GAME DAY: vs. Minnesota
Second meeting this season between the two teams
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|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.