. Minnesota coach Mike Yeo had already planned to play Setoguchi with center Mikko Koivu on the club’s top line, but that was before the gift-giving continued from his GM. The Wild and Sharks hooked up on another major trade not long after their first and swapped superstars, sending Dany Heatley to Minnesota in exchange for Martin Havlat.
In essence, that deal solidified a new-look top line for the Wild which is now comprised of Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley. Yeo is able to roll out a versatile top six, as the No. 1 unit is backed up by Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck. Power winger Guillaume Latendresse usually occupies that spot, but he is currently sidelined with an undisclosed injury and will not play against the Blue Jackets. Fletcher acquired Darroll Power from the Philadelphia Flyers in the summer to strengthen his checking line, and so far, it has paid off. The Wild have the second-best goals-against in the NHL (2.06), trailing only the New York Rangers. Kyle Brodziak and Brad Staubitz are veteran incumbents that hold down spots in Yeo’s bottom six.
The Burns trade made for an open competition for ice time on the blue line, as the Wild no longer had a true No. 1 defenseman. Shutdown man Nick Schultz remains on the top pair, drawing most of his minutes with Marek Zidlicky. Youngsters Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon play important roles on defense for Minnesota, a unit that is without injured regulars Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin.
Backstrom has been “the guy” between the pipes in Minnesota for quite some time, but he has received a significant push this season from a recovered, healthy Josh Harding. An injury-plagued career has held Harding back from challenging the No. 1 spot, but he appears to be in top form with a 4-1-1 record and 1.78 goals-against average.
| || || |
|Prospal (5) ||Cullen (7) |
|Prospal (9) ||Koivu (9) |
|Prospal (14) ||Heatley (11) |
|Dorsett (40) ||Staubitz (29) |
|MacKenzie (+4) ||Latendresse (+7) |
|Mason (3-12-1) |
|Harding (4-1-1) |
|Mason (3.67) ||Harding (1.78) |
|Mason (.875) ||Harding (.948) || |
|• After opening the season 0-3-1 at home, the Blue Jackets have gone 3-2-0 in their last five home games, including a 2-1 win over Winnipeg this past Saturday. The win also snapped a three-game (overall) losing skid. |
• Ryan Johansen leads the Blue Jackets in goal-scoring (5), but his impact in the last eight games has been more than just that. Johansen has tallied 5-2-7 in his last nine games after being held without a point in his first four NHL games. The club’s first pick, fourth overall, in the 2010 Entry Draft, he has also scored a team-leading three game-winning goals, which is tied for third in the NHL (4 –Johan Franzen, Vinny Lecavalier), and is the first player to score his club’s first three game-winners in a season since Philadelphia’s Brian Propp in 1982-83 (*courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau*).
• Tonight marks the second of four meetings overall and first of two at Nationwide Arena this season between the Blue Jackets and Wild. Columbus is 19-16-4 all-time against Minnesota, including a 13-5-1 mark at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets are 4-2-0 in the last six, including 3-1-0 in 2010-11. All four games last year were decided by one goal.
• The Blue Jackets’ special teams are on the upswing. Columbus has killed off 24-of-29 opponent power plays (82.8 pct.) over the past eight games compared to 18-of-28 (64.3 pct.) in the first eight games, while the power play unit has connected on 8-of-54 (14.8 pct.) over the past 12 games after starting the season 0-of-20.
LW - #10
• Setoguchi enjoyed several successful seasons as a top-six forward in San Jose, and the Wild acquired him to play a larger role in its offense. The 24-year-old native of Alberta has recorded 20-goal seasons in each of the past two years, after racking up 31 goals and 65 points in 2008-09.
• The Wild’s top line has combined for 29 points in 17 games, and Setoguchi is a big part of that. He’s known as a shoot-first player, and is currently tied for third among Wild players in shots on goal (36).
LW Kristian Huselius (upper body); indefinitely
D Radek Martinek (concussion); indefinitely