Perhaps the best tonic for the Blue Jackets is getting right back on the pond tonight.
Last night’s 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on opening night at Nationwide Arena was undoubtedly disappointing, but sometimes the beauty of playing an 82-game marathon is having the chance to redeem 24 hours later.
Much like Nashville spoiled a raucous party inside Nationwide, the Blue Jackets (0-1-0) have their eyes on being the bad guys on Minnesota’s opening night festivities tonight at Xcel Energy Center. First-year Wild coach Mike Yeo will have his club ready to go - and like Columbus last night – will unveil a brand-new top line of Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi.
Koivu, the Wild captain, welcomed his two newest line mates over the summer as Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher made two blockbuster trades with the San Jose Sharks. Fletcher sent star defenseman Brent Burns to the Bay Area in a deal involving Setoguchi, and a few weeks later, swapped top-line forwards in the Heatley-for-Martin Havlat trade.
There’s optimism in the Twin Cities for this year’s edition of the Wild, but the Blue Jackets will be focused on their game and playing a similar style as they did last night when they peppered Pekka Rinne for 34 shots on goal.
It is expected that Niklas Backstrom will start in goal for the Wild.
WRITTEN IN THE STARS
You probably could not have drawn up a better start for Columbus’ new top line of Jeff Carter, Rick Nash and Vinny Prospal. The trio combined for six points (two goals, four assists) and forced the Predators to re-assemble their match-ups every time they hopped over the bench.
The game plan from the outset was clear: get pucks to the net and let their skill take over. If the Blue Jackets forwards are able to generate second and third chances to score, the amount of talent on the ice will light the lamp on a consistent basis.
“I think we did get a lot of second opportunities (last night),” Nash told BlueJackets.com. “We did drive the net and score two goals.
“Against All-Star goalies you have to make sure you get to the net and get second shots.”
SCOUTING THE WILD
Since he was hired this summer, Yeo has made it no secret that his Wild team is going to play an up-tempo, attacking style of game similar to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Yeo was an assistant for the Penguins before moving on to coach Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Houston.
Aside from the aforementioned top line, the Wild boast skilled forwards such as Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse. They owned one of the best power plays in the NHL a year ago, and even without Burns on the blue line, Minnesota has enough skill to grab the attention of the opposition.
The guy to watch for is Bouchard; he might have one of the most intelligent skill-sets in the league and is always a dangerous player with the puck. He appears to have put concussion issues from the past few years to rest, and the Wild want him to be a regular contributor.
“There’s always a good atmosphere (on opening night),” Bouchard told Wild.com earlier this week.
“It’s the start of the season, you want to start on a good note…(tonight) is going to be special.”
-Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel has some extra players if he so chooses for tonight’s game. Defenseman Aaron Johnson and forward Maksim Mayorov were the two healthy scratches for Columbus last night.
-Carter won a franchise-record 24 face-offs last night against the Predators, giving his line ample time to establish possession and scoring chances. If he’s as dominant in the circle against the Wild, opportunities will be aplenty.
Season Series: First of four meetings this season between Western Conference opponents. Columbus took three of four matchups on the 2010-11 schedule, including the final two in overtime and both games played at Xcel Energy Center. The Blue Jackets were led by captain Rick Nash with 4 goals and 7 points, while Cal Clutterbuck had 4 goals for the Wild and captain Mikko Koivu finished with 1 goal and 5 points.
Big Story: Fresh faces abound on both sides, as both Columbus and Minnesota look to crack the top eight in the West and end their respective playoff droughts. Jeff Carter and Vinny Prospal were among the newcomers debuting for the Blue Jackets on Friday night against the Predators, while the Wild's home opener will see Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi play their first regular-season games in their new jerseys.
Blue Jackets: The home opener didn't go as planned for Columbus, but maybe that's not surprising given the opponent. The Blue Jackets fell 3-2 to the Predators on Friday at Nationwide Arena, despite a goal and an assist each from Prospal and Nash, and two assists from Carter. Nashville improved to 44-14-5 in the all-time series between the teams, including 11-5-2 in Columbus since the start of the 2006-07 season.
"Pekka Rinne was solid for 60 minutes," coach Scott Arniel said of the Nashville goalie and past Vezina nominee, who made 32 saves. "We were throwing lots of rubber at him, and at the very end there we had some great chances. Both of our goals were guys plowing into the crease area and getting second and third whacks.
"I thought we played hard, but couldn't find that third one."
Wild: The on-ice product won't be the only thing that looks different for Minnesota. After not making the playoffs in their final season under Jacques Lemaire and then back-to-back seasons with Todd Richards behind the bench, the Wild changed coaches again during the offseason and named 38-year-old Mike Yeo as their man. Yeo led the AHL's Houston Aeros to the Western Conference title last season. The Wild gave up a pair of talented players in Martin Havlat and Brent Burns in order to acquire Heatley and Setoguchi, but hope the new scoring talent combined with a strong season from Niklas Backstrom in net can change the franchise's recent fortunes.
"People have to form opinions and make predictions right now," Yeo told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "But the real story is what happens at the end of the year, and as far as I'm concerned, we're the ones that get to write that story."
Who's Hot: The Blue Jackets' top line was stellar Friday, and though Carter didn't light the lamp he finished with six shots and won over 77 percent of his faceoffs. … The Wild's new Koivu-Heatley-Setoguchi trio combined for 7 goals and 12 assists in the four preseason games they played together. Koivu scored goals in three consecutive games.
Injury Report: Columbus has forwards Kristian Huselius (pectoral surgery) and Jared Boll (broken thumb) and backup goalie Mark Dekanich (ankle) on injured reserve. … Minnesota backup goalie Josh Harding, who missed all of last season with ACL and MCL tears, tweaked his ankle during the preseason but is expected to dress. Defenseman Mike Lundin (back spasms) and forwards Matt Kassian (broken finger) and Cody Almond (back) are on injured reserve. Also, forward Brad Staubitz is serving a three-game suspension for an illegal check in a preseason game.
Stat Pack: Nash recorded the 124th multi-point game of his career in the Blue Jackets' opener. … Heatley only turned 30 in January, but he's already been a 50-goal scorer twice in his career. However, his 26 goals for the Sharks last season were his fewest in a full season since his rookie year and the Wild need his production to pick back up.
Puck Drop: Fourth-year Columbus goalie Steve Mason played well in defeat Friday, making 31 saves. It's likely he'll be back in net Saturday, with Dekanich on the shelf and the team looking to rebound and pick up its first win of the season.