Blue Jackets on rebound as they travel to Minnesota to face Wild
By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
STATS Senior Writer
The Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets are both languishing near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, but it's the Wild who are clearly on the upswing.
The Wild will try to continue their home dominance of the reeling Blue Jackets on Tuesday night while Columbus seeks to end a six-game road losing streak.
Only St. Louis and Anaheim are behind Columbus (14-13-6) and Minnesota (15-14-3) in the West. While the Blue Jackets are floundering after a hot start in which they won five of six, Minnesota seems to have recovered from losing six of seven to start 2009-10.
The Wild won three of five on a road trip that ended with a 4-3 loss at Vancouver on Saturday. Backup Josh Harding got his second start on the trip and made 25 saves in the loss.
"We played really good and I thought I could have played better," Harding said.
The Wild are 9-1-1 in their last 11 home games against the Blue Jackets, winning twice by one goal last season. Columbus won the last meeting 2-1 at home Oct. 3 in the season opener for both teams.
Minnesota's Martin Havlat completed his strong trip with a goal and two assists Saturday. He scored twice and added five assists in the five games after entering the road swing with nine points in his first 21 games.
Havlat lamented a slow start Saturday in which Minnesota gave up three goals in the first period.
"We didn't start the way we wanted to but we were still in the game," Havlat said. "After the first, I think we were playing much better. At the end, I don't think we had enough power after playing last night but that's no excuse."
Wild right wing Owen Nolan will likely miss a second straight game after injuring a leg in Calgary on Friday night. Forwards Andrew Ebbett, Petr Sykora and Pierre-Marc Bouchard and defenseman Brent Burns are all out with concussions.
Niklas Backstrom is expected to get the start Tuesday after going 6-1-1 with a 2.07 goals-against average in his last eight games. Backstrom is 5-2-0 with a 2.03 GAA in eight career starts against the Blue Jackets.
Columbus is 0-3-3 on the road since winning at Dallas on Nov. 19. The Blue Jackets have lost 11 of 13 overall after falling 5-3 at home to Nashville on Monday.
Early in the second period, the Blue Jackets had a two-man advantage for 1:13 but were unable to register a shot on goal.
"We were slow with the puck and it's been like that for a while," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We made a lot of puck errors in our own end. Today was a microcosm of the season, to be honest with you. We create enough chances to score every night (but) it doesn't matter unless you are good from the red line back."
R.J. Umberger and Jakub Voracek each had a goal and an assist for Columbus.
"It's hard when you go through things like this," said Umberger, who snapped his five-game goal drought. "Every loose puck, every turnover, every battle you don't win ends up in your net."