ST. PAUL, Minn. — Mikko Koivu and Marco Scandella are facing an NHL game Monday night with a bit of nerves.
It’s been almost a month since the Minnesota Wild has had their captain, Koivu, and one of their top-4 defenseman in Scandella because of injuries. Koivu and Scandella will both return to the lineup on Monday night as Minnesota returns home for a game for the first time since Feb. 6.
Koivu, third on the team with 35 points, has been out since Jan. 4, needing ankle surgery after a puck went off the inside of his right foot. The injury caused Koivu to miss the Olympics and he worked his way back, taking precaution by not playing when the Wild returned from the break last week with a pair of road wins.
"Obviously it’s been a long wait and kind of frustrating all the time basically after the surgery," Koivu said after Monday’s morning skate. "So yeah, very excited and obviously a little nervous, but that’s part of the step to take to the game. But yeah, it will be fun."
Scandella suffered a knee injury in the second-to-last game before the break. The timing of the two-week-plus break proved fortunate for Scandella, who only missed three games.
"It’s been a month and it feels like a long time," Scandella said.
Scandella said he will wear a brace for support on the knee.
"Last week was a little tough just to get used to the brace," Scandella said. "But there’s a bunch of guys in the NHL who use a brace. So it takes a little bit of time but I feel really comfortable."
Koivu won’t return to his usual line with Zach Parise. Parise and Jason Pominville have played well with Mikael Granlund at center during Koivu’s absence. Coach Mike Yeo decided to keep the line intact and will have Koivu with Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle to start Monday’s game.
"Both guys he’s got chemistry with, both guys he’s played with in the past," Yeo said. "Obviously three big bodies that we think should be tough to contain."
Having the captain return after missing 17 games is another boost to a team that excelled despite several key injuries in January and February.
"It means that we’re getting a great player back," Yeo said of Koivu’s return. "We know what he means to our team. You use a guy like that in every situation. It’s all the little things, it’s all the intangibles. I mean, obviously he has the ability to create offense every time he is on the ice, but it’s the way that he defends. It’s the way that he plays against top players, it’s the faceoffs he takes, it’s the special teams he plays. So it’s obviously a great player that we’re excited to have back."
Wild sign Gabriel: Minnesota officially signed forward Kurtis Gabriel to a three-year, entry-level contract on Monday. Gabriel, a third-round pick by the Wild in the 2013 NHL Draft, has played this season for the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League and has 12 goals and 30 assists in 54 games.
Gabriel, 20, plays a physical game at 6-foot-4 and 214 pounds, as evidenced by his 86 penalty minutes this season. His three-year contract will begin next season.
"We’re very happy with Kurtis’ progress this year and look forward to him developing within our organization," Minnesota assistant general manager Brent Flahr said in a release. "He’s a hard-working kid that brings an intriguing package of size, physical competitiveness and character."
Kuemper named NHL’s third star: Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper started both games for Minnesota after the break, a pair of wins at Edmonton and Vancouver.
He was honored as the league’s third star of the week for the effort, stopping 51 of the 52 shots he faced. He had a 0.48 goals-against average and .981 save percentage in the two games, with one shutout.
Kuemper stopped all seven attempts in a shootout win against the Canucks. Since Jan. 7, he ranks tied for second in the NHL with 10 wins. He is 10-2-2 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in that span, ranking second in the league in save percentage and fifth in goals-against average among goalies who have played more than 10 games.