by John Carlisle, bluejackets.com
Two of the Western Conference’s hottest teams will try to cool off each other at 8 p.m. Saturday when the Blue Jackets travel to the Twin Cities to meet the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.
Columbus (2-0-1, 5 pts.), coming off a four-day respite, wants to extend its winning streak to three after Monday’s 5-1 drubbing of the Phoenix Coyotes. Minnesota (4-0-0, 8 pts.) has burst out of the gate with four one-goal wins, making the Wild the early points leader in the conference.
Nikolai Zherdev will attempt to prove his hot stick doesn’t chill just because of a few days off. The Russian standout knocked in two goals in the win over Phoenix, his first game of the season.
Rick Nash, Duvie Westcott and David Vyborny have started the season strong, too, scoring points in every game so far.
The Jackets have picked up five standing points in the first three games, the most in franchise history. A win would put them at seven and likely keep them on top of the Central Division.
The Minnesota faithful have reason for optimism, too. The Wild’s fast start indicates last year’s last-place team is a distant memory, and the Wild, like the Blue Jackets, have assembled a squad seemingly destined to improve on last year’s record.
Having developed a reputation for being strong defensively, the Wild have been on a goal-scoring binge so far after enhancing their scoring line in the off-season. New center Pavol Demetria has notched five assists already playing alongside left wing Marian Graborik, who scored 38 goals last year. The tandem will pose a challenge for Jackets goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who is 2-0-0 lifetime - including his first NHL win on Nov. 30, 2005 - against Minnesota with a 2.41 GAA.
Leclaire turned away 23 shots while allowing only one goal against Phoenix.
Both teams entered the NHL in 2000-01, and since then, Columbus owns a 10-7-2 advantage in the series. The Wild, however, reached the postseason once, something the Jackets desire to do this year. To do so, they will need to scrape out some tough road wins against conference competitors.
Live coverage on FSN Ohio begins with IceBreaker, the Jackets' pre-game show, at 7:30 p.m. and includes the Blue Jackets Ice Cap post-game show immediately following the game.
After Saturday’s game, the Jackets will have another five-day game-free stretch before suiting up at home to play the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, in Nationwide Arena.