One of the best-looking sequences in the Wild’s slump-busting victory Thursday over the Lightning didn’t result in a goal, but it came close.
Wild winger Kevin Fiala burst through the Tampa Bay defense and got off a shot, but it was swatted away by goalie Curtis McElhinney.
The next day, Fiala was angry at himself for failing to convert the chance.
“What happened with the puck?” he asked his longtime skating and off-ice training coach Andreas Larsson.
“You just missed the puck,” Larsson told him.
While the play fell just short of landing on a highlight reel, it was still an example of a strength Fiala brings to the Wild and that’s his speed — an asset that Larsson believes actually became better after Fiala suffered a broken left leg in 2017.
“You can see how he’s going faster and faster and faster, and it’s not only about speed,” Larsson said. “It’s also about endurance and agility. We try to build him as complete as possible.”
Fiala and Larsson first crossed paths when Fiala was 15, training on and off until Larsson became a staple in Fiala’s regimen the last five years — with the two working during the summers in Sweden.
When they first met, Larsson could tell Fiala was a gifted offensive talent but his skating was choppy. Now, though, Fiala’s strengths are his first few strides and his agility, since it helps him maneuver in tight spaces.
But after Fiala broke his leg during a crash into the boards during the 2017 playoffs with Nashville, the pair had to almost start from scratch again.
“Then all of a sudden,” Larsson said, “he worked his way up.”
And the two kept collaborating.
Two years ago, they focused on getting Fiala from zero to maximum speed quicker. From there, the objective shifts to changing direction without losing speed. After that, the goal is to build up speed on the backcheck.
Although the two typically train in the offseason, Larsson came to the Twin Cities last Monday to work with Fiala at Fiala’s request — reminding Fiala that he’s on the right path to continue progressing.
“He really wants to step it up because even though he’s playing in the best league in the world, you play three games in a week,” Larsson said. “It’s hard on an individual basis to drive your own improvement because it’s so easy to only focus, OK, game yesterday, game tomorrow.”
Captain Mikko Koivu did not play in Saturday’s victory over the Stars, sidelined by an illness.
Ryan Donato took Koivu’s spot up the middle on the fourth line, a position Koivu assumed Thursday, and scored his ninth goal of the season. Coach Bruce Boudreau still acknowledged the decision to demote Koivu as a tough one.
“But if you look, he played 14 minutes-plus [Thursday],” Boudreau said. “… He was in the box for one penalty, which he would have killed which would probably put him at 15 minutes. And he didn’t play the power play [only 23 seconds], which is where his other two minutes come in. And so, there wasn’t really a big change in what he did. I thought he played a heck of a game, too, so I just thought the balance was good.”
Maintenance for Zucker
Although he has remained in action since returning from a fractured fibula, Jason Zuckera, who had a goal and an assist Saturday, anticipates he will have to continue to rehab his right leg the rest of the season — keeping his muscles loose, checking for inflammation and applying ice after games.
But the injury didn’t cross his mind in the winger’s first game back last Sunday.
“There were two times I kind of got tripped weird, and those are usually the good indicators because you’re not able to guard it when those things happen,” Zucker said. “But it felt fine. It’s all been good.”