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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Saturday, October 3rd (All times eastern)

Minnesota Wild (0-0-0) at Columbus Blue Jackets (0-0-0), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - Fresh off their first postseason appearance in franchise history, the Columbus Blue Jackets kick off their 2009-10 season with a home test against the Minnesota Wild at Nationwide Arena.

Columbus set club highs last year with 41 wins and 92 points, but was unable to earn its first playoff victory after getting swept out of the first round by Detroit.

The Blue Jackets took major steps to ensuring their long-term success, as they signed Rick Nash to an eight-year contract extension this offseason, keeping him in the mix through 2017-18.

Nash had 40 goals and 39 assists last year and wasn't the only Blue Jacket to get a new deal, as both Derick Brassard and Antoine Vermette inked long-term contracts. Vermette had seven goals and six assists in 17 games after coming over in a trade with Ottawa.

Columbus also looks strong in goal to begin the season, as reigning Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason returns for his sophomore campaign. Mason led the NHL with 10 shutouts a year ago to go along with a 33-20-7 mark and 2.29 goals against average. He went 1-1-1 with a 2.94 ERA in three starts versus the Wild last year.

Mason won't be the only youngster on the ice for the Blue Jackets, as 21-year- old Jakub Voracek (9 goals, 29 assists) skated in 80 games last year, while 19-year-old and 2008 sixth overall pick Nikita Filatov opens on Columbus' roster after skating in eight games a year ago. He had four goals, including his first-career hat trick.

Center Samuel Pahlsson joins them after the veteran signed a three-year deal in the offseason, while Jan Hejda, Mike Commodore, Rostislav Klesla, Fedor Tyutin and Kris Russell all return as the core blueliners.

Forward Fredrik Modin will open the season on injured reserve due to a sprained MCL that is expected to sideline him for four-to-six weeks. Winger Jason Chimera, meanwhile, could play tonight despite leaving a September 19 preseason game versus the Wild on a stretcher after getting hit from behind into the boards by Minnesota center Eric Belanger. He suffered a concussion on the hit, but practiced on Tuesday.

The Wild open the season with a new coach and general manager for the first time since they joined the league in 2000-01. Out as coach is Jacques Lemaire, replaced by Todd Richards, while Chuck Fletcher absorbs the GM spot from Doug Risebrough.

Minnesota, seeking to win its fourth straight home opener, missed the postseason last year and then saw star winger Marian Gaborik depart via free agency.

The Wild replaced him with another oft-injured forward, inking Martin Havlat to a six-year deal after he scored 29 goals and 48 assists in a career-high 81 games last year. He had averaged just 36 games per season the previous three campaigns.

Havlat joins Mikko Koivu (20g, 47a) and Andrew Brunette (22g, 28a) as the offensive threats, while Petr Sykora joined the club just a few weeks before the start of the season after playing with Pittsburgh last year.

Minnesota also added Greg Zanon and Shane Hnidy to a blueline that features Brent Burns, Marek Zidlicky and Kim Johnsson.

Niklas Backstrom played in a career-high 71 games last year, going 37-24-8 with a 2.33 GAA. He has done well in his career versus the Blue Jackets, going 5-1-0 with a 2.03 GAA in seven starts.

Minnesota won three of four from Columbus last year and have taken six of the last eight meetings. It has won three of the last four at Nationwide Arena.

10/03 11:08:30 ET


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