The occasion of brothers facing off in the NHL is far from unusual, and the NHL schedule has delivered a rash of those games lately.
Last week alone saw the first-ever NHL meetings between Chris and Anthony Stewart and Brayden and Luke Schenn, and while those four have officially begun their career-long battles for NHL bragging rights, if they want any indication of how they should handle their family rivalries they might want to direct their attention on Minnesota tonight, when Mikko Koivu of the Wild and Saku Koivu of the Ducks will face off for the 10th time in their NHL careers.
The brothers from Turku, Finland, have had many memories on the ice together, from the Olympics, where both of them suited up for the national team in 2006 and 2010, to being on opposite benches in the NHL. There is a notable age difference between the two -- Saku is more than eight years Mikko's senior -- so their number of matchups may be fewer than most, but with Saku approaching the latter stages of his career as he turns 37 next month, it is almost certain that the pair has more games against each other behind them than in front of them.
Saku and Mikko have both proven dependable centers over the course of their respective careers and while Saku's career totals exceed Mikko's significantly at this point, the two have been productive at an eerily similar rate. Saku's 741 career points over 15-plus seasons with Montreal and Anaheim have come at a rate of roughly .78 points per game. In 441 career games, all with Minnesota, Mikko has 320 points, which have come at a rate of .72 points per game -- meaning should Mikko play as long as Saku does, he's likely to end his career in the same neighborhood.
The two pivots are hardly identical, however, and when they meet on the ice it shows. Comparing Mikko in 2011 to Saku in 2011 makes about as much sense as comparing Wayne Gretzky in 1998 to Wayne Gretzky in 1983, but when you look at how each Koivu has fared against each other, it seems pretty clear that a youthful Mikko has taken advantage of his older brother. In the previous nine times the Koivus have met, Mikko has won five times, but three of those wins have come in their last four meetings.
When Mikko first entered the League in the 2005-06 season, his brother seemed to have the upper hand. Mikko's Wild took their first ever NHL meeting, a 4-3 overtime win, but in the course of Saku's tenure in Montreal, not only did his Canadiens take the final two games between the two, but Saku's play outshined Mikko's. Over those three games Saku had 2 assists and a plus-3 rating. All Mikko had to show for it was a minus-3 rating and 10 penalty minutes.
Once Saku's tenure in Montreal ended after the 2008-09 season, however, things took a turn. The first time the brothers met after Saku's move to California, the Ducks jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Minnesota, with Saku himself netting one of the goals. But Mikko netted a tally of his own that night as the Wild rallied back to win the game 4-3 in overtime. Anaheim took the next meeting, 3-2, but since Saku changed teams, Mikko has won four of six games, tallying 4 goals and 3 assists in the process. Saku in that span has 1 goal and 2 assists.
When the Ducks meet the Wild tonight at the Xcel Energy Center, Saku will have a chance to even the series, but in the grand scheme he has some scoring to do if he hopes to catch up to his younger brother. Given two noteworthy facts, however, one could easily make the argument that despite Mikko's gaudier numbers, Saku has been the biggest help to his team. For one, of the four times Mikko has beaten Saku only one of those victories came in regulation, a 5-1 trouncing in their last faceoff on Feb. 18. More notable, however, is that over the nine games the two have met, Mikko's plus/minus rating is even, while Saku is a plus-6.
Perhaps when the book on their rivalry is finished, Mikko's goal totals will be trumped by Saku's ability to help the team as a whole when he's on the ice. Both of them will have a chance to write the next chapter tonight.
I definitely think going back down helped me, I had a lot of confidence down there, I played a lot of minutes and I think that helped me a lot. With the 37 games up here, that gave me experience as well. I know what it takes to play in the NHL and now it's time for me to show that I'm capable of being a full-time NHL player.
— Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl on finishing the 2014-15 season in juniors after playing 37 games with Edmonton to begin the season