LOS ANGELES If two weeks into the season is any indication of things to come, get used to seeing Mikko Koivu on the ice a lot.
In need of a big penalty kill, a shutdown center in a tight game, a jump-start to a drowsy line, a trusted soldier in the final minute?
Koivu is the guy, or specifically Wild coach Jacques Lemaire's guy.
"The guy right now that I have the extreme confidence in is Mikko," Lemaire said. "Anybody would. It's not because I'm different. I'm like other people. You like him? Well, I like him, too. How couldn't you? Look how he plays."
Entering Tuesday night's game against the Kings, Koivu is averaging 18 minutes, 40 seconds a game, a few seconds more than last season's top minute-munching forward, Brian Rolston.
In Sunday's 2-0 victory at Anaheim, a game in which the Ducks were scoreless on eight power plays, Koivu was "the Human Penalty Kill." Whether it was 4-on-5, 3-on-4 or 3-on-5, Koivu was causing mayhem with what in hockey is called "a good stick."
Countless times, Koivu either cleared the zone off a faceoff, intercepted passes or tipped pucks to disrupt flow.
"You can't run around and be everywhere on the penalty kill, so you have to use your stick, block shots and make the job easier for the goalie," Koivu said. "You have to be patient and trust the guy next to you and work together."
Tuesday's game was center Eric Belanger's first against the Kings since they traded him to Carolina in September 2006. Belanger, a fifth-round pick by the Kings in 1996, spent five seasons with Los Angeles.
"It was special coming back here yesterday, being in El Segundo [where the Kings practice] and seeing some old friends," Belanger said. "I was here for a lot of years, so it's pretty cool. But it'll be special to be on the other side tonight."
Belanger was surprised his old team was 1-5 with 27 goals against entering Tuesday's game.
"Look at their roster, they have some good players," he said. "When you're a young team, it's fragile and I think that's what it is right now. Sometimes you can have a great group of players on paper, but the mix is not good. That might be the problem, too, I don't know."
Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard believed Sunday's game in Anaheim was full of everything a fan would want for entertainment -- fights, hard hits, scoring chances.
"That's the way every game should be played," Boogaard said. "I'm not kidding. The fans were excited."
Boogaard fought twice and had two more of the league's new brittle jerseys rip.
"I'm going to start selling them on eBay," he said, laughing.
By the way, Boogaard's mother, Joanne, told him that Koivu's mother, Tuire, covered her eyes during the three fights Sunday.
"She hated them," Boogaard said, laughing.
Wild rookie forward James Sheppard entered Tuesday averaging only 8 minutes, 32 seconds a game, but Lemaire is subtly throwing him the confidence bone. With less than two minutes left Sunday against the Ducks, Lemaire threw Sheppard on the ice during a power play. "We had a power play, we were leading, things were OK, so I wanted to give him a little more pressure so he can start to feel it," Lemaire said.
Petteri Nummelin, 34, will definitely be in the defensemen lineup rotation. "Nummelin, at the start of [last] season was one of our best defensemen," Lemaire said. "He got tired playing too much. That was a mistake we made. Playing in Europe, I don't know how much he played, but here, with the travel and he was playing 28 minutes, he ran out of gas."
The start time to Sunday's game against Colorado at Xcel Energy Center has been moved from 5 to 6 p.m. Also, because of a conflict with Game 4 of the World Series, the Wild-Avalanche game in Denver on Oct. 28 has been moved to 2 p.m.
After Tuesday's game, the Wild checked into a Los Angeles Airport hotel (its fifth hotel in five nights) for one final mother-son get-together. The Wild will fly back to Minnesota this morning before hitting the road again Friday for Saturday night's game at St. Louis.
Michael Russo email@example.com
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|Chicago Cubs - WP: S. Feldman||8|
|Seattle - LP: O. Perez||4||FINAL|
|Cleveland - WP: C. Perez||5|
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