The Minnesota Wild had one of those feel-good wins over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday, so here are some enjoyable 4 Things about the 7-1 victory that gave them a decent lead at the top of the Central DIvision:
1 — Kirill Kaprizov’s production has been launched into the stratosphere.
Kaprizov’s start to the season was no doubt worrisome. Instead of suddenly being the first option and scoring goals seemingly at whim, as it was during his first stretch of NHL games, Kaprizov wasn’t able to get any pucks even on net in high-danger areas, let alone score enough goals to be comfortable. Well now, we can be all comfy-cozy wrapped in a blanket of extremely useful hockey skills.
In his last five games, Kirill now has three goals and eight assists—just some bonker numbers that go along with his superstar status. Kaprizov has at times carried this team’s offense on his back and it appears like he’s just leading a trolley full of net-hungry hard-nosed skaters into win after win. It’s not even just the production, but it seems like he can go through any defender in the league and create something out of nothing. This might just all be hyperbolic because he was able to notch four points against Winnipeg, but he is suddenly doing Kirill ass things again.
2 — Jordie Benn has played himself into a more stable role, but is certainly not any lengthy solution.
Before the season, the free agent acquisition of Jordie Benn was met with some hesitancy and general malcontent. You could have read fans of teams that have employed Benn in the past, celebrating that he was no longer on their favorite team; or you could also view his signing as yet another roadblock for future blue line leader Calen Addison to get a full-time gig. Well, after some stuttering starts, Benn seems to be a good player now???
And the coach agrees with that sentiment.
“The games that Jordie was in earlier that he went in and came out, he realized that that wasn’t who he was,” Evason said. “He recognized that that’s not his game. He didn’t have that sense of urgency, that grit, that determination, that heavy, that tough guy to play against. He recognized that and that’s what’s exciting for us is he was able to get back in there and apply it. ...It’s difficult to take him out at this point.”
Although he doesn’t have the prettiest underlying numbers—a 45.77 percent shot attempt share and a 44.39 percent expected goal share at 5-on-5—Benn appears to be a not as unfamiliar with the players around him and hasn’t been caught out of position, as he was often in the pre-season. Maybe he just needed to get rolling, with a string of NHL practices under his belt, and now the Wild are getting some physicality; along with a guy that will bite the head off of anyone that crosses a teammate.
Benn is just a sort of neutral party on this team, but right now the team is winning so don’t expect Evason to change the lineup until they look like shit again. Sorry Calen, you might have to wait a bit.
3 — The lineup certainly feels more solidified.
In the same vein as the blue line having its pairings pretty much made for the next little bit without Jared Spurgeon, the forward lines aren’t going anywhere as long as they keep winning. Hartman just knows how to play with the top guys like Kaprizov and Zuccarello, from experience and from working that systematic chemistry down to its proverbial bone. We know how well Greenway, Eriksson Ek, and Foligno work together—being one of the NHL’s best lines in controlling play does that. Fiala and Gaudreau being joined by trigger happy Pitlick is a welcome sight; and the fourth line with The Dudes known as Duhaime, Sturm, and Bjugstad, work extremely well to be extremely greasy. There’s just nothing you need to change right now!
They might have their hand forced though. The second someone underperforms, Matt Boldy is back from his injury and is currently tearing up the minors to a tune of two points per game and Marco Rossi is right there with 15 points in his first 12 games of professional North American hockey. These two are the future of their forward group and if they continue this way, it would be hard to keep on talking about how Rem Pitlick (love the guy, but c’mon) should get a spot in the top-nine. Only time will tell.
4 — Offense from the blue line is a major reason why they’re leading the Central.
It has become a trademark characteristic of the Wild for a little while now, but this year it feels different. They might lead the entire league in points from their blue line, but it’s not that they’re cashing in on goals from the point, or defensemen setting up any play. It’s that these defensemen in Minnesota are just given the greenest of lights to come deep into the offensive zone, knowing that someone will cover in case they over-extend.
It really doesn’t matter what defenseman has possession—okay, maybe this doesn’t apply to Jordie Benn—but they collectively realize that the team is more likely to get scoring chances if they go for it on the “fast break,” rather than trying to slow the game down by looking for a forward to pass to and probably getting suffocated by the opposing defense. Who thought Kulikov would be able to suddenly turn into prime Erik Karlsson at times, if he really wanted to?
This is one of the things I love about Evason the most and what I believe—from my couch and with no professional coaching experience—can prove to work long-term.
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