Cross Checks: Mikko Koivu

Morning jam: Quick overnight game facts

March, 30, 2012
• Marcus Johansson scored one goal and assisted on another for the Capitals in their shootout win at Boston. Johansson’s two points in Thursday’s victory give him a total of 10 points in 15 games in March (2 goals, 8 assists). It’s the first time in Johansson’s two seasons in the NHL that he’s reached double figures in points for a calendar month.

• Mikko Koivu’s goal 15 seconds into overtime earned the Wild a 3–2 win against the Panthers on Thursday. It was the second-fastest overtime goal in an NHL game this season (Washington’s Brooks Laich scored at 0:12 of OT on Dec. 3 vs. Ottawa) and the quickest overtime goal in Minnesota franchise history, 10 seconds faster than the previous record, 25 seconds by Marian Gaborik at Los Angeles on Oct. 18, 2006.

• The Islanders, who won 5–3 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, completed a sweep of their home-and-home set against the Penguins with a win by the same score at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday. Josh Bailey had a hand in all five Islanders goals, scoring two and assisting on three. Bailey is the second NHL player to score five or more points in a game this season and record a point on every one of his team’s goals. Sam Gagner did that with four goals and four assists in the Oilers’ 8–4 win over the Blackhawks on Feb. 2.

• Danny Briere set a single-game career high with four assists in the Flyers’ 7–1 win at Toronto. Briere is only the third Flyers player to record four assists in a road game over the last 11 seasons. The other Philadelphia players with four assists in a road game since 2000–01 were Mike Richards (Oct. 24, 2008, at New Jersey) and Claude Giroux (Jan. 23, 2011, at Chicago).

• Martin Brodeur was not at the top of his game on Thursday night, allowing four goals while facing only 20 shots, including three goals by Ryan Malone, but he still posted a 6–4 win against the Lightning. It was Brodeur’s 115th win over the last four seasons but only the second in which he gave up more than three goals. The other one was a 5–4 overtime victory against the Maple Leafs on Jan. 29, 2010.
TORONTO -- Devin Setoguchi slammed his stick on the ice in disgust Wednesday, his face wrought in frustration.

He might as well have been speaking for the entire Minnesota Wild organization.

With two wins in their past 16 games (2-10-4), the once NHL-leading Wild are hanging on for their playoff lives while trying to preserve their wits.

"The only way to get out of this is to believe in the guys in the room and believe in yourself,” a composed Setoguchi told after practice. "You have to get that confidence in you. Right now we’re a group with injuries, which is never an excuse, but everyone needs to step up and be better. And that includes myself, the guys that are looked at for scoring -- that’s a big piece of the puzzle we’re looking for right now.’’

There’s certainly extra pressure on a sniper such as Setoguchi. The Wild have scored more than two goals only three times during this 16-game free-fall, massive injuries depleting their ranks, including dropping three of their top six forwards (Mikko Koivu, Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard).

Setoguchi has two goals in his past 11 games. Linemate Dany Heatley has four goals in his past 16 games. There’s almost no secondary scoring behind them -- the Wild are 29th in the NHL in offense -- which puts even more pressure on the two first-line wingers.

Hence, when Setoguchi missed the net on a drill at the Maple Leafs’ suburban practice facility Wednesday, he flashed some anger.

"We’re having a tough time scoring goals right now,’’ Setoguchi said. "If you want to score in games, you have to try and score in practice. When they’re not going in, in practice, you’re like ... well, you try not to get frustrated.’’

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Warren Peters, he of the 62 career NHL games, was centering the top line Wednesday between Heatley and Setoguchi.

"We’re ready to experiment; we’re ready to try some things,’’ coach Mike Yeo explained after practice. "The status quo is not what we’re looking for right now.’’

Fresh off a 5-1 pasting Tuesday night in Philadelphia, the Wild held a team meeting before practice Wednesday. Right now, the psychological battle is as daunting as the X’s and O’s.

"It’s huge,’’ said Yeo, a terrific hire by the Wild last summer. "That’s what we talked about today before practice. I wanted to get the players to talk about it as well. Right now, if something bad happens, the wheels fall off. We get away from what it is we’re supposed to do. The thing is, I know everybody cares and everybody really wants to do the right thing. But we have to channel that the right way. We can’t have guys having individual efforts and trying to compensate for personnel being out or something bad happening in the game -- because that’s when things spiral out of control for you.’’

This is the biggest challenge yet in Yeo’s rookie head-coaching season. He told on Wednesday that he’s exchanged text messages with his former coaching partner Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh. After all, both coaches can draw parallels with their challenges that come with trying to overcome injuries.

The Wild hook up with the Maple Leafs here in Toronto on Thursday night in a game that pits two anxious teams, the local squad having lost three games in a row to sit outside a playoff spot in the East. The first goal will be huge. The Leafs are facing the most pressure they’ve felt all season after falling out of a playoff spot. The Wild, meanwhile, are a fragile bunch, to say the least.

"It’s tough right now,” Heatley said Wednesday. "We said it when things were going good: Teams go through good and bad stretches. We’re in the midst of a real bad one. Obviously we’re pretty banged up, but we need to find a way to win some games.’’

The GM is doing his best to try to lend a helping hand. Chuck Fletcher said Wednesday he already was planning on trying to add offense via trade back when his team was healthy, let alone with the ensuing injuries. Now with the Wild's top player, Koivu, going down, Fletcher has ramped up those efforts. But finding a top-six forward is a challenge.

As I reported in my weekend notebook last week, Vaclav Prospal of the Blue Jackets, a UFA on July 1, could be a target for Minnesota since Fletcher has a history with him. Other forwards who generally could be on the move before Feb. 27 include Ales Hemsky in Edmonton, Kristian Huselius and Antoine Vermette in Columbus, Brad Boyes in Buffalo and Tuomo Ruutu in Carolina, just to name a few.

"It’s not easy just to go out and get an impact player in January,’’ Fletcher said. "There’s a lot of teams [and] people competing for similar assets, too. We’ll see what happens. I’ll try to do something if it makes sense. If it’s not there, I’m not going to force it.’’

For the Wild, the hope is that this dark period will strengthen them in the long run. Coming out of this rut, they hope, will make them a stronger group.

"We believe in each other,’’ Heatley said. "We know we can win games together. It’s another opportunity tomorrow night.’’

And you try to find motivation wherever you can find it.

"Everyone who wrote about us at the start of the year, saying we’d be in last place, they’re smiling, I’m sure, right now,’’ Setoguchi said. "We can use that as motivation. We were first overall [in mid-December]; we know what we need to do. We’re in a funk, but we believe in here.

"We’re still in a playoff spot, which is hard to believe after the last 16-17 games,’’ Setoguchi added. "Right now it’s playoff hockey for us. It starts now.’’

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for

1. Iginla gamble paying off

We will admit to being quietly surprised when Calgary interim GM Jay Feaster was so emphatic in his insistence that he would not seek to move captain Jarome Iginla before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.

When Feaster took over for GM Darryl Sutter, forced out by ownership, the Flames were buried in the Western Conference standings. They were saddled with bad contracts and a barren assets cupboard. Iginla, who had struggled through the first part of this season, had two more years left on his current deal and a no-move clause, but it seemed like moving the classy captain might be the best thing for all concerned. Iginla would have fetched a veritable king's ransom on the trade deadline market -- the Bruins and Kings were among the teams that were rumored to have been interested in Iginla's services -- and, well, the Flames weren't going anywhere, right?

"When I first got here there's no question we were getting those phone calls about Jarome and Kipper [netminder Miikka Kiprusoff] and Robyn [Regehr]," Feaster told on Monday.

Cue the dramatic music.

Feaster refused to entertain the notion of moving his prized asset just as he had resisted the temptation to move Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier when the same kind of dynamics existed in Tampa before the lockout. Feaster's stand was justified when the Bolts won a Cup behind Lecavalier in 2004.

Now, we're not suggesting the Flames will hoist the chalice this June, but watching Iginla become just the 10th NHL player to score at least 30 goals in 10 straight seasons during Sunday's 3-2 win over Nashville, you know that no one is going to want to face this team in the first round of the playoffs. The Flames have the best winning percentage of any Western Conference team since Jan. 1 with a 20-6-2 record, according to our friends at Elias Sports Bureau. Only the New Jersey Devils have a better winning percentage in that period.

By the deadline, Feaster acknowledged those calls looking to strip the Flames of their core of players, including their captain, had stopped entirely.

"They knew that we weren't going to be trading those guys out and that I was going to keep my word," Feaster said.

Iginla, who scored his 30th of the season in dramatic fashion on a penalty shot Sunday, has five goals and three assists in his last four games. The Flames, fifth in the Western Conference as of Monday morning, are 3-1 over that period.

While the offensive production is nice, Feaster said Iginla's overall contributions have been even more important, including him embracing head coach Brent Sutter's style of play.

"He's just been an important part not just offensively," the GM said.

2. Wild need Koivu back

On a team that has little profile, Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu is truly the quiet star. One has only to look at the current Western Conference standings to understand how important the big center is to the Wild. Before Koivu went down with a broken finger against Anaheim last month, the Wild had won 10 of 14 and had managed three three-game winning streaks over that period to vault themselves back into the playoff picture in the tightly packed Western Conference. Since then, the Wild have managed to win just three times in eight games without Koivu in the lineup. As of Monday, the Wild had sunk to a tie for ninth with Anaheim and Nashville. They are just one point out of eighth place, but unless they either get Koivu back in the lineup -- the Wild are hoping he returns before the end of the regular season -- or find a way to win without their captain, it will be another disappointing spring in the State of Hockey.

3. Playoff tiebreakers

Speaking of the Western Conference, it's going to be interesting to see how the new rules for tiebreakers impact both who gets into the playoffs and home-ice advantage.

Look at Monday's standings and you'll see Minnesota is ninth, even though they have played the same number of games and have the same number of points as Nashville and Anaheim. Anaheim has more wins, the traditional first tiebreaker, but this year shootout victories don't count for tiebreakers, so Anaheim drops below Minnesota in the standings because they have four shootout wins and the Wild have only two. What will be interesting is if the Los Angeles Kings fall into a tie for eighth. They will be in trouble given that they have seven shootout victories, which is tied for the league lead. Nashville, technically 11th because of their shootout record -- they have six shootout victories -- will now have to out-point rivals as opposed to simply tying them in the standings, as will the Ducks and Kings.

In the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers will bear watching as they have seven shootout victories as well and so can't afford to end up in a tie for the eighth spot given current stats. They are coming off a 7-0 drubbing of Philadelphia on Sunday, so maybe the point is moot, but having missed the playoffs last year losing in a shootout in Game 82 against the Flyers, it would seem cruel if the Rangers ended up missing the postseason for a second straight year because of their success in the shootout (or rather lack of success in regulation or overtime).

Another interesting potential shootout impact could be atop the Southeast Division standings. The Capitals have edged ahead of Tampa by a point with the two teams set to clash Monday evening in Tampa. The Lightning have five shootout victories while the Caps have just two, so a tie between the two would likely be decided in Washington's favor based on current shootout records and drop Tampa into a more difficult first-round playoff matchup, at least in theory. Bottom line is that already compelling playoff races will have an added element of intrigue as the final month of the regular season unfolds.

4. Coyotes days in Phoenix numbered?

Hard to see that the city of Glendale's planned lawsuit against the Goldwater Institute -- first reported the city's plans to take the public watchdog group to court over their interference in the sale of municipal bonds Saturday evening -- will have any impact on the final outcome.

Indeed, a number of sources connected to the torturous process in Glendale believe the final dye has been cast and that it is only a matter of days before the lease agreement with Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer falls apart and the league formally announces it will move the team to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season.

The threat of the lawsuit, which multiple sources told was to be filed Monday, was seen as a last-ditch effort to get the Goldwater Institute to back off its threat to sue the city over the lease agreement, which Goldwater believes contravenes state laws on "gifts" to businesses or individuals.

The fact the suit was expected to name not just the institute but individual members of the board was seen as a scare strategy, the idea that seeing their names on a lawsuit would perhaps prompt board members to quietly ask that the institute rethink its hard-line stand on the city's proposed lease deal with Hulsizer.

Hard to believe that will happen given that such a move would erode, if not destroy, the institute's reputation as a hard-line attacker of government misdeeds.

If Goldwater holds fast on its opposition to the sale of municipal bonds, it's difficult to see how the sale could go through, and without the sale, the chances of a new lease agreement with Hulsizer is seen as negligible, and without a lease agreement, there is no sale of the club.

5. Isles have reason for optimism

It's a shame that the actions of knuckle dragger Trevor Gillies have overshadowed what has been an impressive renaissance by the New York Islanders in the second half of this regular season. Yes, the Isles will miss the playoffs for the 12th time in the last 16 seasons and fifth time since the lockout, but since the All-Star break, the youthful Isles have not lost two games in regulation in a row, have won 10 of 19 games and have allowed just four power-play goals in their past 10 outings. According to Islanders' team statisticians, since a horrific 1-17-3 run ended in late December, the Isles' 20-14-15 record is second only to the Boston Bruins over that period in the Eastern Conference.

There are reasons for optimism up and down the Isles' lineup, hope that should extend far beyond this second-half spasm of success.

Defenseman Andrew MacDonald, for instance, is second on the team with 11 power-play assists and has 25 points in 52 games this season.

"He's playing with a lot of confidence right now," head coach Jack Capuano told on Monday.

Capuano, who replaced Scott Gordon as head coach in mid-November, coached MacDonald when both were with the Islanders' AHL franchise in Bridgeport, and Capuano has seen the 24-year-old blossom since being given opportunities he might not have had had the Islanders not been decimated by injury early in the season.

"He's playing 22, 25, sometimes 28 minutes a night," Capuano said.

MacDonald is paired with another promising young defenseman in Travis Hamonic.

Netminder Al Montoya, a former first-round pick of the New York Rangers who was recently acquired from Phoenix for a sixth-round draft pick, has been solid in goal and suggests that there is perhaps life between the Islanders pipes beyond the injury-prone Rick DiPietro.

Montoya is 4-2-2 in his last eight starts and has allowed just 15 goals over that period.

Capuano said Montoya understands that he's been given a golden opportunity to re-establish himself as an NHL netminder.

"I respect the fact that he comes to work every day. He's as focused as can be," Capuano said.

It is customary for teams outside the playoff races to view the final third of the regular season as a kind of extended tryout for next season. But Capuano said that hasn't been part of the discussion in the Islanders' room.

The team has embraced the systems employed by the coaching staff and cut down on the mistakes that cost them games earlier in the season, the coach said.

"The main thing is that they believe in one another. They're great friends," Capuano said.