There's a lot less hype entering tonight's Wild-Columbus Blue Jackets game than the last time these two teams met New Year's Eve.
Back that day, the Wild was riding a 12-game winning streak and the Blue Jackets a 14-game winning streak. The Jackets played great to extend theirs and end the Wild's.
Since, the Wild’s 18-5-2 and the Jackets are 13-11-2.
Tonight, still two very good, balanced, well-coached teams meet, but a lot less hype because the obvious storyline is gone.
The Wild, which has surpassed last season’s point total of 87 just 61 games into this season, improved to 19-6-5 on the road (tied for first with 43 points) and 15-1-1 in its past 17 road games with Tuesday’s 6-5 win at Winnipeg. Since Dec. 2, the Wild has points in 33 of 39 games (30-6-3).
Devan Dubnyk vs. Sergei Bobrovsky with Dubnyk coming off his first relief win in a Wild uniform. In Winnipeg, he stopped all seven shots he faced, including on two penalty kills, in 8:43 of action after replacing Darcy Kuemper following a fifth goal against.
The big news from Columbus: Ryan Suter is good to go after taking part in this morning skate's despite what looked like a serious lower-body injury in Winnipeg.
He didn't speak after the skate because he was in the back getting treatment from the training staff.
"Seeing him out there skating, he looks fine to me," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's old school, there's no doubt in my mind. He's tough. He's a tough farmer. That's probably why he's making $100 million."
On the Jackets' side, coach John Tortorella will debut Columbus' two new acqusitions: defenseman Kyle Quincey and forward Lauri Korpikoski.
Tortorella was happy with the trade deadline moves because he likes his team and his room right now, and didn't want that altered.
If you read my story on the Wild today here, Boudreau talked a lot to me about shoring up the Wild's defense yesterday and doing a lot these next five or six weeks via video because there will be such little practice time the rest of the season as coaches balance rest with work with so many games.
Both Minnesota and Columbus have 16 games in the month of March, and Tortorella concurred with Boudreau that rest will be much more important than getting on the ice because the "concept" should be down right now.
I talked to defenseman Marco Scandella, who's coming off a great game in Winnipeg. He said he wasn't worried about the trade deadline, but he said it'll be good for everybody in the room now to know the deadline is past and this is their team.
The defensive play has been so erratic the past few games, I could see Boudreau tinkering again with his forward lines tonight. We will see later, but I could see the Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal duo having a new right wing again. Maybe Charlie Coyle, maybe Chris Stewart, maybe Ryan White.
But doubtful on Jordan Schroeder.
I talked to Boudreau about the goal-scoring race of Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Niederreiter, who have a combined 61 goals. They've been pushing each other, and it has helped Zucker and Granlund to know they're with each other every single night.
The Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Granlund trio has combined for 49 goals, 73 assists and 122 points since Nov. 25 (not all those points obviously came with each other obviously, but that's what they've got since being assembled).
Niederreiter hasn't been as lucky. He has bounced around, and as much as Boudreau loves Niederreiter, he feels there are some nights where he's just not as involved as he should be. Niederreiter says it's valuable for himself to be able to play with everybody, but it would be nice to get consistent linemates.
I'd think he plays with Staal again tonight, but Boudreau said he may not be long before he tries Niederreiter with Martin Hanzal. That could be because he plans to put Zach Parise back with Staal once he returns from the mumps (maybe Saturday's practice).
The story on 16-22-64 and their goal-scoring battle will probably be in Saturday's paper, so please read that.
Speaking of Staal, funny thing: First period last game, he wasn't wearing an A on his sweater. He should have gotten that with Parise out.
Assistant equipment manager Rick Bronwell isn't on the bench during warmups, so he didn't realize he forgot to sew one one. He noticed his first shift in the first period.
Naturally, I noticed and tweeted a joke publicly that @rickbronwell must have forgotten his sewing machine or the extra A's. He received that on the bench during the first period on his Apple Watch.
He was thrilled. So, during the first intermission, Bronwell went over the Staal and asked if he minded if he could borrow his sweater.
"I didn't notice, but Stewy asked why I didn't have an 'A' on during the game," Staal said, laughing. "It's the first time I've ever been stripped of a letter and reinstated in the same game."
I'll be on KFAN at 4:55 p.m. CT. Talk tonight.