Niklas Backstrom is one of the hottest goaltenders in the NHL, having gone 3-1-0 in his last four starts with a goals against average of 1.00 and a save percentage of .967. But tonight, he gives way to Jose Theodore, who will make just his second start of the season.
The Wild capped a five-game homestand last night with a hard fought 2-1 triumph over the Calgary Flames. Martin Havlat picked up his first goal of the season in the third period, which held as the game-winner. Cal Clutterbuck also notched a goal in the first period. Backstrom stopped all but one of the 34 Flame shots he faced.
The Blue Jackets defense and goaltending has been just as stingy as the Wild in the past week. Columbus and goaltender Mathieu Garon are coming off a second straight shutout after blanking the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday, 3-0. Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek and R.J. Umberger provided all of the needed offense for Garon, who stopped all 25 shots.
Wild at Blue Jackets will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North at 6:00 PM. The game can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com.
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The Blue Jackets were picked by Yahoo.com's Puck Daddy as having the best goal celebration in the Western Conference. Every Columbus goal is followed by the firing of a massive Civil War cannon at one end of the rink. That leads into "For Those About To Rock" by AC/DC. The only problem is, Theodore is going to silence that cannon for a good 60 minutes tonight.
Like the Wild, the Blue Jackets struggled to get back on track following a season opening trip to Europe. Like the Wild, the Jacks have improved their team defense and benefitted from superb goaltending to get hot and spring into the top eight in the Western Conference. Columbus has won seven of its last nine, and that stretch started with a win over the Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Oct. 16.
Garon has started only four of the 12 games this season, but he's won all four and is in position to wrestle the starting job away from Steve Mason. His goals against is a miniscule 0.89.
Clutterbuck scored a big tying goal last night, but he might have been more psyched about his game-high eight hits, including an absolute destruction of Cory Sarich in the neutral zone. The NHL's leader in hits in each of the past two seasons has now regained his top spot after last night's effort with 54 this season.
With several key offensive players still missing, the Wild is going to have to figure out a way to beat Garon. He shut out both the Thrashers and the Montreal Canadiens on the road. Now, he and the Jackets are home where the Wild has won just four times in 17 opportunities.
Havlat's big effort last night was a welcome sight, and Head Coach Todd Richards stressed that guys like Havlat will need to contribute for the team to have continued success this season. But other players are going to have to contribute as well. Casey Wellman, who was recalled from Houston last week, appears to be poised to do that. Wellman saw third line minutes last night, and was very noticeable. He also got power play time and generated several scoring chances.
The line combinations will start out similar to last night, but adjustments can always be made:
Marek Zidlicky was visibly laboring last night, but he fought through his lower body injury and played nearly 22 minutes. It remains to be seen if he can go again tonight. If not, Clayton Stoner will take his place:
Theodore gets his second start. His only other game came in a 5-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on October 22.
If Zidlicky is able to go, Stoner will be the only healthy scratch.
"It's not always pretty, but the big positive is we're finding ways to win games, and that's the bottom line in this league. When you wake up tomorrow or a week from now, a month from now, this game isn't going to matter or the game against San Jose that we got outshot 36[-16], it's not going to matter.
"It's a win in the win column."
-- Todd Richards on his team's ability to find ways to win games.
C Kyle Wilson was a ninth round pick of the Wild in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Injured C Andy Murray was a four-year standout at Bemidji State.
Last night, Matt Cullen became the ninth Minnesota native in NHL history to reach 300 assists with his helper on the game-winner.