Kirill Kaprizov stays hot, Wild beat Devils for fifth straight win
He leads the league with 17 points (6 goals, 9 assists) since Nov. 18 and has looked every bit like a superstar in that span.
ST. PAUL -- Question: Who in the NHL is hotter than Minnesota Wild star Kirill Kaprizov at the moment?
Since being demoted in the Wild lineup ahead of a Nov. 18 matchup with the Dallas Stars — even if coach Dean Evason would never publicly consider it a demotion — Kaprizov has been on an absolute tear. He leads the league with 17 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in that span and has looked every bit like a superstar in the process.
The hot streak continued on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center as Kaprizov paced the Wild to a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils. He finished with a pair of goals and an assist in the contest as the Wild notched their fifth straight win.
“His legs are really good right now,” Evason said. “He’s playing with such pace, and when he does that, he must be so hard to defend.”
That’s proven to be the case as of late with Kaprizov putting up points in bunches.
In fact, the most recent performance marked the fourth time this season that Kaprizov has scored three or more points in a game. The only players in the league that have done that with more frequency are Edmonton Oilers superstars Leon Draisaitl (9) and Connor McDavid (6), and Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin (6).
What’s been working so well for Kaprizov compared to earlier this season?
“To be honest, I didn’t change much,” Kaprizov said through a translator. “When I wasn’t scoring, I didn’t want to change anything. I wanted to stick to my game and that’s what I’ve done. Obviously it’s just going in now, and that’s the difference.”
Fittingly, the game started with a highlight-reel goal from Kaprizov early in the first period to put the Wild in front 1-0. The sequence featured Kaprizov calmly catching a cross-ice pass, casually putting a nasty move on defenseman Ryan Graves, and effortlessly depositing the puck into the back of the net.
“It just kind of happened,” Kaprizov said. “I don’t think I did anything special. I just kind of went around the defenseman and made a good play. I don’t know where to rank it.”
A few minutes later, Rem Pitlick stretched the lead to 2-0 in favor of the Wild with a highlight-reel goal of his own. He collected a loose puck in front, then patiently waited for goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood to go down before ripping a shot top shelf to continue his Calder Trophy campaign.
That put the Wild in the driver’s seat heading into the second period and Kaprizov made it 3-0 with a shot that found the net after deflecting off of a defender in front.
While it looked like the Wild might run away with the game at that point, the Devils responded with a flurry, getting with a blast from Graves to cut the deficit to 3-1, then a breakaway goal from winger Tomas Tatar to make it 3-2.
Fortunately for the Wild, they were able to stop the bleeding as Dmitry Kulikov pinched up and buried a rebound in close to make it 4-2. That came after Kaprizov initially set up Ryan Hartman with a cheeky pass near the blue line.
“That was big,” Hartman said. “They were pushing. Honestly, it’s cliché, and everyone says it, but the best goal is the next goal. Especially after there is a goal.”
That paved the way for the third period where Hartman added a dagger to finalize the score 5-2. Honestly, it was about time Hartman scored considering he fired 10 shots on goal in the game.
When that whopping total was brought to his attention after the game, Hartman jokingly responded, “I don’t know if I’m happy about that or not.” He probably could’ve had a few more goals in the game.
As for Kaprizov, he’s feeling as confident as he has in a long time, and it’s showing with his play on the ice.
“When you’re scoring and the team’s doing really well, you don’t grip the stick as tight, and you play better hockey,” Kaprizov said. “It feels good. But overall I haven’t really changed much.”