Following a second injury this year, Wild fans have patiently waited for the return of their Kaptain to the lineup. The offense seems to shrivel up without #9, the defensive play becomes suspect, and the overall heart and commitment of the team is brought into question. Well, fear not, readers of the Wilderness, for the Man Who Never Smiles is returning. From Kent Youngblood:
Mikko Koivu practiced today, wearing a green sweater that signified he could engage in some contact. After doing some work in battle drills, he said he felt good. But neither Koivu nor Yeo would say whether Koivu would play in Columbus tomorrow, though he will travel with the team.
The return of Mikko to the lineup is coming; however, there has been a lot of speculation as to where he slots in. Does Yeo break up the trio of Johnson - Brodziak - Heatley, or does he continue to let that line roll and slot Mikko in on a line with some combination of Cullen, Clutterbuck, and Setoguchi? Make the jump, and we'll dig deeper into the International Man of Finnish Mystery.
Why Yeo should keep Johnson, Brodziak, and Heatley together:
It's no secret that Johnson, Brodziak, and Heatley are clicking. Brodziak as 7 points in his last six games (3G, 4A), Heatley has 8 points (4G, 4A) in his last five, and Johnson has added 5 points (1G, 4A) in six games. That line has really been pulling a lot of the offensive weight for the Wild.
Kyle Brodziak is on pace to set a new career high with 45 points while giving up nothing easily defensively. He's still a go-to guy on the PK, he doesn't cheat in his own zone, and he knows how to support the defensmen well in all three zones.
Dany Heatley has been what the Wild traded for lately, as the 4 goals in 5 games also goes along with 23 shots in that span. He took a season-high 8 shots against Dallas and was robbed on some great chances by Kari Lehtonen. Like Brodziak, Heatley is also getting it done defensively, as he's blocking shots, back checking hard, and doing the little things to get the play moving back into the offensive zone.
Nick Johnson has really stepped up following the All-Star Break and it's developing into a true power forward that wins battles in the tough areas. He's not afraid to go to the corners, he's winning battles, and, like his current linemates, isn't sacrificing in his own zone to pad offensive stats.
Combined, the trio has 20 points in six games. The Cullen - Setoguchi - Clutterbuck trio has only 9 points in that same six game stretch. It's clear that the Brodziak line has collectively stepped up their games and carried this team while waiting for Mikko. If Yeo breaks up the trio, he does run the risk of the offense going ice cold again, no pun intended. For a team that doesn't score a lot, breaking up the only line that's getting the job done offensively is a major risk.
Why Yeo should break up the Johnson - Brodziak - Heatley trio:
Like it or lump it, Mikko Koivu is the Kaptain and is the best center on the team. He's the best playmaker the Wild have right now. It goes against logic to separate the best playmaker from the best goal scorer. People are all the buzz about the sudden chemistry between the trio, but doesn't anyone remember how well Mikko and Heatley were playing together before the injuries settled in? Starting on November 17th to December 14th (first injury against Chicago), Mikko had scored 18 points in 14 games withas his only constant wing. Heatley had 10 points in those 14 games. Koivu had a two 7-game point streaks before getting injured, while Heatley put together a 7-game point streak of his own. In the 9 games before Mikko's second injury against St. Louis, Koivu scored 5 points and Heatley had 7 points in that stretch. So in the last 23 games together, Mikko has scored 23 points and Heatley had 17, giving the duo a combined 40 points in a 23 game stretch. Don't kid yourself into believing that these two weren't getting on the same page. They were playing incredibly well together.
Plus, who does Mikko feed when he's not with Heatley? Setoguchi hasn't performed up to expectations (different from his standards), Clutterbuck is a streaky scorer, and Christensen doesn't carry with him a solid reputation of working hard every shift. I can't see how he and Mikko could ever get along, as Mikko demands that the hard work be put in every shift of every game. Setoguchi hasn't shown the ability to play with Mikko, and moving Cullen to wing so he can play along side #9 removes one of the better faceoff men the Wild have, shortening up the depth of their center position.
I can't see past the idea that Mikko and Heatley should be playing together. They really are the two best offensive weapons the Wild have, and they do compliment each other. Nothing against Brodziak, but if Mikko was playing in the Dallas game, he doesn't miss that breakaway in the 2nd period that was set up by Heatley. It's those subtle differences in skill level that makes me believe that Koivu has to return to his spot with Dany Heatley. Plus, the addition of Eric Christensen gives the Wild more depth on the 3rd line to work with, so it's not like Brodziak would be moving back to a pit of no talent.
Johnson - Koivu - Heatley
Clutterbuck - Cullen - Setoguchi
Christensen - Brodziak - McMillian
Ortmeyer/Peters - Powe - Kassian/Staubitz
What about you, Wilderness? Is it smart to break up the Johnson - Brodziak - Heatley line for Koviu or not?