EL SEGUNDO, CALIF. – As if missing a first-line left winger, a No. 1 goalie and a top-four defenseman wasn’t big enough, the Wild got another kick from the hockey gods.
Leading scorer and team captain Mikko Koivu had surgery to repair a fractured right ankle Monday and is expected to miss a month. Koivu’s third Olympic Games appearance for Finland also is in jeopardy, and the Wild will attempt to climb into the playoff race without the help of its first-line center.
The news came as the Wild touched down in southern California to begin a two-game road trip that starts Tuesday night in Los Angeles. The Wild is 1-8-1 in its past 10 road games.
“Timing stinks. We were starting to play better, and now we have a few of our key guys out,” said General Manager Chuck Fletcher, referring to Zach Parise missing the past six games, goalie Josh Harding out six of the past eight and defenseman Jared Spurgeon sidelined for a couple of weeks.
“I don’t think you’d ever want to have four of those guys go out at the same time. If you can, you prefer to stagger it. You don’t get these choices. There’s an opportunity now for [Mikael] Granlund and [Charlie] Coyle in particular to take on a bigger role on the team. I know there will be challenges ahead, but we’ll embrace them.”
Erik Haula, 22, was recalled from Iowa of the AHL and will center the third line. Coyle, 21, assumed Koivu’s spot on the top line with veterans Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville.
Coyle has four goals and eight assists and is minus-9 in 32 games. Granlund continues to center an all-21-year-old line with Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker.
“Those three guys are going to get a real taste of a heavy workload,” coach Mike Yeo said.
Koivu was injured early in the second period in Saturday’s victory over Washington. He was struck by Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom’s dump-in from a few feet away. Koivu struggled to the bench but returned three minutes later and assisted on Ryan Suter’s power-plays goals 42 seconds apart.
Koivu, who is five points from becoming the Wild’s all-time leading scorer, didn’t play the final eight minutes of the game and was in such pain that Yeo sent him to the locker room.
“If there’s any question about his character or how high his competitive level is, I think this incident certainly should answer that,” Fletcher said.
Besides leading the Wild with 35 points, Koivu ranks third among all NHL forwards in average ice time (21 minutes, 34 seconds a game), ranks 16th in faceoff win percentage (.557) and seventh in faceoffs taken (888).
Fletcher said the hope is Koivu can return by early February and still head to Sochi, Russia, for the Olympics. Koivu, who won a silver medal at the 2006 Olympics and bronze medal at the 2010 Olympics, or his older brother, Anaheim’s Saku Koivu, is expected to captain Finland.
“We’ll see how the recovery and the rehab goes,” Fletcher said. “The surgery speeds up the recovery by about four weeks.”
Parise, recovering from a broken foot, might start skating late this week, said Fletcher, who has been exploring trade options.
“It’s just a very difficult league to do things in,” he said. “Nobody’s moving their good players right now and everyone is still in the race. So we’ll see what this does, but we can’t overreact. I think certainly [Tuesday] night we’ll see how we do and try to get a feel for what this group needs.”