Wild captain Mikko Koivu skated alongside teammates as they prepped for the Florida Panthers on Thursday morning at Xcel Energy Center, and although he missed his third straight game because of a lower-body injury, he appears to be inching closer to a return.
The 35-year-old could be on the ice for practice Friday, participation that may pave the way for him to rejoin the team in time for its rematch with the Calgary Flames on Saturday.
Koivu has been sidelined since taking a knee-on-knee hit from Flames captain Mark Giordano last Thursday.
“He looks like he’s skating pretty well,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “So I would assume it’s not too long before he gets back in the lineup.”
While it’s ideal for a player to bank a few practices before resuming game action, Boudreau mentioned Koivu is the type player who doesn’t need the preparation.
“We’ve had a lot of times where we’ve had two days off, and there’s been games where I’ve given Mikko the day off and then he didn’t skate the next day and still played. He’s one of those guys that can do that.”
They’ve been teammates for years, but the third period a week ago against the Edmonton Oilers was the first time winger Nino Niederreiter recalls skating alongside winger Zach Parise and center Charlie Coyle.
Based on the chemistry the three have showcased since, though, it certainly looks like they’ve been on the same line for multiple seasons — a smooth transition that helped propel the Wild to consecutive wins after it shrugged off the Panthers 5-1.
“Nino and Charlie are playing really, really well right now, and it’s a fun line to be on,” Parise said. “We’re having fun. They’re buzzing. We’re moving our feet. We’re talking all the time, and we’re getting the results right now.”
Since the three were united, Niederreiter has scored four goals — including two against Florida. The output could certainly be indicative of the comfort level he’s built over time after getting used to lining up as a right winger despite being a lefthanded shooter.
“Learning how to play the right side, I think it’s taken him a little while,” Boudreau said. “He’s protecting the puck on the boards a lot better. And again, you can’t underestimate confidence.”
Koivu’s absence has instigated a new look for the power play, with defenseman Matt Dumba and winger Mikael Granlund working on the same unit, and the change sparked two goals against the Canadiens amid a perfect 4-for-4 showing by the Wild.
It seems like the ideal dynamic for the power play, since Granlund is a setup artist and Dumba has a powerful shot, but Boudreau made it clear the team can’t become one-dimensional in its approach even with how successful that combination was.
“You have to have more options that just one because it’s easy to take one option away,” he explained. “I don’t think Montreal saw that coming because we hadn’t used that before. So it might have been a little bit different, but I’m sure every team we play now will be ready for that if those two are on the ice.”
Dubnyk alone in second
Goalie Devan Dubnyk’s start Thursday was his 251st with the Wild, the second most in franchise history for a goalie.
Dubnyk had been tied at 250 with Manny Fernandez. Niklas Backstrom holds the record with 391.
Although he’s had stints with three other NHL teams, Dubnyk most associates his career with Minnesota.
“It definitely feels like home, and it’s been the best part of my career and the most fun,” Dubnyk said. “I’ve learned how to win here and had a lot of good times growing a family here. This is certainly what I think is my home for my career. Obviously, a big part of it is Edmonton. That’s kind of a different stage where you go through all those rookie camps and break into the league. But this definitely feels like my spot.”