The Minnesota Wild have historically gotten off to strong starts, but this one may be the most unexpected.
Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen look to continue their surprising offensive outburst and lead the Wild to their third straight 4-0 start on Saturday when they visit the winless Tampa Bay Lightning.
After winning the franchise's first Northwest Division title in 2007-08, Minnesota (3-0-0) cut ties with veteran stars Brian Rolston, Pavol Demitra and Mark Parrish in the offseason. Many wondered where the Wild's offense would come from in 2008-09 after those three combined for 62 goals and 81 assists last season.
Koivu and Miettinen have answered that question, as the linemates have combined for six goals and 10 assists in three games.
Minnesota, which started 5-0-0 last season and 6-0-0 in 2006-07, defeated Florida 6-2 on Thursday, as Koivu had a goal and four assists and Miettinen had two power-play goals and an assist.
"They've jelled really well together, they know where they are on the ice and they make that quick pass," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "It's fun to see that because it makes it a little easier for me."
Miettinen, who signed in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, became the first player to score in each of his first three games in a Minnesota sweater. He already has five goals after scoring a career-high 15 last season with Dallas.
Koivu, meanwhile, has eight assists on the season, and his four assists Thursday tied a franchise record.
"Obviously it feels good, but I'm sure there's going to be games where it's not going to go in," said Koivu, who had 31 assists last season. "We're just going to enjoy it when it's happening, though."
The Wild's special teams also have been outstanding.
Minnesota finished 3-for-6 on the power play on Thursday, and has converted 6-of-14 this season. The Wild also have killed all 12 of their opponents' opportunities with the man advantage and that could spell trouble for the Lightning, who are just 3-for-22 on power-play chances.
Goaltender Nicklas Backstrom has been in net in each game for the Wild, and made 24 saves Thursday to improve to 10-0-4 with a 1.76 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last 15 regular-season games.
In his only career start against the Lightning on Feb. 27, Backstrom stopped 31 shots in a 3-2 victory, Minnesota's first win over Tampa Bay since 2002.
While the Wild are off to another solid start, the Lightning (0-2-2) have opened with four straight losses for the first time in franchise history.
New coach Barry Melrose is still seeking his first victory with Tampa Bay, but he was encouraged by the way his team battled back its last time out. On Thursday, Vincent Lecavalier, Vinny Prospal and Ryan Malone each scored third-period goals as Tampa Bay forced overtime against the New York Islanders, only to lose 4-3.
"That's the effort we got to have for 60 minutes," Melrose said. "Hopefully that can be something that can feed over. That was very encouraging in the third period they way they kept going."
Melrose has been alternating between Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig in goal, and Smith may get the call Saturday.
Smith, who is 0-1-1 with a 2.90 GAA on the season, is 1-1-0 with a 1.52 GAA and one shutout lifetime versus the Wild.
Kolzig, who is 0-1-1 with a 3.00 GAA on the season, is 3-4-0 with a 1.93 GAA all-time against Minnesota.