WILD: With Koivu likely out until all-star break, Minnesota in big hurt
ST. PAUL With Mikko Koivu sidelined, the Minnesota Wild could be in big trouble. Koivu, Minnesota's do-everything center who last week was named to the all-star team, likely will not be back before the NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 29 because of an u...
With Mikko Koivu sidelined, the Minnesota Wild could be in big trouble.
Koivu, Minnesota's do-everything center who last week was named to the all-star team, likely will not be back before the NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 29 because of an upper-body injury, according to coach Mike Yeo.
It's a major loss: Koivu missed four games earlier this season because of a groin injury, and the Wild lost them all.
He missed 11 games late in the 2010-11 season with a broken finger, and the Wild lost seven of those, two by shootout.
"He's not only the most valuable player to that team," former NHL executive Lou Nanne said, "Mikko would be one of the most valuable players to any team around the league."
Already missing top forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse because of concussions, Yeo knows Minnesota will have an uphill battle in games tonight in Philadelphia, Thursday in Toronto, Saturday at home against Dallas and next Tuesday in Colorado, before the all-star break.
"People are probably writing us off right now," Yeo said after practice Monday. "We've got a lot of guys out. But one thing I know is this is a team that has a lot of character. And we need a lot of that right now. We're going to have to go into every game with just a great commitment to play our game unbelievably well."
Nanne said it's premature to count out the Wild, who were eighth in the NHL's Western Conference going into Monday's games.
"They still do have good goaltending," he
said, "and their defense has played pretty good, better than people expected early in the year."
Regular goalie Niklas Backstrom said the main concern when guys are injured is that other guys try to do too much. Players have to simply play their game and focus on the task on hand.
"I can't start to think about scoring," he said with a laugh. "I've never scored a goal, so it's tough for me to do that."
Yeo says Koivu, 28, who has nine goals and 24 assists in 41 games this season to lead the team in points, is unique because he's also the Wild's top defensive forward, best penalty-killer, strong on the power play and a shootout expert.
"We don't have another Mikko Koivu around," he said.
Yeo tried a few simple moves the previous time Koivu was hurt.
They didn't work.
"We didn't play nearly close to well enough at that time," Yeo said. "Hopefully, we can all draw on that experience."
With an eye toward scoring and physical play from every line, Yeo in practice Monday installed Matt Cullen at center between Dany Heatley and Nick Johnson, put Kyle Brodziak between Darroll Powe and Devin Setoguchi, Warren Peters between Cal Clutterbuck and David McIntyre and had Casey Wellman with Brad Staubitz on the fourth line. Those two can expect to be joined by Carson McMillan, who was called up from the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros late Monday afternoon.
Koivu, like most of his teammates, talked optimistically about how the Wild will fare until he returns.
There's no timetable for his return, and Koivu said it's too early to tell if he'll be able to participate in the All-Star Game on Jan. 29 in Ottawa.
He was hit by the St. Louis Blues' Vladimir Sobotka in the first period of his team's 3-2 shootout loss Saturday night and said he knew immediately something was wrong. He left the ice cradling his left arm next to his body with what appeared to be a shoulder injury and did not return.
"He just got me in the right spot. It just happened," Koivu said.
But the Wild, he added, demonstrated in that game after he was hurt that they can respond.
Cullen said the answer is to play as if the team is facing elimination.
"This is a playoff stretch for us right now," he said.
"We have to be in that mode right now where it's your life and death, every game," he said. "If we do that, we're going to give ourselves a good chance."
Bruce Brothers can be reached at twitter.com/mnwildnow.
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