Zulgad: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi make excellent first impressions
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"It was a lot of fun," Heatley said.
It didn't last long.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan decided to place the two on different lines after those 20 games and the two were never reunited during their time in San Jose.
Two offseason trades, however, brought both players to the Minnesota Wild and new coach Mike Yeo quickly decided that the goal-scoring Healtey and the speedy Setoguchi would make perfect wingers for center Mikko Koivu on the top line.
On Friday night, Yeo unveiled that line for the first time this preseason in the Wild's third exhibition game and its opener at Xcel Energy Center.
The results provided evidence that McLellan might have made a mistake by breaking up Heatley and Setoguchi so quickly and, more importantly, it provided encouragement that the Wild might finally have a line that can provide offensive firepower.
Heatley, Koivu and Setoguchi accounted for three of the Wild's four goals in a 4-3 victory over Columbus, including the overtime game-winner at 1 minute, 22 seconds, in which Heatley scored his second of the night off a perfect assist from Koivu.
Koivu also set up a power-play goal by Heatley in the second period on which he fed the left winger in the circle to the right of Blue Jackets goalie Allen York.
Setoguchi had tied the score 3-3 only 31 seconds into the third period with Heatley and Koivu drawing the assists. The trio also helped to draw four penalties against the Blue Jackets.
Not a bad start.
"They looked OK and I thought that they got better as the game went on," Yeo said. "The best part for me is I know that they can still get better. I know that they will. That was their first game."
Yeo made it clear from the start of training camp that he felt Heatley, Koivu and Setoguchi would be a good combination and that he had every intention of keeping them together.
That is quite a difference from many coaches, including former Wild bench boss Jacques Lemaire, who embraced the opportunity to shuffle lines.
"I always like that," Heatley said of being on a set line. "I think it makes it easier to develop chemistry. No question about that. The more you play with a guy, the more you know what he's going to do. You know where he likes the puck, you know where you like the puck. It's fun. I think it's a great strategy."
Heatley, the former University of Wisconsin star, saw his goal production fall to 26 last season in 80 games after he had seasons of 39, 39, 41, 50 and 50 goals dating to the 2005-06 season when he was with Ottawa.
Setoguchi, meanwhile, had 22 goals in 72 games last season with San Jose. The Wild acquired him in a blockbuster trade on draft night in which defenseman Brent Burns was sent to the Sharks.
Healtey was obtained a few weeks later for winger Martin Havlat.
"We kind of bring a similar game, but we're in a different situation now where we can switch it up and play different ways," said Setoguchi, the eighth overall pick in the 2005 draft by the Sharks.
"I'm not always just going to be a shooter. I can make passes out there, too. I made a couple of plays tonight and so did Dany and Mikko was shooting the puck. So we were all making plays out of our comfort zone tonight and it was good."
Koivu, who serves as the Wild captain, has to be thrilled with the fact that he now has two wingers who can finish what he starts.
Friday's game was meaningless in the standings but it served notice as to why things can be different for the Wild. The team played a terrible second period, was outshot 15-7 and trailed 3-2.
This would have been a real problem for the Wild in the post-Marian Gaborik era in which rallying from deficits became a real issue. The Wild, remember, hasn't been to the playoffs in three seasons.
But the Heatley, Koivu, Setoguchi line calmly tied the score in the third period before winning it in overtime.
"I think if you want to go black and white, Mikko is a very easy center man to play with," Heatley said when asked about Koivu. "He can skate, he sees a lot, creates a lot of turnovers and Devin is a hound on the puck as well. He's going to beat a lot of guys in foot races and also has a great shot. I think I can fit in there a little bit all around with those two."
Give Heatley credit for the understatement of the night.
"I know one thing," Yeo said. "I was not a very good hockey player, but I would not want to have to defend those guys. I would not want to have to try to defend Mikko Koivu down low when he's protecting a puck and spinning off me. It's probably going to end up in a scoring chance."
That was certainly the case on Friday, and if the chemistry between these three continues to develop it should be the case well into the wintertime.