EDMONTON, Alberta – It’s unclear how long the Wild will be without captain Mikko Koivu, who was sent back to the Twin Cities to get a lower-body injury looked at by team doctors.
But players are viewing his absence as a chance for others to absorb more significant minutes to help the Wild persevere – even if that wasn’t the impression the group made Friday sans Koivu since it was routed 7-2 by the Oilers at Rogers Place to cap off its three-game trek through Western Canada at 1-2.
“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.”
After returning to Minnesota, the Wild will get back on the ice Monday for practice and it may have more clarity then on Koivu’s status.
Regardless, how the Wild regroups from this loss – and the week – could end up being a defining moment of the season.
“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 goal particularly stung the Wild since Dubnyk couldn’t corral a rolling puck 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 to seal the lopsided victory.
“It just fell apart,” winger Zach Parise said.
The offense has sagged of late, getting blanked by the Flames Thursday in Calgary and all three tallies in the win over the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday were on the power play.
How the Wild has set up in its own end, though, hasn’t helped the team’s transition play.
“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.”
Spotty goaltending, an inconsistent offense and a 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 returns to Minnesota.
“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.”