After a game against the San Jose Sharks a few weeks ago, Minnesota wild star Kirill Kaprizov was moved to the third line. So far, his season had begun to worry Wild fans. The superstar winger had just worried fans all summer, finally signed a massive contract that had been offered to him months prior, and arrived at camp with no time to spare. Needless to say that his poor performance had ruffled the feathers of the Wild faithful. After Evason and his staff kicked Kaprizov down the lineup, the lightbulb went off. Ever since, he has been arguably the best offensive player in the NHL. The Wild’s performance over this period has taken off as well, stringing together four straight coming into a matchup against the New Jersey Devils. With a win, the Wild would sweep the season series and move into first place in the Western Conference.
The Wild came out of the gates flying, mostly due to the effort of the Wild’s fourth line. A solid shift by Duhaime and crew was followed by another great offensive shift by the GREEF line. Once again, these two lines were able to obtain the momentum Dean Evason plays them for. Before the Wild knew it, they were on the powerplay due to a high stick to Eriksson Ek. Although it resulted in no goals, the early control of the puck had undoubtedly continued to shift the game in the Wild’s direction.
Before too long, a beautiful pass from Ryan Hartman (and Kaapo Kahkonen) found Kaprizov. As he’s done time and time again, 97 made supersized defender in Ryan Graves look like a 15 year old, putting on a clinic in body positioning. After getting beating Graves wide, Kaprizov pulled the to a shooting position and beat Blackwood over the glove.
WHAT A SOLO GOAL FROM KIRILL. 1-0 MIN. pic.twitter.com/YjTazab7qv— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 3, 2021
The Wild weren’t done with the beautiful goals yet. Several shifts later, Rem Pitlick displayed patience to beat a sprawling Blackwood to expand the lead to two.
gorgeous. beautiful. perfect. pic.twitter.com/nEr2P7xFkZ— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 3, 2021
While the Wild seemed to have the momentum throughout the period, it would be incorrect to say that New Jersey didn’t have their chances. Luckily for the Wild, their defense and goaltending were up for the test. Towards the end of the period, Kaapo made an amazing save on a Jesper Bratt shot through traffic to keep the Minnesota lead to two.
Kaapo Kähkönen!!!!! pic.twitter.com/DZE3eqB3ow— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) December 3, 2021
Coming out of the locker room for the second, the Wild picked up right where they left off. A one-timer from Kirill Kaprizov found a defenseman’s head (and not Ryan Hartman’s stick) and ended up behind Blackwood to extend the lead to 3.
RYAN HARTMAN CAN'T STOP SCORING. 3-0 MIN. pic.twitter.com/MNOZvkK0el— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 3, 2021
However, a night of all goods ended. Kevin Fiala overcommitted on batting down a saucer pass to Ryan Graves. With no defender on him, Graves wound up and placed a missile behind Kahkonen to cut the lead to two.
Graves gets us on the board. pic.twitter.com/LAmkXjp9u9— Duck Duck Gusev (Universal DH wanter) (@DuckDuckGusev) December 3, 2021
Soon after, Tomas Tatar found himself on a breakaway, beating Kaapo to cut the lead to one and increase the heart rates of Wild fans.
With New Jersey proving they wouldn’t disappear without a fight, it became clear that the Wild were going to have to put together some strong shifts if they wanted to pull away. A dominant shift by the Kaprizov-Hartman-Zuccarello line did just that. As some of the line began to change, Dimitri Kulikov jumped up to forward and banged home a rebound off a Ryan Hartman shot to get the lead back to two.
KULIKOV WITH THE TAP-IN. 4-2 MIN. pic.twitter.com/PHggutr4ld— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 3, 2021
With both teams clawing for a chance, Jonas Brodin kept the lead to two with an amazing defensive play. His amazing streak of games continues to get better.
Jonas Brodin with the most powerful strip of a puck we've ever seen. pic.twitter.com/bjq7pXRWKG— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 3, 2021
After Jordan Greenway drew a hooking minor by moving his feet, the Wild headed to the powerplay with less than 90 seconds left in the period. As time expired, Matt Dumba cut to the net and almost found the back of the net while doing his best Bobby Orr superman impression.
when the store is out of cool ranch pic.twitter.com/46PVB7NA5k— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 3, 2021
The Wild went to the locker room after the second up two with the opportunity to ignite a struggling special teams unit at the beginning of the third.
As has been typical of late, the powerplay ended up being a dud. Neither team controlled the game much more than the other as the period returned to even strength. The period had been relatively uneventful until Ryan Hartman and Andreas Johnsson submitted their entry for the weirdest fight of the season.
ANDREAS JOHNSSON WANTED TO GO NO BUCKET pic.twitter.com/la5bPwfnhi— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) December 3, 2021
On the resulting powerplay for the Wild, their man-advantage woes continued. With five seconds left in a resultless try, Dawson Mercer tripped Dumba to extend the man-advantage another two minutes. Despite some good chances, the Wild extended their drought.
After countless chances, Ryan Hartman beat Blackwood low and far to make it 5-2. He continued to be one of the best players on the ice, with his line generating at least a dozen scoring chances. He is currently on pace to score 46 (???) goals.
As time expired, Nick Bjugstad beat Blackwood one final time. Unfortunately, time had barely run out and the Devils’ defensive core took offense to the gesture.
Another game, another win. The Wild return Saturday for a matchup with an equally hot Toronto club, with both teams coming into the game on five game streaks.
Which Mackenzie Blackwood shows up for the Devils?
Blackwood had a solid night despite what the number on the scoreboard might suggest. With 38 shots, and many of them coming from high danger areas, Blackwood didn’t stand much of a chance. He also had several great saves, with at least two on the powerplay remaining in my memory. That being said, he didn’t win the game for New Jersey and allowed four goals, so I guess there is always more that could’ve been done.
Can Kirill keep on thrillin’?
Short answer: yes. Long answer: it seems like he is continually dialing up the thrill with every passing moment. Tonight, in my opinion, was the most dominant Kaprizov (and whatever linemates he is playing with) have been all year. There were at least three shifts where New Jersey did not touch the puck for minutes on end. Example below:
if you do anything tonight, watch this offensive zone shift from the Kaprizov line. just complete control and active pressure. pic.twitter.com/Cju9k6wlNt— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 3, 2021
Kaprizov’s dominance has not been a solo effort. With help from one of the best goal scorers (weird but true) in the NHL, Ryan Hartman, Kaprizov finally has a finisher that commands enough respect to buy himself more space. When other teams concentrate too hard on Kaprizov, Zuccarello and Hartman will make a play and either score or get the puck back to Kaprizov. New Jersey had no answer to this line, just as the Wild’s previous few opponents have learned.
With 17 points in his last eight games, a number that leads the league in that time period, Wild fans see a bright future of Kaprizov can keep this level of production.
Is Greenway finally on a roll?
As Matt wrote about this morning, Jordan Greenway was coming into the night playing his best hockey of the season so far. Tonight was a step back, but definitely not back to square one. Greenway finished the night with a blank stat line except for two hits. He had ice time on the penalty kill where he made a few plays, including a clearing that helped the Wild reboot their kill. He also drew a penalty on a hustle play. Overall, an acceptable, but not praiseworthy, night from Greenway.