ST. PAUL, Minn. – Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Mike Yeo sure enjoyed their first game with the Minnesota Wild.
The fans had a good time, too. This team has a much higher entertainment potential than they’ve seen in years.
Heatley didn’t take long to make an impact in Minnesota, giving his new team a power-play goal and an assist in a 4-2 season-opening victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night.
“Everyone’s talking about our system. We’ve done a good of trying to play that way, quickly,” Heatley said. “I think it makes our team looks faster. The ‘D’ are moving the puck well. Guys are in position.”
Heatley, acquired in a summer trade with San Jose, gave the Wild a 3-0 lead when he one-timed a pass threaded into slot traffic by Pierre-Marc Bouchard midway through the second period, drawing the loudest cheer of the night from the sellout crowd of 19,040.
After a defensive lapse later in that frame, when Derek Dorsett beat him to the crease and found Aaron Johnson’s rebound to knock in the puck for the first score for the Blue Jackets, Heatley responded less than a minute later. He zipped a perfect cross-ice pass to Devin Setoguchi, another key acquisition from the Sharks, for a textbook two-on-one goal and a 4-1 Wild lead.
Like Jeff Carter’s arrival with Vinny Prospal to join Rick Nash on the first line in Columbus, Heatley has given Minnesota its best first line in franchise history, with Setoguchi and captain Mikko Koivu.
Yeo was just as pleased by the way they played defence and away from the puck.
“If they can continue to do that, then the results are going to be there. Those guys are dynamic players,” he said.
Even the coach let his guard down after a satisfying first night on the ice. Walking into the interview room with a serious look, Yeo flashed a smile as he approached the podium.
“I was going to try to play it cool, but it feels pretty good,” Yeo said.
Fast-paced and aggressive is the way Yeo wants the Wild to play, and they spent a lot of time in the opposing zone, controlling most of the first two periods and prompting the Blue Jackets to pull goalie Steve Mason at the second intermission for Curtis Sanford.
“It was a little sloppy at times, but we’re going to get better and better,” Setoguchi said. “That’s just a given. But it’s a good start. It’s a good building block for us.”
Defenceman Marco Scandella scored his first career goal on a power play in the first period after Matt Cullen put the Wild on the board just 70 seconds into their season on an assist by Bouchard.
Mason and the Blue Jackets were beaten at home in their opener the night before, 3-2 to the Nashville Predators. The Calder Trophy winner for the league’s top rookie just a few years ago, Mason has struggled the last two seasons. He made 19 saves in this game.
“We kind of hung Mason out to dry early, and when you’re playing against good teams and you give them a lead like that, especially in their barn, it’s tough to come back,” said centre Derek MacKenzie.
Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom made 29 saves, letting in a late rebound goal by Maksim Mayorov, but the Blue Jackets misfired often on their best scoring chances. R.J. Umberger’s backhander on an open net in the second period hit the post.
When Backstrom played volleyball with a rebound that fluttered in front of the goal mouth, Nash charged forward but was unable to make contact with the puck before Backstrom gloved it for good.
Mayorov and Antoine Vermette had a two-on-one in the third period that Vermette blew by sending his shot sailing over the net. The Blue Jackets played hard until the end, holding a 12-3 shots advantage in the final frame, but they couldn’t come closer than two goals.
“We definitely weren’t good enough,” Nash said. “We dug a hole and that four-minute power play was our shot to get out of it.”
The Blue Jackets went 0 for 6 on the power play, including a four-minute advantage after Bouchard’s double minor penalty for high sticking. They’ve failed to score on their last 40 power-play chances against the Wild.
“We were as flat as flat can be,” coach Scott Arniel said.
The Blue Jackets had won four of their last five games against the Wild, the expansion team that joined the league with them 11 years ago, but the Wild are 15-4-2 against them at home in their brief history.
The Blue Jackets, who’ve made the playoffs only once, compared to a mere three for the Wild, weren’t ready to kill the buzz that Carter, Wisniewski and Prospal brought this summer. But two losses in two nights was not the start they were looking for.
“I don’t see any reason to panic or anything,” Mason said, adding: “We had a great pre-season, and we just need to stick to what we’ve doing.”
NOTES: Blue Jackets LW Matt Calvert left the ice with a bloody mouth after Bouchard’s high stick caught him there after a faceoff. Calvert lost teeth and needed stitches on his lip but returned and got an assist in the third period. Arniel was livid Bouchard wasn’t called for a major, alleging Bouchard took a “baseball swing” at Calvert’s face. “It’s definitely an intent to injure,” Arniel said. “They said it was deflected off our guy’s stick and into his face. Our whole bench saw it. Their whole bench saw it.” … Cullen’s was the quickest first goal of the season in team history. The previous record was set by Marc Chouinard, who scored in 103 seconds. … Carter has three assists in two games.