The Minnesota Wild just keep on rolling through their opponents. Last night, it was the New Jersey Devils by a score of 5-2; here’s the 4 Things from that game:
1 — Ryan Hartman just cannot stop producing, and it might be just a sign of sustainability.
If I told you before this season, that Ryan Hartman would be the Wild’s most important and consistent player through 22 games this season, I would probably be subjected to well-deserved hate and dismissed as some sort of hot take artist. Well, look at where we are now.
In just that short amount of time, Hartman has found himself among the best players in the world, tied for eighth in the entire NHL in goals scored with 13 and it doesn’t appear that he’s really slowing down.
HARTMAN! Off the post and in. 5-2 MIN. pic.twitter.com/4maxnW4mtm— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 3, 2021
All game long, Hartman was pressing well (more on that later) and it seems like he has really found a home not just on this team, but centering a line with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello on either side of him. The chemistry between those two wingers were always discussed, but I feel that now we can enter the entire trio into the category of “working well together” and it just feels right that a prospect that came out of nowhere and took a while to get in the NHL, has found a connection with a player that was wandering around the league, searching for a place to play consistently, and is now getting rewarded for sticking with it.
For fuck sakes, he had 10 shots on goal last night!
2 — Kirill Kaprizov looked like the best player in the world.
Kaprizov has been his typical self for the last several games, but against the Devils it just felt completely different. Maybe it was the opponent being a pile of inexperienced youngsters, some good players, and some aging ones, but Kaprizov just seemingly dominated every time he was in the offensive zone. Controlling the puck with will, forcing defenders to feed on to his misdirection, Kirill was a man possessed and just looked like he could do absolutely anything on the ice.
WHAT A SOLO GOAL FROM KIRILL. 1-0 MIN. pic.twitter.com/YjTazab7qv— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 3, 2021
And the numbers were good too! When Kaprizov was on the ice at 5-on-5, the Wild had 75 percent(!) of the shot attempts, 82.27 percent of the expected goals and 76.19 percent of the shots on goal. Just complete domination.
Whether he continues this otherworldly level of production—the star of our hearts has 6 goals and 17 points in his last 8 games—is still to be determined of course, but there is something just red-hot about him as of late. No one can touch him and I really feel bad for whichever defenseman has to take him on. After making the likes of Victor Hedman appear foolish, who can truly shut him down?
3 — Wild were able to aggressively press in the zone, forcing the Devils to make mistakes.
There has been some digital ink spilled on this website praising just how effective the Wild’s aggressiveness in the offensive zone is and how much it has paid off for them, but we were treated to some incredible sights of the tactic last night.
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
I’m not anything close to your expert on hockey tactics—I do have a couple books aging on my shelves—but this is clearly something that you don’t see from the majority of teams in the league, and certainly not something that we have seen in Minnesota before. It is a buy-in from everyone on the ice that this is what is happening and how they are going to score goals.
Doing this forced less time on the puck for New Jersey, creating an imbalance of feeling “safe” with possession and making it the top priority for the Wild, to simply get that puck back or cause an opponent to make a desperate pass. So far, it’s worked well enough for the Wild to be on top of the Western Conference.
4 — Top of the West!
We can’t believe it either, but it’s true. The Minnesota Wild have the most points in the Western Conference, and are just two away from the very top of the entire NHL. It’s incredible. There are so many factors that has gone into this run, but everyone already knows them already. It’s easy to see: Kaprizov’s stardom, the steadiness of the GREEF line, Hartman’s surge into a top center, the forward depth chipping in, the entire blue line being active offensively while also being stable enough to keep the pucks out from behind a tandem that has been as good as they need to be—just this puzzle that the management and coaching staff has figured out and now they’re getting rewarded for it in the standings.
It might even get better if they can win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and then tie them in points; climbing the league standings just one-by-one.