He knew he didn’t feel right, but Wild captain Mikko Koivu couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong.
And that made him scared.
“The worst is when you don’t know,” Koivu said. “You’re guessing, for sure.”
Fear, however, has now been replaced with relief.
Barely a week after he was knocked to the ice by a knee-on-knee hit from Flames captain Mark Giordano, Koivu is moving closer to a return to action and is considered a game-time decision Saturday for the rematch with Calgary at Xcel Energy Center after practicing with the Wild Friday.
“When you see plays like that, usually bad things happen,” Koivu said. “But it’s good that we’re here now and getting closer to get back to the game. So I think that’s in the past now and just looking forward to getting better and getting stronger and hopefully getting into the lineup as quick as possible.”
Koivu has been sidelined with a lower-body injury ever since he was taken down by Giordano along the boards in the third period of a 2-0 loss for the Wild in Calgary Dec. 6. Giordano was suspended two games for kneeing.
“I don’t think he meant to do that,” said Koivu, who explained Giordano made “a classy move” by texting him to apologize. “Things happen quick and [you’re] trying to win every battle every game. So that’s part of the game.”
Although the Wild’s road trip didn’t wrap up until the next day in Edmonton, Koivu returned to the Twin Cities early to be evaluated by team doctors and has been labeled day-to-day. In the meantime, the 35-year-old’s progressed from skating sans the group to participating in its morning skate Thursday to finally rejoining practice.
“Excited to just be on the ice,” he said. “Frustrated at the same time, but that will get easier once you get closer to a game.”
While the Wild sagged in its first test without Koivu, getting steamrollered 7-2 by the Oilers Dec. 7, the team has responded much better since — going 2-0 on its four-game homestand amid an eye-popping 12 goals.
And the reshaped Koivu line featuring wingers Zach Parise and Nino Niederreiter along with center Charlie Coyle has been a catalyst for that success, racking up seven goals and 14 points since its formation. In the 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers Thursday, the trio was a combined plus-11 — impact that suggests it could remain intact once Koivu is ready to play.
“It’s the coach’s job to put the lineup up there and for players to respond and play,” Koivu said.
Parise, Coyle and Niederreiter did skate together during Friday’s session, while Koivu joined forwards Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin. Winger J.T. Brown was the only one absent, as he was with his wife Lexi for the birth of their son,<URL destination="https://twitter.com/mnwild/status/1073703700852543491/photo/1"> Booker Thomas Brown.
</URL>But it’s still unclear what the Wild will do when Koivu’s available since coach Bruce Boudreau said he and his staff haven’t broached that conversation yet.
“You do what’s best for the team in the end,” Boudreau said.
Lately, the performance of Parise, Coyle and Niederreiter has certainly lifted the Wild.
Parise leads the team in goals with 15, which matches his total from last season. Since March 1, when he started to get on a roll offensively, he ranks eighth in the NHL with 27 goals.
“I’m just happy to get my body back to feeling the way that I know it can,” Parise said.
Coyle has looked rejuvenated since switching over to center from wing, chipping in a goal and two assists, but what’s perhaps more impressive is his decisiveness at the position.
“With the way he’s skating and moving, he’s adding a pretty dynamic element to our center group right now,” Parise said.
As for Niederreiter, he’s rediscovered his scoring touch after sporadic contributions to date by accumulating four goals in the last three games — rewards for being a screen in front and a dedicated forechecker along the boards.
“You look at the goals he’s got, the deflections and the stuff in front of the net, and I think that’s where he does a really good job,” Parise said. “I think he’s moved on from the start that he had, and he’s playing really well now.”
If Koivu remains out, that bides the Wild more time to debate its options and maybe this reunion with the Flames will provide more answers.
With six wins in its last seven games, Calgary is near the top of the Western Conference — posing an arduous challenge that the Wild isn’t expecting to recapture the animosity that flared last week; winger Ryan Lomberg was also suspended from that game and coach Bill Peters was fined after Lomberg instigated a fight with defenseman Matt Dumba following a hit Dumba leveled against center Mikael Backlund.
“You just need to focus on the game,” Koivu said, “and make sure you win the hockey game.”