Under Pressure: Mikko Koivu

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Minnesota Wild, we pick… captain Mikko Koivu.

On the surface, Koivu had a solid 2013 campaign. He finished second on the team with 37 points and captained the Wild to their first postseason appearance in four years.

But dig a little deeper, and cracks start to show.

Koivu scored 33 of his 37 points in the first three months of the season, followed by a tough April-May stretch that saw his production dry up and Minnesota struggle.

Koivu scored just one goal and four points in 14 April games, a slump that coincided with the Wild going 5-8-1 to close out the year, backing into the eighth and final playoff spot — and a first-round date with the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.

It was in that opening round where Koivu’s struggles got worse.

From the Minnesota Star-Tribune:

In his first playoff series since he was given the captain’s “C’’ Koivu played like a man unfamiliar with the job description during the Wild’s 5-2 loss to Chicago in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup quarterfinals…

…The Wild’s braintrust loves to defend Koivu by citing all the little things he does right, but the Wild, in this series, needs him to show up on something other than a microscope.

It’s a difficult challenge, facing the Blackhawks’ top line, but if the Wild is going to make a series of this, Koivu will need to at least be one of Minnesota’s better players.

So far, he hasn’t been close.

That nightmarish performance (minus-3, three minor penalties, 46 percent in the faceoff circle and just two shots on goal) was the low point, though things didn’t get much better. Koivu finished the series minus-6 overall and failed to score a single point.

Following the series, head coach Mike Yeo tried to put a brave face on things.

“I feel bad for Mikko,” Yeo explained. “He did a lot of the right things… and just didn’t get rewarded.”

Which brings us to the 2013-14 campaign.

Koivu enters not just a leader, but rather the leader — Minnesota never had a full-time captain prior to Koivu in 2009, having rotated the “C” for the first nine years of its existence.

There are challengers to the leadership mantle, though.

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter arrived to great fanfare, signed more lucrative contracts and were given alternate captaincies immediately upon their arrival — and within a year, Parise led the team in scoring and Suter earned a Norris nomination as the league’s top defenseman.

But this is still Koivu’s team until otherwise noted. That, along with his hefty $6.75 million cap hit, should raise the stakes for what promises to be a crucial year. The Wild have much higher aspirations than squeaking into the postseason and winning one game — they’re spending to the max and want to make a playoff run.

“We can’t say that we haven’t made the playoffs in four years,” Yeo explained. “We made the playoffs last year. And now our focus is on something bigger than that.”

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Video: Austin Watson takes a shot at Vladimir Tarasenko

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The St. Louis Blues and their fans showed class in how they reacted to Kevin Fiala‘s very, very scary injury during Game 1.

Still, these are two physical Central Division rivals, so you expect to see some nastiness here and there between the Blues and Nashville Predators.

One moment that will likely divide onlookers came when Predators tough guy Austin Watson got a shot in on Vladimir Tarasenko, at least briefly hurting the world-class sniper.

It’s unlikely to be a big deal since Tarasenko seems to be OK, but there may be some debate here. On one hand, there are those who believe Watson got away with a cheap shot; on the other, some seem to imply that there was some embellishment. Maybe it’s even a combination of the two?

Either way, the Predators enter the third period up 3-1, so St. Louis will likely ask Tarasenko to focus on getting revenge by scoring goals.

Blues just have no answer for P.K. Subban right now

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In the first round, P.K. Subban was dominant against the Chicago Blackhawks, but mainly if you look at “fancy stats.” There’s nothing wrong with two assists in that sweep, but those aren’t jaw-dropping numbers.

You don’t need to dig deep to see his impact on Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues. A mere glance at the box score – or a chance to see his blistering shot – and you’ll realize that the Nashville Predators defenseman has been a nightmare for Jake Allen & Co. so far on Wednesday.

Subban seemingly scored his first postseason goal with the Predators to make it 1-0, but Colin Wilson was actually credited with the tally.

No bother there. Subban gave the Predators a crucial lift shortly after player resumed following Kevin Fiala‘s horrifying injury, getting that first Predators playoff goal with another booming shot.

Subban managed to draw a slashing penalty on Scottie Upshall and also sent another huge shot to set up a James Neal goal. There’s no mistaking that P.K. has played a huge role in Nashville going up 3-1 so far; the Blues need to find some answers, and fast.

Video: Predators’ Kevin Fiala leaves on stretcher, hospitalized after scary fall

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The crowd in St. Louis was sent to stunned silence at the scary sight of Nashville Predators rookie Kevin Fiala crashing feet-first into boards during the first period of Game 1.

Fiala was taken off the ice on a stretcher after he awkwardly hit the boards following a hit by Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. An arena announcement indicated that Fiala will be taken to a nearby hospital.

The Predators announced that Fiala is alert and stable in an update.

It’s a cruel twist for the 20-year-old forward, whose high-end speed stands out most when you first see him. A bit longer than a week ago, he scored the biggest goal of his career as he ended Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks with the overtime-clincher. Now one has to wonder about his bigger-picture health.

Members of the Blues and Predators both escorted Fiala off the ice during a stunning moment for all involved.

Colin Wilson: still far more productive in playoffs (Video)

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When you put together a list of “clutch” players, do you put Colin Wilson on it?

Before you laugh that question off – which, really, that’s kind of mean – consider how productive the under-the-radar Nashville Predators forward is during the postseason.

In 33 career playoff games, Wilson had 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points. He’s now at 12 goals and 21 points in 34 games after the first period of Game 1, and there is time to add to those totals.

That’s already pretty solid, but consider his regular season: 12 goals and 35 points in 70 games. He’s only scored 20 goals once in his career.

Yet … for whatever reason, when the games get bigger, the 27-year-old has developed a knack for scoring at a much higher clip. In the case of Game 1 against the Blues – his first game of this postseason thanks to injuries – he deflected P.K. Subban‘s booming shot for the 1-0 goal. Watch it above.

And wonder: is it hasty to consider him clutch?