Wild's top-line engine sputtering

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 27, 2011 - 12:34 PM

Though known for his two-way game, Mikko Koivu has no goals and three assists. His coach wants the captain to shoot more.

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Wild center Mikko Koivu (left)

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Mikko Koivu is "not that big on stats," and General Manager Chuck Fletcher says the Wild captain's "value goes beyond stats."

"To define Mikko by statistics is to miss the whole point of what he's all about," Fletcher said after signing Koivu to a seven-year, $47.25 million extension on July 15, 2010.

Fair or unfair though, most players are judged by stats. In eight games heading into Thursday's latest Koivu brother showdown -- Saku vs. Mikko, Anaheim at Wild -- Mikko Koivu has no goals and three assists.

That is the same stat line as rookie Brett Bulmer ... but Koivu has played 10 more minutes a game and 27 1/2 more minutes on power plays.

More was expected to start the season from the Wild's No. 1 center, especially when Koivu is considered the Wild's engine, his team is 3-2-3, his highly touted first line appears to have been broken up and he's in the first year of that monster contract.

Judging by practice the past three days, Koivu will center Dany Heatley (his linemate from Day 1 of training camp) and Cal Clutterbuck against the Ducks, while Devin Setoguchi will move to the second line.

The Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley trio tore it up during the preseason, but as Koivu even says, "Preseason, I don't think that's any standard."

"There's been a lot of change. Not even just systems and coaches, but there's a lot of new players, too, and he had a lot of chemistry with his linemates in the past," Fletcher said, referring to the Andrew Brunette-Koivu-Antti Miettinen staple of the past three seasons. "We bring new players in, and everybody's trying to get acclimated.

"We're eight games in. Seventy-four more to go. Is it going to take 20 games? Is it going to take 40 games? I don't know. But to suggest that after eight games you're going to have chemistry, it'd be a wonderful concept, but I don't think that concept's based in reality."

Coach Mike Yeo raved about Koivu after Monday's practice, saying, "Nobody feels like practicing today. Not one guy in there. They're all tired, they're all sore, and you come back from that West Coast trip and now you've got three days of practice.

"To me, he worked so hard [Monday] that the rest of the group had no choice but to work like that."

Yeo then praised Koivu's defensive-zone coverage this season, calling that part of his game "outstanding."

But Koivu makes $7.29 million this year, including a $1.89 million bonus paid July 1, and presumably he doesn't make that kind of loot solely to work hard in practice and be good defensively.

Koivu has 18 shots (2.25 a game) and no goals in 17 games dating to last season.

Last Thursday in Edmonton, Heatley led a 3-on-2 up ice. Heatley fed Koivu between the circles -- a prime shooting area. Instead of shooting, Koivu passed back to Heatley, who didn't seem to expect the puck back. By the time Heatley got a shot off, he was at an awkward angle and backhanded the puck over the net.

Yeo wants Koivu to have more of a "shooter's mentality."

"I don't think he's alone with that," Yeo said of Koivu. "I think our whole team passes up shots big time. ... It's not like we're trying to ask you to take the skill out of your game by shooting the puck. We have to start building that shooting mentality. We don't have that yet, and I consider [Koivu] part of that. He's been shooting more pucks. But for me, I think he can bring a whole other level there."

Watching clips of the Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley line, Yeo also felt there was too much "watching and waiting for somebody else to do something." That's why he has broken it up against the Ducks.

"Mikko's feeling like, 'I've got these guys with me right now, I've got to get them the puck,'" Yeo said. "I just want him to concentrate on playing. Just play. If the situation calls to shoot it, great. If it calls to pass it, pass it. Without question it's between the ears right now a little bit for all three of them."

Koivu always has been even-keeled. Outwardly, he doesn't get too high when things go well, too low when things don't.

So predictably, Koivu's not worried.

"I think I'm still getting shots like I usually do," he said. "I just need to keep shooting. I think the offense is there. We're just not finding the net right now. If we keep getting chances, it's just a matter of time. It will go in eventually."

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