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.

The ‘style of play’ difference that Treliving cited ‘was news’ to Hartley

Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley gives instructions during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Saturday, March 5, 2016. The Flames won 4-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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When Bob Hartley was fired as head coach of the Calgary Flames, GM Brad Treliving left the impression that there was a difference between the “style of play” that Hartley coached and the style that Treliving wanted.

Yesterday, on a conference call with reporters, Hartley called that “news to me.”

“I felt that Brad and I always talked,” Hartley said, per the Calgary Sun, “and I always thought that we were on the same page.”

Now, for the record, Treliving did not say that he and Hartley were constantly butting heads, or that their working relationship had gone completely off the rails. In fact, the GM made a point to say, “I don’t want to characterize this as I’m standing in one end of the corner and Bob’s at the other end, and one’s talking chess and the other’s talking checkers.”

But that’s sort of how it came off — that Hartley had his philosophy, Treliving had his philosophy, and the two were incompatible.

Hence, the coach’s surprise.

“Brad Treliving was a great help to the coaching staff, was very supportive of us, so at no point was there a difference of opinion and everything,” said Hartley.

“So yesterday that was news to me.”

Related: Travis Green thinks he’s ready to coach in the NHL

Perry to captain Canada at Worlds

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 11:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 and Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks watch from the bench during the first period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on April 11, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Corey Perry will spearhead the leadership group looking to guide Canada to its second straight gold medal at the World Hockey Championships.

On Thursday, the Canadian contingent announced that Perry would captain the squad at this year’s tournament, to be held in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Joining him in the leadership group will be Colorado’s Matt Duchene, and Buffalo’s Ryan O'Reilly.

“This is an energetic young team, and these three players bring a mixture of youth and experience in their leadership role on the ice and in the dressing room,” Canadian head coach Bill Peters said, per the Toronto Sun. “Their resumes speak for themselves — they know what it takes to compete at the highest level, and have all been part of pulling together Team Canada successes during these short-term events.”

Unlike Duchene and O’Reilly, Perry wasn’t a part of last year’s championship team, but does have extensive international experience. He was part of the Canadian teams that captured gold at the ’10 Olympics in Vancouver at the ’14 games in Sochi.

He’s also played in a pair of World Championships, but failed to medal both times.

Trevor Daley is ‘in a good place’ now

Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby (87) is congratulated by Trevor Daley (6) and Conor Sheary (43) after scoring a goal during the first period of Game 4 against the Washington Capitals in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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In just a few short months, Trevor Daley has gone from not being a fit in Chicago to being an indispensable part of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The veteran defenseman played almost 30 minutes last night, by far the most of any Penguin. Despite the absence of Kris Letang and Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh was able to beat the Capitals in overtime and take a 3-1 series lead back to Washington.

“It’s funny how this game works,” Daley said, per the Penguins’ website. “You stick with it and good things happen. I’m just grateful for the opportunity. I’m in a good place here. I’m enjoying it with a great group of guys. We just play. That’s been our motto since I got here, since (Mike Sullivan) got here – just play.”

Traded to Pittsburgh in December, with Rob Scuderi going to the Blackhawks, Daley’s strengths were immediately utilized by Sullivan. The Penguins’ new head coach came in emphasizing the importance of breakouts, and that suited Daley just fine.

“Over the years my game has been getting in the play, moving the puck,” Daley said after he was traded. “I’m not the biggest guy so I won’t push guys over. I get into areas quickly and try to be a good team guy.”

It was simply a good match. And for that, GM Jim Rutherford should be applauded. The Penguins are one game away from the Eastern Conference Final, and Daley is a big reason why.

Related: Penguins provided ‘fresh start’ for Daley

Veteran d-man Volchenkov signs in KHL

Arizona Coyotes v Nashville Predators
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After not playing anywhere this year, longtime NHL blueliner Anton Volchenkov is back in action, having signed a deal with KHL club Admiral Vladivostok.

The deal, announced by Admiral on Thursday, puts Volchenkov back on a team for the first time since suiting up with Nashville during the ’14-15 campaign. He appeared in 46 games for the Preds, recording seven assists.

Prior to his time in Nashville, Volchenkov in over 600 games with the Senators and Devils. He’d established a reputation as a physical, hard-hitting d-man, but struggled with injury and mobility in the later stages of his time in New Jersey, and was ultimately bought out of his contract.