EDMONTON, Alberta – The Wild started its three-game tour of Western Canada at the beginning of the week at full strength, but it didn’t end the trip that way.
Captain Mikko Koivu returned to the Twin Cities to be evaluated by team doctors after suffering a lower-body injury when he absorbed a knee-on-knee hit along the boards in the third period of the 2-0 loss to the Calgary Flames on Thursday.
Calgary captain Mark Giordano extended his left leg as Koivu attempted to skate by Giordano, catching Koivu’s left knee and sending the 35-year-old tumbling to the ice.
Giordano was issued a tripping penalty and later received a two-game suspension for kneeing after a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety Friday — supplemental discipline Wild General Manager Paul Fenton felt was warranted.
“We didn’t like it, but we’ll let the league do what they’re supposed to do,” Fenton said.
The team isn’t sure how long it might be without Koivu, and Fenton said there’s no clarity on the severity of Koivu’s injury at this point; since Koivu left the game Thursday after the incident, Wild brass figured he would likely be too sore to suit up for the trip finale Friday in Edmonton against the Oilers so it decided to send him home to be checked out.
It was the first game Koivu missed because of injury since he sat out April 4, 2015, because of an eye issue.
Without Koivu on Friday, the Wild ushered veteran Matt Hendricks into the lineup — tapping into depth Fenton believes can help buoy the team for however long Koivu’s absence is.
“I’m confident in the group we have in here,” Fenton said. “We’ve been fortunate to not be nicked up this year up to this point. I think it gives other guys an opportunity to step up, take up some of those vital minutes that he does.”
Hendricks centered the fourth line, while Mikael Granlund shifted over from wing to work between Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle, but coach Bruce Boudreau also mentioned Coyle as a candidate to move up the middle if needed.
“There’s a lot of teams with a lot of guys who are injured,” Boudreau said. “This is nothing new. We’ve got a lot of guys who can play that position and we will put somebody in there and give it a shot.”
Giordano wasn’t the only player to be suspended for his actions in Thursday’s game.
In addition to the automatic one-game suspension that Flames winger Ryan Lomberg triggered when he instigated a fight in the final five minutes of play, Lomberg was banned for another game for starting an altercation after a legal line change.
After getting on the ice, Lomberg ignored and moved around the puck carrier to skate directly to Wild defenseman Matt Dumba and initiate a fight by dropping his gloves.
Seconds earlier, Dumba leveled Calgary center Mikael Backlund with a heavy check.
“The guy had his head down coming across the middle, and Dumba was in that position,” Boudreau said. “And it’s not like he’s never hit a guy like that before. He’s good at coming across the middle and hitting guys.”
The Department of Player Safety felt Lomberg’s sole purpose on the play was to confront Dumba, which is a violation of the NHL rulebook.
Calgary coach Bill Peters was also fined $10,000 for the sequence.
These two teams face off again next Saturday when the Wild plays host to the Flames for a matinée at Xcel Energy Center.
“It’s hockey,” Fenton said. “ … Just the way the intensity of the game is it’ll take care of itself.”
Zach Parise wasn’t aware he was closing in on a milestone for games played when he was reminded recently he was at No. 897. “Just can’t believe that you’ve been playing that long,” he said.
But after battling injury in recent seasons, the 34-year-old enjoyed the chance to log his 900th game Friday.
“Just to be on the other side of things mentally,” the Wild winger said, “it’s a really good feeling.”
Switching it up
Boudreau decided to roll out No. 1 Devan Dubnyk for the second half of the back-to-back instead of keeping him in his usual spot for the first test because of his prowess against the Oilers. That didn’t last long, though, as Dubnyk gave up three goals on six shots Friday before getting replaced.
In 11 previous career starts, Dubnyk was 9-2 with a .947 save percentage and a 1.34 goals-against average.
“He’s been so successful in this building that we’d thought we’d run it that way,” Boudreau said. dd