Hopes are high in the State of Hockey, where many of our other sports teams have put together less than stellar campaigns.
The Wild has had a week off since wrapping up a 3-3-1 preseason in which it won its first three before dropping the next four. Koivu led the Wild in preseason scoring with seven points (3-4=7) including two power play goals.
The Blue Jackets opened their season last night with a 3-2 loss at home to the Nashville Predators. Rick Nash and Vinny Prospal each posted a goal and an assist for Columbus, while newcomer Jeff Carter assisted on both goals. The Jackets nearly rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period but were stymied in the final minutes by Preds netminder, Pekka Rinne.
Tonight’s home opener will be sold out, but you can still secure a very limited number of tickets here.
Wild vs. Blue Jackets will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North at 7:00 PM. The game can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM or online at Wild.com.
Click here to receive Minnesota Wild broadcast alerts/game day previews each Wild Game day.
Amid all the fun and “funtivities” tonight, there will be a somber moment prior to the game when we pay tribute to fallen teammates, Derek Boogaard and Pavol Demitra. Fans are encouraged to download this image to their phones, and hold them up during the ceremony. Just text “tribute” to 83281 to receive the link to the “24/38” graphic to light up your phone.
Prior to the Wild’s two swaps with San Jose that brought Setoguchi and Heatley to Minnesota, it was Columbus that was involved in the biggest offseason trade when it acquired Carter. His arrival, along with Prospal, gives Nash his most talented supporting cast on the top unit.
The Blue Jackets’ top line will be the engine that powers this boat, but goaltender Steve Mason will have to be the plug that keeps it from sinking. In his Rookie of the Year campaign, Mason led the Blue Jackets to their first and only playoff appearance. Since then, he has struggled, and a return to the postseason will depend on his ability to display consistency.
If the Wild’s top line hasn’t yet hit its stride, it doesn’t seem to matter. Even when it looks like the trio is being shut down, they eventually find a way to strike, and significantly impact the game. Koivu, Heatley and Setoguchi all averaged better than a point per game in the preseason and all three scored at least two goals.
There’s a laundry list of storylines tonight, but we’ll talk about the one guy who insists tonight is not about him: Mr. Yeo. While it’s the players on the ice that get the job done, it’s Yeo who is charged with implementing his style which worked brilliantly last year in his first and only year as coach of the Houston Aeros. Throughout camp, Yeo has revealed himself as intense and demanding, yet open and relatable for the players.
Yeo is the youngest coach in the NHL, but the only number that will matter in April is the point total. Yeo is confident that throughout the process of building this team, those numbers will surprise people around the League.
Most prognosticators have the Wild missing the playoffs, and the reasoning tends to be a young defensive corps that does not include Brent Burns. However, the last two years have been filled with talk about how talented the Wild’s defensive pipeline is, and now appears to be the time to put that on display.
Marco Scandella appears to have the highest upside with his combination of size, skating and offensive ability. With the absence of Mike Lundin, Scandella is going to see a huge amount of ice time not only because of his ability, but because of his familiarity with Yeo and his system.
For months now, we’ve been envisioning what these lines will look like for tonight. Here’s how they’re expected to play out, although the fourth line could change based on which players Columbus dresses:
You may see less jumping up in the play by Wild defensemen this season, but you’re also like to see a more positional group that keeps the play in front of them:
Backstrom will start the opener for the fifth straight season. Josh Harding will once again serve as the backup, after missing the entirety of last season with a knee injury.
It appears that Justin Falk and Matt Kassian will be the scratches, although Kassian could get into the lineup if Yeo decides his lineup needs more toughness once he sees what Columbus is rolling out there.
Lundin (back) is the only expected regular that will start the season on injured reserve. Kassian (hand) is expected to be available. Harding (ankle) has also been cleared to play.
“People have to form opinions and make predictions right now. 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.”
-- Mike Yeo on how his team is not predicted to make the playoffs by many “experts”
Columbus’ newest assistant coach is Crystal native Todd Richards, who preceded Yeo as the Wild’s head coach.
The Wild has never lost an Xcel Energy Center opener, with nine wins and one tie in the previous 10 seasons.