In the home stretch of what’s been a grueling recovery, Wild captain Mikko Koivu has made a concerted effort to not get too far ahead of himself.
He has instituted a mental checklist as he works his way back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, and while playing in Saturday’s preseason game against the Colorado Avalanche served as one of the final boxes to check off, Koivu will more than likely take it with a grain of salt.
Never too high. Never too low. That’s always been his MO.
Still, it’s hard to imagine Koivu wasn’t feeling something extra as his name was announced over the loudspeakers before puck drop. He got the start in his first game since suffering the injury 7 months ago, playing alongside Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin, with Ryan Suter and Matt Dumba behind him.
Just like that, Koivu was back to playing the game he loves. Almost like he never left.
Even though there was some rust, which was to be expected, Koivu looked very much like himself, playing solidly in both ends and winning board battles with regularity. He played on the power play and the penalty kill, too, taking on more or less his usual workload as he works his way back to 100%.
“I’ve been on schedule so far,” Koivu said last week. “It’s day by day and week by week. We’ll talk with the trainers and talk with the coaching staff and talk with management. That said, at the end of the day, it’s about me feeling comfortable out there.”
As for the game itself, Koivu had little impact in the Wild’s 4-3 victory. Dumba, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal and Mats Zuccarello scored goals to lead the Wild.
It was an especially good sign for Dumba, who like Koivu is working his way back from a significant injury. He scored early in the first period, unleashing a one-timer from just inside the blue line and proving he still boasts one of the most dangerous shots in the game.
That lead held until early in the second period, when Devan Dubnyk bungled a clearing attempt and allowed the Avalanche to pull even.
Luckily for him, Zucker scored less than a minute later, pounding home a rebound, and Staal provided insurance late in the frame, capping an end-to-end rush with a slick wrist shot.
As the game wound to a close in the third period, Zuccarello scored with a nifty move on a breakaway.