It’s finally here.
The Wild’s season starts today in Columbus, Ohio against a Blue Jackets team that they already have extensive experience with during the preseason.
The biggest storyline going into this game is Wild center Eric Belanger’s hit on Jackets winger Jason Chimera. Despite Belanger’s multiple apologies about the hit, Chimera has been much less than understanding and there is a good chance that the Jackets may be out for some retribution in this game.
Despite all of this, Belanger has been adamant about the fact that he will not fight, telling the Star Tribune’s Mike Russo that “he would not be fighting Chimera or anybody else and that if they want to take any stupid penalties on him, ‘be my guest.’”
The expected Wild lineup for tonight is as listed below:
For the Blue Jackets, it’s looking like this according to Russo a couple days ago:
Russo posted this morning, however, that Commodore is out with a tweaked groin, so that the team has called up Mathieu Roy in his place. Mason will start in net for the Jackets.
What to Watch For
The last game that the Wild’s full line up played in, the team started off slow, but skated off with a 5-4 shootout victory.
There’s going to be a much different atmosphere in Columbus tonight, but the Wild will need to get out of the gates early—something that they’ve had problems with in their history.
It will also be important for Todd Richards to manage the game from the bench.
While I have been critical of Richards’ coaching during the preseason, the fact remains that he knows how to win games and is extremely capable of doing so. He won’t have the last change tonight, but he will need to make decisions of the fly to try to negate the Jackets’ tough top two lines.
Look for the Jackets to come out physically as well, as they will likely be looking for some revenge for Belanger’s hit. That said, the Jackets will likely not take any stupid penalties as Ken Hitchcock always has a good handle on his team’s discipline.
Keys to the Game
The Wild will need to set the pace for this game if they want to be successful. The Jackets have a lot of offensive weapons that they can call upon and, if the Wild can set the pace, they can negate those at least a little.
In addition, the team will need to “just play hockey”, as Greg Zanon has said it. They need to forget about trying to do everything perfect in Richards’ system and just go out and play hockey like they are capable of.
The puck drops in Columbus at 6 PM CST tonight.