Wild's new top line flashes real potential

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 24, 2011 - 1:42 AM

Dany Heatley scored the winner, and he and Devin Setoguchi feasted on Mikko Koivu feeds.

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The summer blockbusters with San Jose that brought Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi to Minnesota feel like an eternity ago.

There have been weeks of photo ops and introductions, initial skates and first scrimmages.

But Friday night, after an offseason of hype, the long buildup was over and the Wild finally introduced its new snipers by attaching them to captain Mikko Koivu's sides.

It was one preseason game, yes, but for a franchise that's lacked go-to guys and a prototypical first line, the Wild's No. 1 line looked legit and downright lethal during a 4-3 overtime victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

In front of a startlingly half-empty arena, Heatley displayed the type of goal-scoring prowess he's long been known for and the Wild hopes it's getting by scoring two goals, including the winner 1 minute, 22 seconds into overtime when he redirected Koivu's pass from the goal mouth.

The line combined for eight points, with Koivu having three assists, Heatley three points and Setoguchi two points, including the tying goal 31 seconds into the third period.

"I was not a very good hockey player, but I would not want to have to try to defend those guys," coach Mike Yeo said.

In a game where the Wild (3-0 this preseason) often turned pucks over and was under attack because of it, the one line that was a constant threat was Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley. The highly skilled forwards made something happen nearly every time they hit the ice.

Koivu outmuscled Blue Jackets defenders down low and routinely stripped pucks off sticks. He and Setoguchi were so hard to defend, they combined to draw four power plays, while Heatley created a slew of turnovers.

"Seto and Mikko, they both have great speed, great sticks," Heatley said. "I thought we all did a good of getting on their D and getting sticks on pucks or forcing them into bad plays."

On one shorthanded rush, Koivu deked two players at the blue line. Heatley sprung behind the defense and received Koivu's pass for a breakaway. Goalie Allen York made the save, but the crowd was jacked.

One could sense it was just a matter of time before the line would strike, and finally with the Wild trailing 2-1 in the second, Koivu connected with Heatley for the tying power-play goal.

The Blue Jackets regained the lead, but Setoguchi, who was buzzing all night only to misfire at times, wasted no time tying it an instant into the third after Koivu and Heatley forced a turnover.

"Me, I guess, I'm just tagging along for the ride and just trying to do what I do -- skate, win loose puck battles, take the puck to the net and try to make some plays," said Setoguchi, who scored 31 goals for San Jose in 2008-09.

Sure, there were occasions of overpassing (three Koivu turnovers in the first), but that's natural for a line with three bona fide scoring threats who are still growing accustomed to each other.

"We know we have to produce. That's our job," Heatley said.

Yeo offered glimpses of other ways he will utilize Heatley and Setoguchi. Heatley played on the penalty kill unit, while Setoguchi played the point on the 5-on-3.

At even strength, Heatley and Setoguchi meshed well with Koivu's power game down low. Setoguchi brought the speed and tenacity that Heatley says will make "fans love him," and Heatley showed off the hands, smarts and instincts that have allowed him to score 325 goals (128 on the power play).

All three had a "north mentality" that Yeo says the Wild wants to get to as a team.

"I thought they got better as the game went on," Yeo said. "And the best part for me is I know they can still get better, and I know that they will."

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  • Dany Heatley (left), Devin Setoguchi (right)


    Up next: 2 p.m. today at Pittsburgh • TV: NHL Network (100.3-FM)

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