It may be the end of a long, three-time zone road trip for the Minnesota Wild, but the Blue Jackets will surely have their hands full tonight.
Columbus faces a Minnesota club that endured both highs and lows on its extended stretch away from the "State of Hockey", with impressive victories in Calgary and Anaheim. Their two defeats to this point on the trip came in San Jose and Los Angeles, two of the most difficult road buildings in the Western Conference.
The Wild currently leads the Northwest Division with a 9-5-3 mark and have won four of its past six games. Under head coach Mike Yeo, Minnesota plays a responsible game that forces opponents to break its defensive scheme in order to garner scoring opportunities.
“They really pressure hard and they’re a responsible team,” Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel said. “(They try not to) give up the odd-man rush and try not to give you a whole lot; you work for everything you’re going to get.
“They play a disciplined game, and I know they got beat in LA but they bounced back with a huge game in Anaheim. They have two good goaltenders that give them a chance to win every night.”
Arniel was referring to Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, the two-headed goaltending monster the Wild are using with much success so far this season. Those two have combined to bolster the second-best goals-against average in the league, as Minnesota (2.06 goals against) trails only the New York Rangers for top spot in that regard.
“It’s going to be emphasized before the game that we’ve got to come out with a good start and play a physical game,” center Ryan Johansen told BlueJackets.com.
“They’ve done a lot of traveling the last week or so, and we have to jump on them here at home. They have some versatility back there, and two good goalies that are playing very well. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
SILENCE THEIR WEAPONS
Arniel said he plans to use his newly-formed third line of Antoine Vermette, Samuel Pahlsson and Derek Dorsett as much as possible against the Wild’s big line. That trio of Devin Setoguchi, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley has produced a significant portion of Minnesota’s offense, but is not the only line that can score goals. Arniel used the Pahlsson line head-to-head against the Alexander Burmistrov/Evander Kane line for the Winnipeg Jets, and said he anticipates a similar workload for that unit tonight.
“I thought they did an admirable job, and I’m sure they’ll see lots of them tonight,” Arniel said. “That’s a line you have to contain; as much as you do talk about those three, that Cullen line is playing very well, too.
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the rest of their team, but a lot of their offense comes from the big three. You need to know when they’re on the ice, and you can’t get into a sloppy game when they’re out there.”
NEWS AND NOTES
-Due to their extensive injury situation, the Wild recalled forward Casey Wellman from Houston (AHL) this morning. It is not currently known whether he will be in the lineup tonight.
-Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu has 7-14-21 in 21 career games against the Blue Jackets and is a +7 in those contests. Conversely, Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash has 13-10-23 in 29 career games vs. the Wild.
-The Wild announced via their Twitter account this morning that Backstrom is the likely starter in goal tonight.