The State of Hockey has spent most of this season wondering What's wrong with Kirill Kaprizov? When a former 100-point player and two-time 40 goal-scorer puts up only eight goals and 25 points over his first 29 games, someone will ask that question.
But over these past four games, we can finally ask ourselves the fun question:
What's right with Kirill Kaprizov?
That one is much more fun. Kaprizov is stepping up and powering the Minnesota Wild's effort to chip away at the hole they find themselves in. The Wild are on a four-game winning streak that's come as a result of Kaprizov's five goals and eight points in those games.
Even better, these goals have that old Kaprizov magic to them. He had back-to-back overtime goals in Boston and against the Montreal Canadiens. Then, he followed that up with a go-ahead goal against the Boston Bruins at home and another two-point night against the Detroit Red Wings for good measure.
This season is probably the first time Minnesota fans have seen him run hot and cold. Usually, it's just hot and red-hot. This kind of stretch looks like red-hot Kaprizov. The one who amassed 11 goals and 16 points in 12 games down the stretch as a rookie, or who went on a 19-game stretch where he racked up 11 goals and 29 points during November and December last year.
Or, let's get really optimistic: That one 66-game stretch in 2021-22 where he devoured goalies to the tune of 44 goals and 97 points.
Instead, Hynes stuck with it, and Kaprizov's line was able to build that chemistry. It's been four games since that loss in Pittsburgh. Since then, Kaprizov's scored -- well, read that third paragraph again.
Beyond the scoring, this line is absurdly dominant at 5-on-5. They hold a whopping 7-1 advantage in goals over 97 minutes under Hynes and a 63.7% expected goals for share that ranks 17th among 187 forward lines with 60 or more 5-on-5 minutes.
It's not just the linemates that are going to Kaprizov, though. When Hynes first took over, he seemed to experiment with a less is more approach to his ice time. Under Evason, Kaprizov averaged 21 minutes and 23 seconds of ice time this season, and he occasionally played 25 to 28 minutes a night.
Was that too much of a workload to be effective? Hynes seemed to think so. He only played Kaprizov 19:59 per night for his first 10 games, chopping almost a minute and a half off his average.
Overtime games have fueled some of it, but Kaprizov's breakout coincides with him getting a greater workload in his last four games. Kaprizov's ice time is a nice, even 24:00 per night over these past four games. That includes 25:03 during his two-goal night in Boston and a whopping 29:09 during a three-point performance against Montreal.
Evason leaned heavily on Kaprizov in desperation to get his team going this year, but it's still rare to see him logging 25 minutes in a game. It's only happened six times in his career, including the two he's had in the past four games.
But let's zero in on his 29-plus minutes in Montreal. Top defensemen like Brock Faber will occasionally hit those numbers. But forwards rarely get that kind of ice time. Since they started keeping track of time on ice in 1997-98, only 63 forwards have logged 29 minutes in a game. With a greater emphasis on rest hitting the sports world over the past decade, only seven forwards have done it since the 2014-15 season. Nathan MacKinnon (three times) and Leon Draisaitl (twice) are the only ones with multiple 29-minute games.
Can Kaprizov thrive with these kinds of minutes? He's already seventh among forwards in average time on ice (21:16) and trending up. While Kaprizov is not slowing down under the workload, there was a four-day Christmas break sprinkled in there. Those kinds of respites aren't going to be there consistently as the playoff push continues.
But for now, you have to take it as a good sign that Kaprizov is taking on and thriving in those big minutes. Concerns about his legs ran rampant during his slump, which coincided after his nearly-season-ending injury last March and subsequent underwhelming playoff run. Kaprizov's recent production is a good sign that he's putting that injury behind him.
Look at the December 19 Boston game. Kaprizov not only scored two goals while logging 25 minutes, but we have to highlight that he did it in the second half of a back-to-back. Then consider that two nights later, he had enough gas in the tank to score a buzzer-beating goal in overtime. After 29 minutes of skating! You can even see his vintage, powerful skating skills take over on the overtime winner against Montreal.
He should have been fried during those moments. Instead, he was Kirill Kaprizov. And seeing that is better than the points, the goals, and the heroics. If this heater is indicating that Kaprizov is back, those things are all but guaranteed from here on out.
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