The Minnesota Wild skates in game action at Xcel Energy Center for the first time nearly a month and the club will welcome back a pair of players returning from injury.
Wild captain Mikko Koivu and defenseman Marco Scandella will re-enter the lineup tonight against the Calgary Flames. Koivu has missed 17 games since fracturing his ankle on Jan. 4 against the Washington Capitals.
“It means that we’re getting a great player back,” said Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo after the team’s morning skate. “We know what he means to our team. You use a guy like that in every situation. It’s all the little things, the intangibles. Obviously, he has the ability to create offense every time he’s on the ice, but it’s the way that he defends, the way he plays against the other team’s top players, the faceoff he takes, the special teams he plays.”
Koivu will skate between Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley. Koivu has experience skating with both wings. The trio is big, strong and should create a tough matchup for any opponent, especially with teams having to concentrate on the club’s current top line of Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville.
“It’s been a long wait and kind of frustrating all this time after the surgery,” Koivu said. “I’m very excited, and a little nervous, but that’s part of the steps to take in the game.”
When Koivu is healthy, he can change the course of the game with his two-way play. With Minnesota playing as well as it has, currently on a four-game win streak, the center is looking to make an impact any way he can.
“You have to look at it to do your part,” Koivu said. “The way that the guys are playing, every single night there is a guy who steps up from the bottom to the top.
“I’ve got to be patient with my game and help us as much as I can right from the start.”
On the blue line, Scandella joins a group that only allowed one goal in its past two games. The decision to put Scandella in wasn’t as easy, but the blueliner was constantly playing well before getting injured and Yeo would like to get him back at that level. The defenseman sprained his knee on Feb. 4 against Tampa Bay.
“Our defensive group has been playing very well lately, so it’s a tough choice, but at the same time we’ve got to get (Scandella) going,” Yeo said.
Defenseman Clayton Stoner will come out tonight, but Yeo said that he told the blueliner that he shouldn’t expect to be out of the lineup for too long. It’s nice for the coach to have options with the D-corps playing at a high level all season. Competition for spots brings everyone’s game up.
With Koivu coming back a forward will have to come out of the lineup, but Yeo said it will be a game-time decision.
Granlund vs. Granlund
Tonight, Wild forward Mikael Granlund will face his younger brother Markus for the first time in their National Hockey League careers. Markus was recalled by the Flames last week and has appeared in two NHL games.
“It’s exciting but you don’t want to think about it too much,” Mikael said.
Mikael said that he’s not going to ease up on his sibling if they go into the corner together: “I’ll try to win it for sure.” Granlund didn't say if he'd give his younger bro a wet willy during the battle.
Kuemper Third Star
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper is coming off back-to-back road wins and will get the start in net tonight. For his effort in road wins last week in Edmonton and Vancouver, Kuemper was named the NHL’s Third Star for the week ending March 2. He had a shutout and posted a 0.48 goals-against average and a .981 save percentage during the week.
Wild Signs Gabriel
The Wild has signed right wing Kurtis Gabriel to a three-year entry-level contract starting with the 2014-15 season.
“We’re very happy with Kurtis’ progress this year and look forward to him developing within our organization,” said Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr. “He’s a hard-working kid that brings an intriguing package of size, physical competitiveness and character.”
The Wild’s third-round pick (81st overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft has recorded 42 points (12-30=42), including three game-winning goals, 86 penalty minutes (PIM) and a plus-4 rating in 54 games with the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season. The 6-foot-4, 214-pound native of New Market, Ont., serves as an assistant captain and leads his team in assists, is third in PIM and fourth in scoring. The 20-year-old has tallied 91 points (30-61=91) and 278 PIM in 226 career WHL games during four seasons with Owen Sound.
Wild Foundation Auction
The Minnesota Wild Foundation is currently hosting an online auction featuring exclusive autographed memorabilia including signed goal pucks, collectables and Team USA Hockey apparel. The auction also features an opportunity for an in-game Flag Bearer experience for the club’s March 22 game against Detroit. The auction ends Sunday, March 9 and fans can click here to bid.