Wild welcome Koivu back to lineup vs. Avs

by Dan Myers / NHL.com
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It's pretty safe to say the Christmas break came at a good time for the Minnesota Wild.

With captain Mikko Koivu ailing and the team having lost six straight games, three days off offered the Wild a unique opportunity to forget about their losing streak and get some of their firepower back heading into tonight's game against Northwest Division rival Colorado.

And while Minnesota is still without three valuable forwards, the big news from Xcel Energy Center this morning is the return of Koivu to the Wild lineup after missing the last five games due to a lower-body injury.

"No matter how we were playing, it's huge for us," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "In every aspect of our game, and how we play it, he's the leader.

"More importantly, in just the attitude we want to bring to the rink and that fighting spirit that's made us so successful. He's the leader in that as well."

Yeo was less willing to discuss the six-game losing skid the Wild are currently on, focusing instead on what's ahead. After a loss in Winnipeg on Dec. 13, Minnesota suffered a pair of shootout losses at home to Chicago and the New York Islanders. Koivu was lost on the last shift of overtime against the Blackhawks. Minnesota then looked lost on a three-game division road trip to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton last week. Over that six-game streak, the Wild have scored just seven goals.

"I want to put that behind us," Yeo said. "We said what we needed to say after that one and we talked about it. We know what happened before the break. … But we had the break. It came at the perfect time. Now, it's all about moving forward."

Wild forward Dany Heatley said it was good to leave hockey behind for a couple of days in order to recharge the batteries and let the minor bumps and bruises heal.

"Obviously with the way that last road trip went, it was good to get away for a couple days," Heatley said.

In terms of a game plan for tonight, Yeo said the key for both teams will be getting a fast start, especially after a layoff.

"How quick can you get your game going?" Yeo said. "It doesn't seem like much, but in three days, things can slip rather quickly."

For Minnesota, limiting the red-hot Avalanche power play is something Yeo said the Wild will focus on. They can do that, he said, by limiting Colorado's puck possession. Ranked sixth in the League at just a shade over 20 percent, Colorado will attempt to take advantage of a Minnesota penalty kill ranked eighth.

The Avs will be at a distinct disadvantage from a travel perspective, as the team is en route to Minnesota this morning and will not even arrive at Xcel Energy Center until the afternoon. Normally, teams travel to a city the day before a game, but because of the NHL's rules on holiday travel, the Avalanche did not leave Denver until 9:30 a.m. Central Time -- less than eight hours before tonight's 5 p.m. faceoff.

Needless to say, Colorado did not skate this morning and hasn't been on the ice since Friday when it defeated Tampa Bay 2-1 in overtime at the Pepsi Center.

The Avalanche have won four in a row overall, and set a franchise record Friday by winning their eighth straight home game. But that success has not translated on the road, where Colorado has lost nine in a row, including a 1-0 loss at Xcel Energy Center on Nov. 17.

The last road victory for the Avs came before Halloween, Oct. 22, in a shootout at Chicago. Their last win on the road in regulation was Oct. 13 at Ottawa, which was their sixth consecutive win on the road to start the season.