In what is becoming the new norm at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild had just dispatched Nashville 5-2 on Saturday. The Wild’s line of Mikko Koivu centering Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker had combined to score four of those goals, total seven points and finish a combined plus-9.
And the subject in the Wild dressing room was change. Or, in this case, the lack of it.
The Granlund-Koivu-Zucker line is closing in on a three-month anniversary. It was on Nov. 25, in a victory over Pittsburgh, that Wild coach Bruce Boudreau put the three together.
And, 39 games later, the three have combined for 43 goals, 67 assists, 110 points and are a combined plus-84.
The Wild is 29-6-4 in that span.
When Koivu broke in with the Wild, then-coach Jacques Lemaire was lucky if he kept a line together for three periods, much less three months.
But Boudreau isn’t one to change things just for change’s sake.
“I’d like to be able to do it,” Boudreau said after Saturday’s win. “But you have to find consistency and chemistry in the line. The other three lines have been mixed and matched a lot of the time, because we can’t find that consistency and chemistry. I think they take more pride that they’re a really good defensive line; they were all a plus-3 tonight.”
Koivu laughed when asked if he ever could remember a time when he was with the same linemates for such a long streak. “The closest would have to be [Antti] Miettinen and [Andrew] Brunette,” Koivu said of a combination from seasons past.
But nothing comes close to this three-month streak that has been broken only for one game when Koivu was ill.
Boudreau has done it before. Saturday he talked about some special lines he had while in Washington and Anaheim. Early in Boudreau’s time in Washington it was the line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov. “The first couple years in Anaheim, it was always [Ryan] Getzlaf and [Corey] Perry,” Boudreau said. “Then the left wing varied. But they were together all the time.”
The key to the Koivu line? As has been said many times, the defense. The line takes pride in its work on the defensive end. Zucker’s second goal Saturday was a classic example, when he clogged a shooting lane, blocked P.K. Subban’s shot, then raced past the Nashville defenseman, icing the game with a nice backhand goal.
“Our mind-set is to take care of our own end first,” Koivu said. “Then, when we have the puck, we’re trying to go the other way. The other thing, I think, is we always try to have two guys close to each other so we can help one another. That’s huge.”
Always a strong two-way player, Koivu is now flanked with two quick wingers. Zucker has great speed, and Granlund, his move from center to winger now etched in stone, gives the line another great passer; his cross-crease pass for Zucker’s first goal Saturday was a thing of beauty.
“We feed off each other pretty well,” Zucker said. “And I think we make sure we hold each other accountable when we have a bad shift, a bad play or a bad game. Whatever it is, we make sure we know what we did wrong, and we fix it.”
The line’s chemistry continues to grow. “We get to know our tendencies on the ice, and that makes us a little faster too,” Granlund said. “You can just fly, and you know where the other guy is. It’s been fun. But there is still a lot of hockey to play.”
On Saturday, Koivu reached the career 600-point plateau, Zucker reached 100. Granlund leads the team in points (17 goals, 36 assists, 53 points), Koivu is tied for third (17-27—44) and Zucker sixth (18-23—41).
“We’re trying to get better each game,” Koivu said. “We’re trying to help each other out. Make sure we’re ready to go each and every night.”