NHL

Losing Koivu latest setback for Wild

Hockey Primetime Mike Cook
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It’s almost hard to believe the Minnesota Wild had the NHL’s best record about a month ago.

Since then, the injury-ravaged team has tumbled down the standings, going 2-9-4, forcing the team to play the rest of the season with a playoff-type approach every night.

"We have to be in that mode right now, where it's life and death every game. If we do that, then we're gonna give ourselves a good chance," coach Mike Yeo said Monday.

However, starting with Tuesday’s 5-1 loss in Philadelphia, the team must make that move without the player many consider the heart and soul of the team.

Center Mikko Koivu is expected to miss four to six weeks with what the team has termed an upper-body injury. However, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that sources told him the Wild captain separated his left shoulder during Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss in St. Louis.

“It's pretty frustrating right now. I had a minor injury there before Christmas and just get back at it and I’m starting to feel good again and then another injury,” Koivu said. “It’s frustrating, especially this time of year. You play a lot of games; you're right in the middle of it. But there is nothing you can do about it. You just got to move on and try to get better as good as you can."

That is true for both Koivu, the team‘s lone all-star selection, and the rest of the Wild.

Koivu is the leading scorer (9-24-33) on an offensively challenged team averaging a mere 2.22 goals per game, the second-worst mark in the league. With top-six forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse already out with concussion issues, the Wild are going to have to work that much harder to get goals.

To that end, the team’s lines at Tuesday’s morning skate were each a combination of players known for their scoring touch and those that are grinders.

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Matt Cullen was centering Dany Heatley and Nick Johnson on the top line while Kyle Brodziak was between Devin Setoguchi and Darroll Powe on the second line. Cal Clutterbuck, Warren Peters and David McIntyre also skated together while forward Carson McMillan, who appeared in four games with the Wild last year and notched one goal and one assist, was recalled Monday from AHL Houston and skated with Casey Wellman and Brad Staubitz.

Yeo, who has remained upbeat during most of the recent struggles, simply sees the Koivu loss as another challenge. He is insistent that the center cannot be replaced and that he does not want any of his players to try and be Koivu.

“It’s a big challenge for us and we have to view it as such and get excited about the opportunity to rise to it,” he said. “A lot of people are probably writing us off right now. We’ve got a lot of guys out. But the one thing I know is that this is a team with a lot of character and we need a lot of that right now. We’re going to have to go into every game with a great commitment to play our game unbelievably well.”

Koivu has no doubt that his teammates will be fine without him leading the way on their current road trip. However, Minnesota is 0-8-2 on the road since Dec. 10.

“In the St. Louis game we played good, we played very hard, we defended very hard and that’s what we have to do on the road,” he said. “It’s a big challenge for us, obviously, both teams are playing good hockey, but at the same time if we can keep playing the way we did I’m sure we gonna have some success.”

“We have to take care of business so that when we do get these guys back that we’re in a good spot," added Yeo. “We’re going to have to scratch and fight and claw for everything we get, but I think we’re committed and ready to do that. Let’s not just try to tread water here; let’s try to do something really good here in the next couple of weeks, and then when we start to get guys back we’ve set ourselves up for something good.”

Northwest Division notes:

Calgary is 10-1-1 in its last dozen home games. Of the team’s final 36 games, 22 are in the Saddledome. … Conversely, the Flames have lost five straight road games and 10 of 14 entering Tuesday’s game in San Jose. … Mike Cammalleri, who was traded as part of a package to the Flames last Thursday for a package that included Rene Bourque, had a career-best 39 goals and 82 points in 79 games during the 2008-09 season in Calgary. He signed with Montreal as a free agent after the season. “We believe Cammalleri will help our offensive production, solidify a second scoring line, bolster our power play, and bring another strong veteran voice to our room. We are confident that a return to Calgary will be good for Mike and good for our continued pursuit of a playoff berth,” GM Jay Feaster said in a statement. … After winning eight of nine to get back in the playoff chase, Colorado has lost four of five, including Monday’s 6-1 setback in Phoenix. … The Avs have given up at least six goals four times this season. … The Avalanche has scored two goals or fewer in nine of the past 15 games. Colorado is 16-5-2 in one-goal games this season. … Avalanche forward Peter Mueller returned to the lineup last Thursday after missing all but the first three games of the season. He’s played just 18 games in three seasons because of concussions and their lingering effects. The 23-year-old missed all of last season after suffering his second concussion in five months during the exhibition season. … Edmonton’s Taylor Hall has nine points in his past nine games, including the overtime winner Sunday. “I guess if you just look at the last couple of weeks, the one player that has just answered the bell every night would be Taylor,” coach Tom Renney said. “He is all of that. If you want to know what passion looks like in a hockey player, just watch Taylor.” … Oilers C Sam Gagner is 5-13-18 in his last 24 games after starting the year with only two assists in his first 13 outings. … Minnesota backup G Josh Harding made a career-high 47 saves in Saturday’s shootout loss to St. Louis. Entering Tuesday, No. 1 netminder Niklas Backstrom is 1-5-0 with a 3.54 goals-against average over his last six games. … Of the Wild's 2004-09 first-round draft picks (A.J. Thelen, Benoit Pouliot, James Sheppard, Colton Gillies, Tyler Cuma and Nick Leddy), only Cuma is still the Wild's property. The defenseman plays in Houston. Gillies was claimed off waivers by Columbus Saturday. … The Canucks began a six-game homestand with a thud Sunday, falling 4-2 to lowly Anaheim. … Entering Tuesday, Vancouver had recorded fewer than 30 shots in a game for four straight contests, its longest stretch of the season. … Vancouver D Aaron Rome returned late last week after missing a dozen games with a broken thumb. … LW David Booth returned Sunday after missing 18 games with a knee injury.

Tagged: Flames, Oilers, Avalanche, Wild, Mikko Koivu, Cal Clutterbuck, Taylor Hall

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