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Updated: October 8th, 2011 9:39pm
New top line helps lead Wild to victory over Blue Jackets in opener

New top line helps lead Wild to victory over Blue Jackets in opener

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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ST. PAUL -- Big things are expected from Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi this season. The trio did not disappoint in their first regular-season game together.

The Minnesota Wild's top line accounted for two goals and four points, leading the team to a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in their opener Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center. Heatley and Setoguchi were acquired from San Jose this offseason in separate trades.

The game was Mike Yeo's first behind the Wild bench and came with former Wild coach Todd Richards on the visitor's bench. Richards is an assistant with the Blue Jackets.

Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom made 29 saves in the victory. The Blue Jackets ended up outshooting the Wild, thanks to a 12-3 advantage in the third period when Columbus had to press the issue offensively.

"We played well, played really well and got a great win," Yeo said. "Guys really battled and laid it on the line, but I still believe we can get better. There were moments in that game where we started to get away from our game.

"There were moments in that game where we kind of let them take the play to us and we were playing it a little bit safe. But overall, for where we're at right in the season, you have to be definitely impressed with the guys. Their focus and preparation to go out and play that game the right way."

The skinny

Second-line center Matt Cullen opened the scoring for the Wild only 1 minute, 10 seconds into the season when he got behind the Blue Jackets' Samuel Pahlsson, took a feed from winger Pierre-Marc Bouchard from just inside the Columbus blue line and slipped the puck past goalie Steve Mason.

Defenseman Marco Scandella put the Wild up 2-0 at 16:20 of the first on the power play, making the type of play the Wild is going to need with Brent Burns now in San Jose.

Fellow defenseman Jared Spurgeon brought the puck down the right wing side before dishing it off to Scandella who was moving in on Mason. Scandella never broke stride and beat Mason between the legs for his first career goal.

"We have a system on our power play where we finish our routes," Scandella said. "The one defenseman comes through the middle, we have to have options in the corner to retrieve the puck and it just gives us a better chance to get the puck. (Spurgeon) made a great play, he saw that the defense had (left a) gap and I just kept flying through and finished my route."

"That's what he can do," Yeo said of Scandella. "And that's why he's such an intriguing player for us. Looking at him into training camp, we were watching him closely to see what he was going to do and how he was going to perform because he brings that. He brings the ability to execute with the puck, the ability to make plays ... yet he's a guy that defensively is a guy that you can count on."

Although they did not score in the first period, the combination of Koivu between wingers Heatley and Setoguchi created all types of havoc and combined for six shots, including four by Koivu.

What might have been Koivu's best opportunity never got on goal. The Wild was shorthanded just over 4 minutes into the first when Koivu and Heatley moved in with only Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin back.

Koivu passed the puck to Heatley who ripped a shot on goal. Mason left a big rebound but Koivu couldn't get a handle on it.

The scoring drought for the Heatley-Koivu-Setoguchi line didn't last long.

Heatley got his first goal at 10:40 of the second as he directed Bouchard's pass on the power play from the right wing side past Mason for the goal. Heatley and Koivu were both standing in the slot and Heatley simply got his stick on the puck first.

The announcement of Heatley's goal resulted in perhaps the loudest cheers of the night from the announced crowd of 19,040.

"I think the chemistry is there," Heatley said when asked about the potential of his line. "There's little things that you just get from playing with a guy for so long and that will come. I think for a new line, I think the chemistry is very good.

"Mikko is a very easy centerman to play with. He's always supporting the puck, making plays and the key for us (is) getting chances. We're not always going to score, but as long as we're getting those chances eventually they are going to go in for us."

Said Yeo: "To me the biggest thing (with that top line) is they played winning hockey and, yes, they score goals and they contribute on the scoresheet but that's not going to happen every night. What we need is for them every night to go out and play the way that they did tonight.

"Making sure you're playing the right way without the puck and the way they played with the puck, they were not high risk. They were playing the system well, they were getting to the offensive zone, they were getting zone time and because of that it just makes them a real tough line to play against. If they can continue to do that, then the results are going to be there. These guys are dynamic players." 

The Blue Jackets cut the Wild lead to two goals at 17:53 of the second when Derek Dorsett jabbed in the rebound of an Aaron Johnson shot while tangled up in traffic in front of Backstrom.

Backstrom stopped the first 16 shots he saw, including a nice pad save on RJ Umberger from in front.

His best save came early in the third period when he robbed Blue Jackets center Derick Brassard by sliding across the goal mouth to make a save with his left pad with the Wild shorthanded.

Setoguchi got involved in the scoring at 18:51 of the middle period when Heatley set him up with a perfect pass. Setoguchi, working from the circle to the right of Mason, blasted a rocket past the goalie.

Asked if the goal or assist was more satisfying, Heatley did not hesitate. "I think the goal," he said. "(Bouchard) made a great little play there."

Turning point

Cullen's goal set the tone early on and made it clear that while the first line might be the marquee attraction the rest of the roster was going to contribute.

The Blue Jackets kept the shots close in the first period - the Wild had a 9-7 advantage - but the Wild controlled the play and the pace of the game throughout the first.

Numbers game

24 and 38: The numbers of former Wild players Pavol Demitra and Derek Boogaard, who died during the offseason. Both numbers are displayed on the boards in front of the Wild bench with their names above them and the word "teammates" between them. Demitra was among the players killed in the crash of a Russian jetliner in September. Boogaard died from an accidental overdose of the drug oxycodone mixed with alcohol.

1:10: Time of Cullen's goal in the first period, making it the fastest goal to open a season by a Wild player in franchise history. The old mark was held by Marc Chouinard, who scored 1:43 into the Wild's opener on Oct. 5, 2005 against Calgary.

1: Career goals by Scandella, who got his first on Saturday night in his 21st career game.

9-1-1: Wild's record all-time in home openers.

6-4-1: Wild's all-time record in season openers.

12: Shots for the Heatley, Koivu, Setoguchi line. Koivu and Heatley had five apiece.

19,040: Saturday's announced attendance at Xcel Energy Center. It's the second highest home opening attendance ever for the Wild. The highest - also the team record for a regular-season game - came in 2005 against Calgary, the first game back after the NHL lockout.

Summary

First period

Wild - Matt Cullen 1 (Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse), 1:10

Wild - Marco Scandella 1 (Jared Spurgeon, Niklas Backstrom), 16:20, power play

Second period

Wild - Dany Heatley 1 (Bouchard, Marek Zidlicky), 10:40, pp

Columbus - Derek Dorsett 1 (Aaron Johnson, Jeff Carter), 17:53

Wild - Devin Setoguchi 1 (Heatley, Koivu), 18:51

Third period

Columbus - Maksim Mayorov 1 (Grant Clitsome, Matt Calvert), 16:38

Shots: Columbus 7-12-12-31; Wild 9-14-3-26. Saves: Columbus, Steve Mason (23 shots, 19 saves), Curtis Sanford (third period, 3-3); Wild, Niklas Backstrom (31-29). Power plays: Columbus 0-6, Wild 2-4.

Three stars

1. Niklas Backstrom

2. Dany Heatley

3. Matt Cullen

Coming up

After opening at home, the Wild will play their next two games on road, visiting the New York Islanders at noon on Monday (Columbus Day) and then facing the Ottawa Senators at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The Wild lost their only games against the Islanders and Ottawa last season.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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