Mikko Koivu

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.

Schenn’s hat trick powers Flyers to eighth straight win

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 29:  Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers is congratulated by teammates Jakub Voracek #93 and Brayden Schenn #10 after Giroux scored in the first period against the Boston Bruins on November 29, 2016 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Dallas Stars were less than four minutes away from not only winning consecutive games for just the second time this season, but also snapping the Philadelphia Flyers’ winning streak on Saturday afternoon.

Then they started taking penalties, allowing Brayden Schenn and the Flyers’ power play to take over.

Schenn scored three power play goals, including two in the final four minutes to tie the game and then ultimately win it, to help lead the Flyers to a 4-2 win and extend their current winning streak to eight games.

Schenn had an eventful day on Saturday. Along with the hat trick, he also ended up in a fight with Stephen Johns in the first period.

The Flyers are now 17-10-3 on the season and have rapidly climbed the Eastern Conference standings over the past two weeks during this winning streak.

The Stars penalty kill has been a huge problem this season and it surfaced again on Saturday afternoon as they were unable to stay out of the penalty box late in the game. Jamie Oleksiak‘s cross-checking penalty on Jakub Voracek resulted in Schenn’s goal to tie the game. Less than a minute after that goal Tyler Seguin was sent off for high-sticking leading to Schenn’s third goal of the game just 40 seconds into the man advantage.

After Saturday the Stars’ penalty kill is now down to just 76 percent on the season and is near the bottom of the NHL.

That is just one of the many reasons the Stars are off to a disappointing 11-12-6 start through their first 29 games. Even worse, it was another missed opportunity to build on a win after a big 5-2 win in Nashville on Thursday.

The Stars have managed to win consecutive games just one time this season and have yet to win more than two games in a row.

They are now 1-7-3 in games following a win this season.

 

Goalie Nods: Penguins go back to Matt Murray against Lightning

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30: Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins tends goal against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on November 30, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Penguins 5-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After sitting for three consecutive games earlier in the week, Matt Murray was back in the lineup on Thursday night for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Florida Panthers. After stopping 28 of the 29 shots he faced in a 5-1 win (and nearly scoring an empty net goal), he gets the call again on Saturday night when the Penguins face the Tampa Bay Lightning in a rematch of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals.

At this point the Penguins’ goalie rotation seems to simply be “keep playing until you lose or get pulled.”

Marc-Andre Fleury, after winning back-to-back starts against Dallas and Detroit, was lifted midway through the second period against Ottawa on Monday night paving the way for Murray to return to the crease.

Since taking over for Fleury midway through Monday’s game Murray has stopped 45 of the 47 shots he has faced and has a .934 save percentage on the season. Including playoffs, Murray has a .928 save percentage in 45 appearances at the NHL level since making his debut during the 2015-16 season. That is one of the best marks in the NHL during that stretch.

The Lightning, who have lost seven of their past nine games, are going with Andrei Vasilevskiy after Ben Bishop was pulled for giving up four goals on 20 shots in a 5-1 loss to Vancouver on Thursday.

With a .929 save percentage in 10 starts this season Vasilevskiy has been the Lightning’s best goalie so far. He replaced Bishop on Thursday night after he surrendered four goals on only 20 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

Elsewhere…

Steve Mason and Kari Lehtonen went for the Flyers and Stars respectively in their afternoon game, while Peter Budaj went against Mike Condon in the Kings-Senators game.

— With Ryan Miller sidelined due to a suspected lower body injury, Jacob Markstrom gets the call for Vancouver against his former team, the Florida Panthers. On the other end of the ice Roberto Luongo was also getting the start against his former team for the Panthers.

— The Islanders are trying to dig themselves out of an early deficit in the standings with a point in six straight games (5-0-1). They look to continue that strong play on Saturday against a Columbus team that has been the biggest surprise in the NHL this season. The Islanders go with Jaroslav Halak. The Blue Jackets, who have won five straight including a 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, have not yet announced their starter. Sergei Bobrovsky will start again after getting the win on Friday.

Carey Price will be back in net for the Canadiens after he avoided discipline for punching Kyle Palmieri the other night with his blocker. He will go against Calvin Pickard in the Colorado net.

Frederik Andersen vs. Tuukka Rask is the goalie matchup in Boston when the Bruins host the Maple Leafs.

Mike Smith looks to snap a personal five-game winless streak when he gets the nod for the Arizona Coyotes against Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators.

— The Flames are going with Chad Johnson in net again when they host the Winnipeg Jets, and for good reason. Johnson has taken the No. 1 job in Calgary and now has a 10-2-0 record to go with a .947 save percentage in 12 starts since Nov. 15. No official word from the Jets on their starting goalie.

— The Sharks and Hurricanes have yet to announce their starters for the late game.

Coyotes place Max Domi on IR, out ‘week to week’

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Max Domi #16 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game against the Dallas Stars at Gila River Arena on February 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Stars 6-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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A tough season for the Arizona Coyotes managed to get even tougher on Saturday when the team announced it has placed forward Max Domi on injured reserve with an upper body injury.

He is expected to be sidelined on a week-to-week basis. The earliest Domi is expected to return is next Saturday’s game against Minnesota.

Domi, 21, is one of the team’s best young players and has been an immediate success since arriving in the NHL a year ago. After finishing second on the team in scoring with 52 points as a rookie, a performance that earned him a sixth place finish in the Calder Trophy voting, he is once again second on the team this season with 16 points through the team’s first 26 games.

Domi played 10 minutes in the Coyotes’ most recent game against the Calgary Flames before exiting the game late in the second period following a fight with Garnet Hathaway.

This is the fight.

Domi is a skilled forward, but he is no stranger to dropping the gloves, with that fight already being his seventh in the NHL since the start of the 2015-16 season. Even if it is something he occasionally does it still has to be tough to lose perhaps your best player to an injury in a fight.

The Coyotes are in Nashville on Saturday night to play the Predators. They enter the day with an 8-13-5 record that has them tied for the worst record in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche.

With Ryan Miller injured, Canucks recall Thatcher Demko

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 02:  Ryan Miller #30 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from his crease during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 2, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller had to exit the team’s 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night with a suspected lower body injury after stopping 38 of the 39 shots he faced.

The team did not seem overly concerned about it at the time, but Miller did not participate in the team’s morning skate on Saturday before their game against the Florida Panthers.

The team also announced that goalie Thatcher Demko has been recalled from the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League.

Demko, the team’s second-round draft pick (No. 36 overall) in 2014 is in his first year of pro hockey after a successful collegiate career at Boston College. In 14 games with Utica this season he has .909 save percentage. While the overall numbers are not anything overly impressive, he has been playing significantly better in recent weeks after a tough stretch to start his pro career.

Miller has a .916 save percentage in 15 games for the Canucks this season. If he can not go on Saturday night look for Jacob Markstrom to get the call with Demko serving as his backup.

There is no word at this point on how long the Canucks expect Miller to be sidelined.