Injured Wild captain Koivu could play this homestand; Kunin called up
ST. PAUL -- The wait is over for Luke Kunin. The captain’s wait continues.
Mikko Koivu worked out in the gym Monday but is sidelined day-to-day after absorbing a knee-to-knee collision with suspended Flames defenseman Mark Giordano in Thursday’s 2-0 loss in Calgary.
Coach Bruce Boudreau was optimistic his versatile and durable two-way center might be available later this week during Minnesota’s four-game homestand, which starts Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens.
“That’s the way we look at it,” Boudreau said. “It’s nowhere near anything we thought. He’s working out hard right now. We’ll see how he goes (Tuesday).”
Boudreau said the Wild were bracing for worse news, but the team feels like it dodged a bullet.
“Hopefully,” he said. “When you first see it, you’re always wondering, but it’s day-to-day.”
Kunin was called up from the American Hockey League Iowa Wild on Sunday night after scoring a goal and bagging two assists. The 2016 first-round pick (15th overall) is second on the Iowa Wild with eight goals among 15 points.
Koivu’s loss is troublesome for a reeling team that has lost five of its past six games to tumble out of the playoff picture. He has only missed four games over the past four-plus seasons.
Koivu, who sat out Friday’s 7-2 blowout loss at Edmonton, is tied for third on the Wild with 21 points. He is a mainstay on special teams who wins 56 percent of his faceoffs, the most proficient on the club.
“Great on draws, that’s an underrated thing,” said linemate Zach Parise. “When you’re winning draws, you’ve got possession of the puck that much more. We’ll have to elevate. We didn’t see that in Edmonton.”
The Wild suffered their ugliest loss of the season against the Oilers. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk was pulled for Alex Stalock after allowing three goals in the first 8:42. Over his past six starts, Dubnyk is 1-4 with a bloated 4.36 goals-against average and paltry .837 save percentage.
Boudreau would not name his starter against Montreal, but he is adamant Dubnyk has to battle through his struggles.
“Devan’s been the No. 1 (goalie) here for a lot of years and we know he’s great,” Boudreau said. “We know he just didn’t lose how to play in two weeks. So it’s something he’s got to work himself out of.”
Meanwhile, Kunin is back in Minnesota later than he had planned. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee March 4 against the Detroit Red Wings and a month later had season-ending surgery.
Kunin, who had two goals and two assists in 19 games as an NHL rookie, rehabbed all summer and reported to training camp but was unable to participate in full-contact workouts until the end of camp. When he finally was cleared to play, the Wild sent him down to Des Moines to get his legs back underneath him.
Minnesota’s recent 13-5 stretch, which elevated the Wild at one point to second place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, was fueled by balance play and health. Despite tearing up the AHL, Kunin was the odd-man out until Koivu’s injury opened up a spot.
“It was hard to be patient with everything, but it’s nice to be on the other side of it now, said Kunin, 21. “I’m just happy to be back. I feel great. I really like where my game’s at. I’m looking forward to playing (Tuesday).
“Definitely the most challenging thing I’ve gone through,” he added. “It’s been pretty smooth sailing until that injury happened. It definitely tests your patience, your character, your mental toughness. I think I came through on the other side a better person and stronger.”
Kunin practiced at center on the Wild’s third line flanked by wingers Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway, with whom Kunin is plenty familiar after playing alongside him on various U.S. national teams.
“I feel like every team we’ve been on together we’ve been on the same line,” Kunin said. “Big body. Easy guy to play with and makes plays. And Eky’s a smart player as well. Hopefully we’ll find some chemistry.”
Boudreau likes the youth and energy the younger players on that line can generate.
“I found when I played, if I played with guys who are either called up or my age, I didn’t feel like I was intimidated by feeling I had to get guys pucks,” he said. “So it makes it a similar transition for him.”
The Wild have been outscored 24-13 during their skid. Goaltending and defense have been porous. But the Wild continue to fall behind and struggle to play catch-up when opponents deploy a defensive dragnet.
“We’d love everybody to start finishing right now,” said Boudreau. “We’re holding the stick so tight, it’s tough. Once you get a couple things will be better.”