SUNRISE, Fla. – Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire refused to say much about his scoring combination of Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen.
He wasn’t about to jinx them. “I don’t want to talk about it,” Lemaire said, “because I want them to keep playing this way.” Koivu had a goal and four assists and Miettinen scored twice on the power play to help the Wild stay unbeaten with a 6-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
Koivu’s four assists tied a franchise record and gave him eight assists in three games. Miettinen added an assist and has five goals in three games, all wins for the Wild.
“They’ve jelled really well together, they know where they are on the ice and they make that quick pass,” Lemaire said when asked again about Koivu and Miettinen. “It’s fun to see that because it makes it a little easier for me.”
Miettinen, a five-year veteran signed in the off-season as an unrestricted free agent, already is a third of the way toward matching his career high of 15 goals set last year as a member of the Dallas Stars.
He has exceeded his expectations with the fast start.
“You can always imagine,” he said. “It’s been going so far really well, over what I was thinking. It’s good, you know.”
Andrew Brunette, who plays left wing alongside Koivu and Miettinen, opened the scoring for Minnesota and had an assist.
The line combined for 10 points.
“Obviously it feels good, but I’m sure there’s going to be games where it’s not going to go in, said Koivu, a four-year veteran whose career high is 34 assists. We’re just going to enjoy it when it’s happening, though.”
Kim Johnsson and Benoit Pouliot had the other goals for the Wild.
It’s the third consecutive season Minnesota has started off with three consecutive victories. The Wild started 5-0 last season and 6-0 in 2006-07.
Nick Boynton and Karlis Skrastins scored for Florida (1-2).
“I would say we gave it away, but I don’t think that we made them earn everything they got,” Florida centre Stephen Weiss said. “I think that a few of the goals that they got probably could have been avoided, but at the same time that’s how it goes.”
Nicklas Backstrom made 24 saves for Minnesota. He improved to 10-0-4 with one no-decision in his last 15 starts.
Florida’s Tomas Vokoun allowed four goals on 22 shots in the first two periods before being replaced by Craig Anderson.
“He’s not the reason we lost tonight,” Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. “There was a lot of different reasons, but I think everybody from our goalie out has to be better and they know that.”
Minnesota has won the last seven meetings between the teams.
Miettinen, the first player to score in his first two games in a Minnesota uniform, made it three straight at 13:29 of the second period with a power-play goal that increased the Wild’s lead to 3-1.
Miettinen’s second goal also came on the power play and off another pass from Koivu. Miettinen tipped in Koivu’s pass across the goal mouth to make it 5-2 at 6:21 of the third period.
Koivu scored his first of the season on another power play at 16:00.
Minnesota finished 3-for-6 on the power play while killing all four its penalties.
Pouliot took advantage of Boynton’s over aggressiveness to make it 4-2.
As Pouliot was getting away from defenceman Keith Ballard at the blue-line, Boynton moved up to deliver a big check but barely hit Pouliot. Pouliot then skated in alone on Vokoun and beat him with a wrist shot to the short side.
“I thought he would fall, then I thought he would fall, he fell, then he got up and I thought he would fall again, then the puck is in the net,” Lemaire said. “I haven’t seen that in my (play)book yet, or any book.”
That goal capped a wide-open second period that saw the teams combine for five goals.
Johnsson made it 2-0 at 2:58 when his wrist shot from the point went off the skate of Ballard. Boynton made it 2-1 by tipping in Ballard’s shot from the top of the faceoff circle.
After Miettinen made it 3-1, Skrastins beat Backstrom with a slapshot from the point.
“We weren’t that good at all,” Ballard said. “We kind of hung around for a bit, but you can’t really fake it in this game. They’re a good team. We gave them opportunities, then we just kind of folded in the third. We were terrible.”
Notes: Skrastins made his season debut and played in his 600th NHL game after missing Florida s first two games because of a neck injury. … To make room on the roster for Skrastins, the Panthers put D Bryan McCabe on the injured list. He has been out since sustaining a back injury in Florida’s opener at Carolina on Oct. 10. … Florida was penalized twice in the third period for having too many men on the ice. … Backstrom’s last loss in regulation came March 4, 2008, against Chicago (4-2). … The game matched the youngest (DeBoer, 40) and oldest (Lemaire, 63) coaches in the NHL.