Columbus (20-24-9) at Minnesota (24-23-4)

Cloudy Currently: St. Paul, MN
Temp: 32° F
  • Game info: 9:00 pm EST Sat Jan 23, 2010
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Poor starts have plagued the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets recently. Hosting the last-place Blue Jackets could help the Wild solve their defensive shortcomings.

Minnesota looks to snap a four-game slide Saturday night by continuing their home dominance of Columbus.

The Wild (24-23-4) have followed a four-game winning streak by losing four in a row, including 4-3 in a shootout to Detroit on Thursday. They have given up the opening goal in the first period in each of the last three games, and have been outshot 51-16 over the first 20 minutes during the skid.

“I wish I had the answer because if I had the answer it would be corrected,” first-year coach Todd Richards said.

The Wild may have an ideal chance to correct that problem against the Blue Jackets (20-24-9). Minnesota is 13-3-1 all-time at home against Columbus, taking the last three matchups by one-goal margins. Marek Zidlicky(notes) extended that streak by scoring with 39 seconds left in regulation of a 2-1 victory Dec. 15.

Minnesota opened its season Oct. 3 with a 2-1 loss in Columbus, but has won six of the last eight overall.

Mikko Koivu(notes) leads Minnesota with 31 assists and 45 points, and comes in looking for a point in his fifth straight game against Columbus. Koivu has a short-handed goal and five assists during that streak.

Koivu and the Wild could capitalize on the Blue Jackets’ struggles out of the gate.

Columbus, which has won three of 19 on the road, has given up the first goal no later than 2:29 in each of their last six games overall, losing four.

“It’s not an aberration,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “It’s the same mistakes being made in the same area. It’s the gray-zone turnovers. It’s an awareness issue and an intensity issue inside our own blue line. Everyone one of them is exactly the same.

“It’s being addressed and we’ll maybe have to look at the personnel we put out early in games because it just seems to be the same mistake being made. It’s always inside our blue line that creates a turnover that creates an odd-man rush that ends up in the net.”

The Blue Jackets fell behind 2:11 into Thursday’s contest with Boston, but rallied for a 3-2 win as R.J. Umberger(notes) scored a power-play goal with 1:16 remaining.

Umberger has three goals in the last two games after getting four in the previous 18. The center netted a pair in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss at Philadelphia, where he spent three seasons before signing with Columbus in 2008.

His 18 goals are second on the team to Rick Nash’s(notes) 23, but Umberger has tallied a team-high 12 on the road with two game-winners.

He’s failed to get a point in four games at Minnesota, but scored short-handed against the Wild in October.

Steve Mason(notes) should get a second consecutive start after making 32 saves against the Bruins—a vast improvement from losing his previous two starts while posting a 7.69 goals-against average. Mason is 0-1-1 with a 1.93 GAA in two starts in St. Paul.

The Wild will likely have Niklas Backstrom(notes) in goal after backup Josh Harding(notes) left Thursday after the first period due to a lower-body injury. Backstrom stopped 16 of 18 shots the rest of the way before giving up three goals in the shootout.

He’s allowed three goals or more in eight of his last 10 starts, but is 4-1-0 with a 1.97 GAA in five meetings with Columbus at Xcel Energy Center.

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Saturday, Jan 23