Overshadowed by Kirill Kaprizov’s recent 14-game point streak that broke franchise records and pushed him into his usual elite production from a so-so start, his linemate Mats Zuccarello currently has points in his last nine games.
It has been the quietest nine-game point streak we have never heard but on Friday night, Zuccarello certainly wanted to make everyone aware of what he is doing right now, because it is perfect. Against the Chicago Blackhawks he capped off his night leading the entire offense with a hat trick and an added assist to just add a cherry on top.
The Minnesota Wild have been missing the extravagance of having top-tier 5-on-5 play from their top line and the game opened with exactly that.
The passing from the Wild's top line on this Zuccarello scoring play pic.twitter.com/uTpftJvbbA— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) December 17, 2022
And then in the closing minutes of the second period, after Zuccarello assisted on a Kaprizov goal earlier, he added his own to make it three points in just two frames.
And while it doesn’t feel pure or natural, a hat trick is a hat trick and Zuccarello earned it by getting an empty-netter.
HAT TRICK MATS ZUCCARELLO pic.twitter.com/qc0AZjgVal— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 17, 2022
This was Zuccarello’s first hat trick since 2015, when he scored all three of the New York Rangers’ goals against a very bad Toronto Maple Leafs team. Maybe he just likes scoring hat tricks only against teams purposely losing games.
Of course, the 35-year-old winger wanted to focus more on how the entire line was playing and that he was just the one at the end of the play each time.
“You go through a season and go through surges where not everything is clicking and you feel like you don’t get the bounces,” Zuccarello said. “And then you end up with an extended time where everyone feels good and confidence is up and the puck bounces your way and the passes that you make and the plays that you make are there and goes through. I think confidence level when you win games is important.”
That top line is certainly feeling really good right now.
And of course, Zuccarello being the teammate that he is, the coach didn’t want to just praise him for the actual scoring touch that he displayed, but it’s the overall play and what he brings to the entire team.
“I just think he’s playing right,” head coach Dean Evason said. “Sure, offensively he’s getting points and stuff. But, again, it’s when you watch him working back and tracking, and having a good stick and checking and getting the end of PK’s. He’s committed to a team-first mentality and then allowing that to translate into offense.”
Last season, Zuccarello had a career year scoring 79 points — the most he ever has in his 12-year career — but this year feels different lately. It’s not just that he’s scoring and the overall team is winning a lot more games than a couple months ago, but he is less visible on the ice but seemingly more effective. Just sneaking in and out of visibility and being able to produce points and defend well enough to win the match.
Maybe another career year isn’t in the books, but he’s on track to beat that total right now. Through 30 games played, Zuccarello has scored 13 goals and 34 points, while also averaging his highest time-on-ice with 20:22 TOI.
The dependable playmaker is just going to continue producing until he doesn’t feel like it anymore, I guess.