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Rink Report: Koivu's Solid Season Has Ripple Effect

Wild captain's constancy permeates line, dressing room

by Phil Ervin /

ST. PAUL -- Sometimes, value is best demonstrated by a void.

Several factors contributed to the Wild's come-from-ahead loss Sunday to Nashville. But losing center, captain and quintessence of two-way hockey Mikko Koivu due to illness certainly hurt. Tuesday in Dallas, the CapFinn was back, encompassing the middle of the ice on both ends, winning important faceoffs -- including one at the end of regulation to force overtime -- and adding a power-play goal and shootout marker to boot.

He's not a stat sheet stuffer. Never has been. But Minnesota is a different team without its kapteeni, as they say in Koivu's native land.

"He's the captain and the leader, and it's just not scoring, even though he scored last night," coach Bruce Boudreau said after Wednesday's optional skate (Koivu did not participate). "It's those other attributes he brings. We can put that line against any line in the League and they usually do a very good job checking them, plus they can score, which is an invaluable thing. In cases like the shootout yesterday, last-minute faceoffs, those are things that Mikko brings to the table in spades."

Video: Wild on Value of CapFinn Koivu

Not that Wild fans, or his teammates, need any reminders, but Koivu is providing them in bunches this season. His 14 goals are tied for second on the team. His 20 assists are fifth. And the faceoff fiend enters Thursday night's home game against St. Louis winning 54.8 percent of his draws -- fifth in the NHL among players with more than 900 attempts.

But the performance of Koivu's line mates, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker, might say more about the kind of season Koivu's had so far.

"He's such a calming piece," said Granlund, who's already four points from tying his season career high set last year. "It's kind of safe to play with him."

Said Zucker, who like Koivu has 14 goals this season: "I think a lot of it is just knowing he's been through everything that we're going through numerous times in his career and making sure that we're staying sharp every night."

When speedsters Zucker and Granlund go in deep on the forecheck, they know Koivu has their back, both said. Offensive cycles tend to last longer in the offensive zone when he's on their line, whether it's 5-on-5 or a man advantage.

And when either winger slides into the faceoff circle, they know the puck's coming their way more often than not.

"That always helps," Zucker said.

It's the kind of thing that makes Koivu Koivu -- discipline, details and consistency. It's a longstanding mindset that, along with the influx of Boudreau's staff and Eric Staal -- who, it should be noted, has taken a lot of pressure off Koivu as another upper-echelon center on the roster -- has Minnesota on top of the Western Conference one game before the All-Star break.

And while the reasons for the Wild's ascent have been plenty, a lot of them are at the very least embodied in a leader who economizes his words but provides the franchise real substance on the ice and in the dressing room.

"Not even what he's saying -- obviously, we're really good friends -- but the example he shows every single day," Granlund, Koivu's countryman, said. "He's such a professional guy, and there's a lot to learn [from] him."

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