“Good teams respond.”
That’s was the pregame message in the Wild locker room, captain Mikko Koivu said, after the Wild rallied in the third period to defeat the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night. The comeback regulation win from two goals down — the first time the Wild accomplished that since 2007 and only the third time in team history — came 24 hours after the Wild coughed up a three-goal third period lead against the Rangers.
It was, as coach Mike Yeo said, a “funny trip” on consecutive nights in Manhattan and Boston.
“We learned a couple lessons,” Yeo said. “We learned that we can’t take our foot off the gas when you have the lead, and we learned that we can come back if we stay with it.”
The Wild now returns to St. Paul for a three-game homestand beginning Thursday against San Jose. The biggest objective has to be somehow getting Koivu and Thomas Vanek rolling offensively.
Tuesday’s victory came after Yeo, in a clear-as-day effort to spark the veterans, split Koivu and Vanek for the first time this season.
In eight games, Koivu, the Wild’s all-time leading goal scorer, has one point (a goal) and only 16 shots. Vanek, who came to the Wild with 277 goals, has none. He has five assists, but only 14 shots, seven of which came in one game. In three of the past four games, he doesn’t have a single shot on goal. In those four games, he has attempted only five.
Asked before Tuesday’s game — a game Vanek ended with no shots — if that’s a concern, Yeo said: “Yeah. I don’t want to say concern, but we have to make sure that we’re looking at everything we can. He was brought here to add offense and we’ve definitely seen his playmaking ability and some of the plays he has set up, but we definitely want to find a way on our end to try to get him on the scoresheet in the goal column as well.”
Koivu and Vanek found out they weren’t playing together shortly before Tuesday’s game. Vanek said, “If you don’t produce, you get split up,” and his line with Kyle Brodziak and Nino Niederreiter connected for the game’s first goal when Vanek set up Niederreiter.
Vanek subtly voiced frustration, saying, “I feel like I’m getting open, I’m just not getting the puck.”
The Wild wants him moving better. The Wild’s game is based on speed and work ethic, and there have been times he has been stationary or thrown pucks away. On Boston’s second goal Tuesday, he was slow to hop the boards when Charlie Coyle came off on a line change, likely hoping to catch the Bruins off guard for a potential breakaway if the Wild forced a turnover.
He’s also passing up shots.
“I could probably shoot a little more to get that first one, but I’m not too worried about it,” Vanek said. “I know I can score in this league. It will come.”
Koivu can score, but he has had trouble with the puck, hasn’t been as sharp with his passing and is passing up shots. Playing on a line with Jason Zucker and Coyle on Tuesday, Zucker dropped Koivu a pass in a shooting position. Instead, Koivu forced a pass to Ryan Suter on his backhand. The Wild never got a shot off.
Yeo said of the lack of offense together from Koivu and Vanek, “There has been signs that it might be coming, but there’s been other times where it’s not coming fast enough.”
The good news is the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line continues to play well and surprisingly the fourth line continues to produce nightly. In fact, fourth-line center Ryan Carter has an assist in five of the past six games.
Zucker has played seven of eight games on the fourth line and leads the team with five goals. Matt Cooke has points in four of the past five games, and Justin Fontaine has three points in the past two, including the tying goal Tuesday.
“These guys are doing a tremendous job for us, and what I like, they’re doing it the right way,” Yeo said. “Their goals have been similar in a lot of ways, getting to the offensive zone and bringing momentum to us and being strong defensively and helping out on the penalty kill, whatever the role calls for, those guys have done a great job for us.”
In the meantime, the Wild loves how it’s playing at a team.
“I think we’ve played solid in all eight of the games,” Parise said.