Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Rostislav Klesla has been with the franchise since its inception nearly a decade ago and has endured several disappointing seasons.
A playoff appearance last year and a solid victory in the season opener have Klesla believing the team is moving closer to being a Stanley Cup contender.
The Blue Jackets try to open with back-to-back wins for the first time in franchise history Monday night when they visit the Vancouver Canucks, who are off to their worst start in eight years.
After missing the postseason each of its first seven seasons in the league, Columbus surprised many by finishing seventh in the Western Conference in 2008-09. The Blue Jackets were eliminated by Detroit in the first round of the playoffs, but the play of Calder Trophy-winning goaltender Steve Mason provides the team with a solid foundation for the future.
Mason made 32 saves in Saturday's 2-1 win over Minnesota while Klesla scored the game-winner with 10:10 left in the third period.
"It was a great victory for us to get things going," Klesla said.
Before the opener, the Blue Jackets announced a four-year, $11.9 million contract extension for Klesla, the only player who has been with the club from the beginning. He was Columbus' first draft pick, taken fourth overall in the 2000 draft, before the Blue Jackets had ever played a game.
"We've got a great team, with a lot of young talent and good guys," Klesla said. "I'm really looking forward to the upcoming years and to create a winning team and a championship team here."
Columbus' offense came out strong in the opener, firing 39 shots on Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom. The Blue Jackets are hoping it's a sign of things to come. Last season, they were tied for 21st in the league in shots on goal with an average of 28.9 and had 39 shots or more in just four games.
Rick Nash led the Blue Jackets' scoring attack last season with a single-season franchise record and career-high 79 points (40 goals, 39 assists). The four-time All-Star had three goals and five assists in four games against Vancouver last season with Columbus going 3-1-0.
Like the Blue Jackets, the Canucks (0-2-0) also have done a good job of creating scoring opportunities, but they couldn't find the back of the net in Saturday's 3-0 loss at Colorado.
Vancouver, tied with San Jose and Toronto for second in the league in shots with 77, had at least 11 shots in all three periods against the Avalanche, but was shut out for the fifth time since the start of last season.
"Right now we've got one line that's generating in my mind offensively and that's Henrik (Sedin's) line. They had great opportunities, lots of shots," coach Alain Vigneault told the Canucks' official Web site. "The other three lines right now aren't doing enough in my mind to be successful."
Vancouver, which lost 5-3 at Calgary in Thursday's season opener, is off to its worst start since dropping the first three games of the 2001-02 season.
The Canucks hope to get things turned around with their next three games at GM Place, where they won 13 of their final 15 regular-season games last season. Vancouver is 11-2-3 all-time at home against the Blue Jackets.