"Better living through chemistry."
Early in the 2008-09 season, the Minnesota Wild
are benefiting from that phrase, once again leading the Northwest Division.
Developing team chemistry always has been a priority for Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough, and his summer additions have fit in perfectly.
Minnesota's two most important signings were left wing Andrew Brunette
and right wing Antti Miettinen
. They've been placed on a line with center Mikko Koivu
, and voila
! Instant chemistry.
The chemistry between the three was apparent to Wild coach Jacques Lemaire
from the start of training camp, even though all three played on different teams last season.
"You can tell the chemistry," Lemaire said. "They know where they are on the ice. They do certain plays that work well. It's a good line right now. It's their strengths. Mikko is good with the puck. A lot of times he carries the puck, and if he can't, he gives it to Antti and Antti is good with the puck. He sees the ice well. 'Bruno' is the finisher, either by pass or shot. They just complement each other very well.
"When one guy goes to the puck, another one goes to help him and the third one is not far away. That's what chemistry is and they have it."
"Sometimes it goes the way you want it," Koivu said. "The whole team is working hard. That's what it has been all about, especially on the road. That's what you need to do to be sharp, especially at the start of games, and we've done a good job. The power play has been working well, moving the puck, and we've gotten a lot of shots on net. Things like that. It's basic stuff, but sometimes it goes in and sometimes it's tough. We have to do a lot more through the rest of the season."
Koivu, 25, was the sixth pick of the 2001 Entry Draft. He remained in Finland until 2004, played a season in the American Hockey League and entered the 2008-09 season with has 37 goals and 80 assists in 203 NHL games. He's filled out into a muscular 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, and has world-class skating and stickhandling skills.
"He's been a leader on our team," Lemaire said. "He's a player you can use in any situation and there's only a few of those. He preaches by example, works hard in practice. Today he had a day off, but he went on the ice and skated for half an hour. He's taking care of himself so he can be at his best every night. That's a great sign of a leader. We're happy because he's having success and success will make him even better. Even better in all these things I mentioned."
Brunette, 35, returns to the Wild after three seasons with the Colorado Avalanche
. He played in Minnesota from 2001-04 and the Wild wanted him back for his leadership and scoring skills. In his three season with the Avalanche, he averaged 68 points. His 459 consecutive-games played is tops among current players.
Brunette hasn't missed an opportunity for a dressing-room prank or tease since he broke in with the Washington Capitals
in 1995. He has an unerring knack for knowing when a joke or a stern word is needed. Brunette is one of the NHL's most respected people among his peers.
Brunette told NHL.com years ago that he can't skate a lick, but the truth is he owns the boards, is quick going after pucks and to the net, and he has great passing and shooting skills.
Miettinen's overall game resembles fellow Finn and former Dallas Stars
teammate Jere Lehtinen
, and he has Scott Niedermayer
-like quick feet and keen anticipation. If he's tracking you, pass it, you won't shake loose. Those skills were further honed by playing for defense-minded coach Dave Tippett
Miettinen, 28, has averaged 12 goals and 30 points in his 3 full NHL seasons, and last season was his best, with 15 goals and 34 points. Those numbers are going to go up now that he's playing on the top line. Brunette loves playing with him.
"We try to go help each other everywhere we go and he does a good job of that," Brunette said. "We're getting time to get to know each other and where to go. I knew he could do those things but I was surprised it started working well so quickly. I'm really happy to be playing with these two guys."
It was suggested to Owen Nolan
, the team's other important offseason signing, that this is the classic hockey line: A playmaking center, a defensively aware winger, and a strong board-owning winger who can finish.
"Absolutely, they're a great mixture," Nolan said. "They have exactly that. The big thing is they understand the game really well. They position themselves in the exact right place on the ice and the puck just seems to come to them. They create offensive chances off that.
"They are three smart hockey players that have really clicked quick. Sometimes it takes a little longer for a line to click, but with those three guys, it looks like they've been playing together for years. They are very good defensively, very responsible and that's creating offensive opportunities."
"They are three smart hockey players that have really clicked quick. Sometimes it takes a little longer for a line to click, but with those three guys, it looks like they've been playing together for years. They are very good defensively, very responsible, and that's creating offensive opportunities." -- Owen Nolan
Although Koivu and Miettinen played on two World Championship teams and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey for Finland, this is the first time they've been on a line together. They also played on different teams in the Finnish Elite League for a few years.
"I played against Antti back home, but I didn't have that much chance to watch him in other games," Koivu said. "He was good back then already. A younger guy like me, when I first got to the league, it was tough to play against him. Now he's doing it over here and good for him. He's responsible at both ends of the ice and he has a good shot. He makes plays and his hockey sense, both offense and defense, is his strength over here and that's why he's been successful."
Although Lemaire enjoyed an illustrious playing career with the Montreal Canadiens
, winning 8 Stanley Cups, he never captained the star-studded team. Perhaps that's a factor in why he's never had a permanent captain with the Wild, preferring to rotate the captaincy monthly.
Koivu was co-captain with Nick Schultz
last January and February and was named captain for October. There's a suspicion Lemaire is on the verge of breaking that tradition and naming Koivu captain full-time. If he does, he'll do it in his own time.
"You won't get that scoop today," Lemaire told reporters Sunday and then walked away, chuckling like a coach whose team has gotten a point in every game.