Last night against the Carolina Hurricanes, Kirill Kaprizov became the sole owner of the single-season points record among any Minnesota Wild player in their 22-year history. It is only fitting that after that incredible achievement, he gets to tick off another box on his list of milestone, as he is set to face his childhood — and maybe adulthood too — idol as his team visits the Washington Capitals tonight.
Kaprizov had the chance to play against Alex Ovechkin earlier in the season but he was unfortunately injured and the elder Russian was bummed the hell out that it would have to wait until now. Ovechkin clearly appreciates Kaprizov and will sing his praises any chance he gets.
“He has talent,” Ovechkin said about Kaprizov earlier in the season. “He has experience that he was playing in KHL … back home, and he came here [a] complete player and he shows he’s capable of [being a] superstar.”
To make the North American showdown between these two stars even more dramatic, Kaprizov has a seven-point lead on Ovechkin’s season and if he manages to score a hat trick in Washington, he will suddenly tie him in goals scored. The tension is building.
Can Kaprizov even think of scoring three goals tonight? Well, it’s Kirill, so it doesn’t really matter what opponent it is, but the Capitals just hosted the Hurricanes and got beaten to a pulp by a score of 6-1 and the two games prior to that loss, the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres of all teams were able to score three against them. I mean, if you’re letting those team get even more than some sort of sniff at the net, then maybe your defense is bad.
Of course Washington still has their mainstays on the offensive side of the puck; the likes of Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, but an unstable blue line and goaltending situation, might lead to a wild ride.
On the Minnesotan side of things, the lineup will look pretty much the same and it’s because the Wild don’t have anyone else available for them. Connor Dewar was sent back down to AHL Iowa before the road trip and rookie Matt Boldy is out with an injury, but is still with the team and can return after this weekend. Tyson Jost was promoted up to replace Boldy on the line with Kevin Fiala and Frederick Gaudreau last night in Carolina and played pretty damn well, using his speed and agility to earn himself a primary assist on Dmitry Kulikov’s goal.
Head coach Dean Evason is confident enough in this roster to overcome some absences, and his assumption was justified last night. Will it be the same tonight? Maybe, maybe not.
Kirill Kaprizov—Ryan Hartman—Mats Zuccarello
Tyson Jost—Frederick Gaudreau—Kevin Fiala
Jordan Greenway—Joel Eriksson Ek—Marcus Foligno
Brandon Duhaime—Nick Bjugstad—Nicolas Deslauriers
Jacob Middleton—Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin—Matt Dumba
Alex Goligoski—Dmitry Kulikov
Cam Talbot will be getting the start against the Caps tonight, as Marc-Andre Fleury earned his third start and third win last night.
Puck drop is at 6:00 p.m.
Who will get more points tonight out of Ovechkin and Kaprizov?
It’s the battle between the two stars and a relationship that has a student-teacher dynamic as the Wild winger looks to become the greatest Russian player of his generation. Will the first time they meet provide fireworks? Or will this mutual respect lead them to a stalemate?
Can the Wild keep their current powerplay goal streak alive?
After having some of the worst special teams imaginable on the ice, the Wild have suddenly turned it around and have put in incredible performances lately. In the last five games, Minnesota has managed to score at least one powerplay goal (while also allowing just three from their opponent). This level of consistency was unimaginable just a month or so ago, and now they have everything clicking. Whether it was a system change, or finally putting Joel Eriksson Ek back on the man advantage, it’s working.
Against the Capitals, it might be a tough call though. Through their last eight games, opposing teams have gone 4-for-22 on the power play. Not that great considering how fragile the Wild’s man advantage might in fact be.
This one might just have to be decided at even-strength, because you know if the Wild go back to their old habit of taking way too many penalties, it’s going to get ugly via an Ovechkin one-timer.