TORONTO – Martin Havlat’s move to the Minnesota Wild has been anything but smooth, but things might be starting to turn around for him – and his team.
Havlat scored just his second goal of the year Tuesday night, ending an 11-game goalless drought in Minnesota’s 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toss in a pair of missed games due to a groin tweak back in October, and it’s been a miserable start to life in Minnesota for Havlat after he signed a US$30-million, six-year contract with the Wild last July.
“If we’re talking about goals and points, it’s probably one of the worst starts I’ve ever had,” said the 28-year-old, who had eight points through 15 games. “I’ve been thinking about it, but I’ve been through ups and downs through my career and it’s just a matter of time, they’re going to start going in.”
Minnesota signed Havlat, who played for Chicago last season, to help fill the offensive void created when former franchise player Marian Gaborik inked a free agent deal with the New York Rangers.
With Gaborik off to a scorching start on Broadway, Minnesota coach Todd Richards believes Havlat has faced some unjust expectations.
“I think there’s just been a lot of things on his plate as far as the transition from Chicago, being a guy who’s coming in and everyone is comparing him or wants to compare him to Gaborik, which is really unfair to Marty,” Richards said. “There’s been a lot of pressures put on and he’s familiarizing himself with the city, familiarizing himself with the players.
“There’s a lot of new things going on and I think he’s starting to feel more comfortable, and when Marty becomes more comfortable, I think we’ll start to see his real game.”
Richards also has to be optimistic his team is beginning to hits its stride after an awful start. The Wild are 5-2-0 at home, but failed to gain a win in their first eight road games, before reeling off their second straight road victory in Toronto. The team has now won four of five overall.
Another change in Minnesota is naming a permanent captain, a departure from past years when the Wild would rotate the ‘C’ through a number of players.
Centre Mikko Koivu, whose three-point effort versus the Leafs gives him 16 points in 17 games this year, was named the club’s full-time captain in late October.
Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom said his teammate and Finnish countryman flies under the radar, but makes a huge impact.
“He’s one of the best players in this league,” Backstrom said of Koivu. “A lot of people don’t know how good he is, but they don’t see him every night.”