With a title like that, I’ve got some explaining to do.
Here in Minny, suggesting anything that’s even the slightest bit negative about our team’s captain is just about the most surefire way to unleash a tsunami of hockey-hate on yourself. Your friends may turn on you, hockey bloggers might curse your name for all eternity, and there might even be hockey riots in the streets. Talking smack about Mikko Koivu isn’t just offensive around here- it’s downright blasphemous!
So before a mob of angry Wild fans starts chasing me around with pitchforks, I’d like to take a moment to reassure you that my intent here is NOT to blame Mikko for all the Wild’s troubles. I’m a HUGE fan of Mikko, and I’m thrilled that he is our captain.
But sometimes, certain things need to be said. And this is definitely one of those times.
If you’ve watched any Wild games lately, you’ve probably noticed how inconsistent the team has been. Depending on what game -or even what period- you’re watching, the Wild either resembles a team on its way to the playoffs or a team desperately seeking a lottery pick at the 2011 draft.
With only 1 win in the last 5 games, the Wild has been exceptionally dismal lately and the frustration from Wild fans is building. Some people are screaming about poor goaltending (Backstrom has NOT been good lately), some blame a porous defense (Wild has been outscored 23-12 in the last 5 games and outshot in 4 of those games), and some blame bad coaching (Richards just learned about timeouts on Monday). Strangely, it seems like nobody is asking one of the most obvious and important questions in a situation like this:
Where the heck is the captain of this team?
Mikko Koivu started the season doing exactly what we expected him to do. He had ups and downs like any player of course, but he was contributing, involved and intense every night. The team overall wasn’t playing all that great, but we could always count on Mikko to do what he does best- lead the way on and off the ice.
Mikko played hard, and his numbers illustrate this. Through the first 10 games of the season, he had 11 points (3g, 8a) and he was +5. He had 27 shots on goal, 2 game-winning goals, and 12 PIMs too. These stats are certainly not superlative by any stretch, and they only represent 10 games, but they are at least a good indicator that Mikko was fired up and involved on a pretty consistent basis.
In November though, Mikko’s numbers are somewhat worse- he had only 7 points (1g, 6a) in 13 games. He had 25 shots on goal, 0 game-winners, 8 PIMs, and a -2 rating. These numbers might not be telling the whole story (his linemates have been awful), but they seem to hint at something that Wild fans have known for some time:
Mikko, it seems, is not really himself lately.
Whether it’s due to a nagging injury (it’s possible he has shoulder/knee issues), frustration with the coach (who could blame him), disappointment with other players (something we can all relate to), or just a bit of a slump (happens to everyone), it’s still safe to say that Mikko definitely has room to improve his game.
And not just from a statistical point of view either. His skating has been uninspired, his passes have been inconsistent, and he hasn’t been the frighteningly intense, electrifyingly skilled player we all know he can be. He needs to start by bringing the hustle to tonight’s game against the Coyotes, and in a big way too.
When a team is struggling like the Wild is, when players are working hard but not working together, and when the lines are being shuffled around more often than Cal Clutterbuck combs his ‘stache, one of the players needs to step up and make something happen. At this point, it’s up to the players to find a way to win some games and play some consistent hockey. Someone in that locker room needs to take charge and get the team back on track.
The Wild needs one of the leaders to take this situation personally. It needs someone to show the fans AND his teammates how much he hates to lose. It needs someone to inspire the team not by just taking responsibility for a bad shift (though Madden’s efforts were noble), but by standing up and forcefully dragging this mediocre team back into playoff contention.
For the Wild, that someone needs to be Mikko Koivu.