The Wild canceled practice Saturday and will take Sunday off, too, regrouping after a 7-2 loss to the Oilers in Edmonton on Friday where it played without captain Mikko Koivu.
“It’s just unraveled right now,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s up to us, as a coaching staff and as a team, to right this ship, get them back to learning how to play great defense again. That’s what’s going to win you the games. Not trying to score five goals a night.”
Koivu suffered a lower-body injury in a knee-on-knee hit from Flames captain Mark Giordano during Thursday’s 2-0 loss in Calgary. He left the road trip early to be evaluated by team doctors in the Twin Cities. The Wild indicated it would issue an update at its Monday practice.
“Obviously, I had no intent to injure him,” Giordano told reporters. “I have a lot of respect for that guy. He’s been a great player in the league for a long time. I feel bad. … I’m not going after anyone trying to hurt them. I’m just trying to play the one-on-one, and I just felt like I didn’t get there in time and timed the whole play wrong.”
Giordano said he tried to apologize to Koivu after the incident but also planned to reach out to the 35-year-old, whose absence Friday was his first due to injury since 2015.
“Mikko’s obviously a huge part of our team,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “He’s irreplaceable, but that’s a good opportunity for people to fill some different roles and get some more ice time. When we’re winning, we’re winning because we’re deep and everyone’s chipping in. That doesn’t change when somebody goes down.
“All we can do is get ready and the more you think about the long-term scenario, or what’s happening the past game or games, you start to look far ahead on the schedule, it’s just going to be detrimental for us. We got a proud group in here and a very good hockey team. The only thing we can do is just make sure we narrow our focus on the first five minutes of next game and let it go from there.”
How the Wild, which has fallen out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, rebounds from the back-to-back losses will key.
“For sure it’s a character test for us,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “… Obviously, [Koivu’s] a big part. Takes a lot of faceoffs. Any time you miss him, it’s tough. But it’s opportunity for other guys. They have to step up in his absence. You have to look at the positives. You can’t be down on it. Other people have to take that opportunity and go with it.”
One candidate to set that tone for the Wild is Dubnyk.
The netminder was critical of his play Friday after he was pulled in the first period following three Oilers goals on six shots. Edmonton’s second tally particularly stung the Wild since Dubnyk couldn’t corral a dump-in he usually stifles, giving center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the opportunity to bury the loose puck.
“They obviously got some guys that they can go and they can fly,” Dubnyk said. “You gotta be able to control and settle it down if things are going that way. That’s my job.”
Suter acknowledged the players in front of Dubnyk can improve, explaining, “We have to help him out, take away those high-scoring chances from inside the house. Just bear down defensively, do our part and help him out.”
And it’s clear the Wild does need to be better all over the ice after it crumbled to the Oilers, who responded to the Wild’s second goal in the third period by rattling off three straight.
“It just fell apart,” winger Zach Parise said.
Spotty goaltending, an inconsistent offense and leaky defense have flared up at the same time to plummet the Wild to what feels like its lowest point of the season, especially considering the uncertainty surrounding Koivu’s status.
Getting back to the style the team had just a few weeks ago when it ranked among the best in the league is the challenge that awaits it when it resumes action Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center against the Montreal Canadiens.
“Everything from the goalie to the D, everybody was playing their part,” Suter said of the team’s previous rhythm. “I feel like we’ve just got to get back to that. Just focus on your job. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just simple, do the right plays and don’t give up a lot.”