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Plenty of excitement as Wild, Jackets begin

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WILD (0-0-0) at BLUE JACKETS (0-0-0)

Season series -- It's the season-opener for both teams. Minnesota won three of the four meetings last season (one in a shootout). The Wild have won just four times in 15 visits to Nationwide Arena but are 3-1-0 in their last four trips to Ohio.

Big Story -- It's a new era in the State of Hockey. After employing the same coach-GM tandem since its inception in 2000, the Wild jettisoned GM Doug Risebrough and saw coach Jacques Lemaire step down. New general manager Chuck Fletcher hired Todd Richards to bring in a new brand of play -- an up-tempo style that's in marked contrast to Lemaire's trap-happy format. Also gone is franchise scoring leader Marian Gaborik, who left to sign with the Rangers. In his place is Martin Havlat, Chicago's top scorer in 2008-09.

Columbus is trying to build on the first trip to the playoffs in franchise history. The Jackets made only a few roster tweaks, bringing in checking center Sami Pahlsson and backup goaltender Mathieu Garon.

Team Scope:

Wild -- Richards has never missed the playoffs in his 13 seasons as a player and coach, but extending that streak won't be easy. The Wild missed the postseason last spring and saw its leading scorer (Gaborik) walk away after missing most of the season with injuries. Havlat will be expected to pick up much of the scoring load, but it's the up-tempo style of play Richards intends to use that has Twin Cities fans excited.

Blue Jackets -- Unlike previous seasons, there are expectations for success in central Ohio. That's what making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history can do for a team. Rick Nash, who signed an eight-year deal with the Jackets this summer, and second-year goaltender Steve Mason will be expected to carry much of the load for a team that has to show it's ready to take the next step in its development.

"I think you always go into opening night wondering if you've done enough to get ready," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You always wonder if your team is going to play the right way. For me right now, I think this is the most ready the team has been since I've run through training camp with them."

Who's Hot -- Havlat had four goals during the preseason, a good sign that he'll be able to produce the kind of offense expected of him. Center Derek Brassard, who looked like a Calder Trophy candidate last season before going down with a season-ending shoulder injury, had seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) in six games to share the lead in preseason scoring for Columbus along with youngster Jakub Voracek (3-4-7).

Injury Report -- Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard (concussion) is on injured reserve. Forward Owen Nolan has been bothered by a hand injury but is expected to play. Newly acquired defenseman Anton Strahlman finally got his working papers but won't be in the lineup for the Blue Jackets. Health-wise, the Jackets start the season in good shape.

Stat Pack -- The Wild have been one of the NHL's best on opening night, going 5-2-1 in its eight season-openers -- though they're 0-2-1 when opening on the road. They'll be going for a fifth consecutive season-opening win. Columbus has gone 3-3-2 on opening night, including 2-1-2 at Nationwide Arena.

Puck Drop -- The Jackets play four consecutive home openers. After starting the season at Nationwide Arena, they'll be the opposition as Vancouver, San Jose and Phoenix open their home schedules. "It's tough," Nash said. "Home openers are always exciting and obviously we're going to have a lot of juice for ours, but going into other buildings makes it tough." Don't expect much sympathy from the Wild, which plays its home opener on Tuesday and then heads West for five in a row.

--John Kreiser, NHL.com

 

 

 


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