The Minnesota Wild have taken full advantage of their comfortable schedule to begin the season.
Off to the best start in franchise history, the Wild look to remain undefeated Saturday when they conclude a five-game homestand with a matchup against a Columbus Blue Jackets team that is also playing well early in the season.
The NHL gave Minnesota five games at the Xcel Energy Center to open the season and the team has used the home-ice advantage in the first four. The Wild (4-0-0) began the year with a 3-2 overtime victory over Colorado and have won their past two games in a shootout.
“We’re looking for perfection, and I know it’s hard to get, but we want to be as close as possible,” Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said.
All of Minnesota’s victories this season have come by one goal and the Wild have won their last six shootouts, but Lemaire said they must get tougher defensively.
“We’re happy as a coaching staff, but also worried,” he said. “We want to be steadier. But we’re facing some teams that are pretty good. We have to get tougher to play against. We have to play a tight game.”
With only one playoff trip in the franchise’s first five seasons, the Wild vowed to upgrade the roster and bring in more talent.
New acquisitions Pavol Demitra and Kim Johnsson have given Minnesota exactly what it was looking for. Demitra—who has scored at least 20 goals in eight straight seasons—has six points in the first four games, while Johnsson had two power-play goals in Thursday’s 3-2 shootout win over Washington.
Johnsson nearly had his first career hat trick, clanging a shot off the post in the second period.
“Sure, you think about it,” said Johnsson, who spent the past four seasons with Philadelphia. “But on the one shot, I hit the post and I had a couple other chances. But we won the game and that is what counts. Hopefully we can keep it going for Saturday.”
The Wild, who begin a three-game road trip after this contest, will be without left wing Pascal Dupuis for the next four to six weeks because of a sprained left knee suffered against the Capitals. Dupuis, in his fifth year with Minnesota, had 10 goals and 16 assists in 67 games last season.
The Blue Jackets (2-0-1) have won consecutive games since a 3-2 overtime loss to Vancouver in the season opener. The fast start is the reverse of last season, when a 5-18-0 beginning doomed any chance Columbus had of making the playoffs.
The Blue Jackets had three wins in their first four games in 2003-04 before losing seven in a row, but this year’s squad seems to have the offensive attack to avoid a similar fate.
Columbus has scored 10 goals in wins over Chicago and Phoenix, and has eight power-play goals in three games to match the total it had in 12 October contests last season.
“There are a lot of guys getting pucks to the net and scoring goals,” Columbus coach Gerard Gallant said. “I just think they are confident. The power play is about outworking the penalty kill and I think they are doing a good job on that.”
The return of 21-year-old Nikolai Zherdev to the lineup will only help the offense. After skipping training camp because of a contract dispute and missing the first two games because of visa problems, Zherdev arrived from Russia on Sunday and scored two goals Monday in the Blue Jackets’ 5-1 win over the Coyotes.
“First of all, I’m happy the team won,” said Zherdev, who had 27 goals last season. “It was nice to score two goals, but it is more important that the team won.”
Columbus won three of four meetings with Minnesota last season and has won nine of the past 13 overall.