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  • Kaprizov focusing on collective effort over individual performance


    If he has done anything this season, Kirill Kaprizov has solidified himself among the NHL’s elite. A mainstay among the scoring leaders, oozing out highlight-reel plays like they are just sweat off his brow; Kaprizov is one of the best players to ever play in Minnesota and might end up being the most talented we will see for a while.

    But there is really one thing that he wants to stress above anything else: This is a team effort and the Minnesota Wild are where they are in the standings because of everyone that has been on this roster, not just because of him.

    “I think the team’s really bonded. We have really come together for a common goal,” Kaprizov said after Sunday’s game through a translator. “Every single one of us puts pressure and take ownership of what we need to do to get better and that’s something that we’ve done as a group collectively.”

    And one specific way that this Wild team has come together is through their ability to craft a level of violence that is appropriate at times. Even though Kaprizov isn’t specifically needed to do so, he will rough it up with the biggest players on the opposing team all the same. You don’t simply do not see the best players getting tangled with the biggest players on the opposing team anymore, but it’s different for Kirill.

    “I’m definitely not scared. It’s one of these things; it’s part of the game,” he said. “When it happens, I try not to think about it too much. A couple extra shots here and there. I just do my job; score goals, help my team win, and just play my game.”

    “There no one out there that wants to get a sweaty hand in the face and a butt end in the face. I think there’s a time and place to stick up for yourself, but overall, I try to play within my game to not just react, but obviously, everyone has their limits.”

    Kaprizov will go out of his way to defend a teammate if he deems it just. While this might just be seen as a traditional hockey play in the middle of a season, this team-first mentality just seems to be permeating through every aspect of the Wild right now.

    “Our team is coming together and understanding that we’ve got something special here,” Matt Dumba said after Sunday’s win. “That’s what you’re seeing now.”

    One way that this teamwork is happening, is coming together with certain dynamic partners actually on the ice. Dumba and Jonas Brodin have this innate balance to their defensive pairing; Kevin Fiala and rookie Matt Boldy have found something in their short time together; and Kaprizov has Mats Zuccarello.

    “Obviously, we’re able to find each other on the ice, we just find each other.” Kaprizov said of Zuccarello. “Outside of that, he’s an exceptional player and a really good dear friend. We spent a lot of time together on and off the ice, always learning, always trying to get better, trying to analyze different plays and what we could have done differently. Yeah, the chemistry has been great and we hope it continues.”

    The Wild’s top line has been obviously exceptional. Through approximately 673 minutes that Kaprizov and Zuccarello have been on the ice together at 5-on-5 this season, they have a strong advantage in shot attempts, shots on goal, expected goals, unblocked shot attempts, and just about any other number you want to use to measure their ability to be a better team; all while outscoring the opposition 45-28.

    This connection has led Kaprizov to being on the brink of breaking Marian Gaborik’s record of most points as a Wild player in a season. Currently, Kaprizov has 81 points and Gaborik has the record with 83 points scored in his 2007-08 season here. It’s a no-brainer that Kaprizov will get there and break that — he may even do it next game, against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday — but what might be a decent bet that is a little too far away is Gaborik’s record of goals scored in a single season, with 42 scored in that same historic season. Kaprizov is sitting at 36 with 18 games remaining in the season. He has gone on similar goal-scoring cold threats, but can he score seven in 18? We’ll have to find out.

    But even if we are all entangled by the numbers, Kaprizov himself doesn’t really care for them and only wants to put wins on the board at the end of the day.

    “I hear about it, people talk about it and so on and so forth, but to me personally it is not something I focus on and isn’t something I think about. If I beat it, great; I’d obviously be very happy to be able to do that, but for the most part I’m focused on the game, playing the best that I can and getting wins. If we can do that, then everything will work out.”

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