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  • Preview: Wild playing first Kaprizov-less game in San Jose


    It’s hard not to look at every facet of this game through the lens of Kirill Kaprizov’s absence. It’s the first meaningful game that the Minnesota Wild have played without him since he came aboard in the 2020-21 season (he has sat twice — in the final game of each of the past two seasons when the playoff seeding was already set). Every matchup and lineup decision is going to be viewed as an effect caused by Kaprizov’s absence, and rightfully so. 

    Wild at Sharks

    When: 9:30 p.m. CT
    Where: SAP Center
    Radio: KFAN 100.3

    Kaprizov has been putting up the type of team MVP season which can steal a league-MVP award when perennial contenders such as Connor McDavid post a down year (important note — that is not this year). Through 65 games (nearly an entire season) Kaprizov has 22 percent of Minnesota’s goals and 18 percent of the 5-on-5 goals, all of which is backed by highly sustainable scoring chances. As for the power play, simply look back at the floundering units that the Wild had before Kaprizov arrived in Minnesota. 

    The amount of team scoring that Kaprizov has been responsible for this season is absurd before accounting for the fact that other teams know he’s Minnesota’s only real scoring threat on a nightly basis. Without the threat of Kaprizov, things could quickly become grim for the newly productive Johansson-Eriksson Ek-Boldy line. I would expect opposing teams to start deploying their shutdown players when the Wild play on the road, as they do tonight.

    Projected Wild lineup

    Sam Steel — Ryan Hartman — Mats Zuccarello
    Marcus Johansson — Joel Eriksson Ek — Matt Boldy
    Marcus Foligno — Frederick Faudreau — Oskar Sundqvist
    Mason Shaw — Connor Dewar — Ryan Reaves

    Jake Middleton — Jared Spurgeon
    Alex Goligoski — Matt Dumba
    Jon Merrill — John Klingberg

    Marc-Andre Fleury
    Filip Gustavsson

    Head coach Dean Evason seems to think they’ll be up to the challenge. Rather than re-shaping his forward group, he left his lineup unchanged and slotted Sam Steel in Kaprizov’s spot. They also have Sammy Walker to try there next game, if Steel does a poor job.

    Projected Sharks lineup

    William Eklund — Tomas Hertl — Fabian Zetterlund
    Andreas Johnsson — Logan Couture — Alexander Barabanov
    Noah Gregor — Nico Sturm — Evgeny Svechnikov
    Oskar Lindblom — Steven Lorentz — Kevin Labanc

    Nikolai Knyzhov — Erik Karlsson
    Marc-Edouard Vlasic — Matt Benning
    Mario Ferraro — Derrick Pouliot

    Kaapo Kahkonen
    James Reimer

    As for the Sharks, it’s been an inexplicably trying year. They’re a middle-of-the-pack team in many advanced metrics such as expected goals rate (xG%), which measures the quality of a given team’s scoring chances vs. the quality of chances given up. Their goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Kaapo Kahkonen has been bad (56th and 70th out of 74 qualifying goaltenders in save % above expected). The largest team problem for San Jose has been that they take too many penalties (2nd worst share of PP time in the league). On the other hand, with Minnesota’s power play ace out of the lineup, it may be impossible to punish San Jose for those penalties.  

    Knowing that Kaprizov is out, both San Jose and Minnesota will probably try to win ugly tonight. I expect that San Jose will try and match its best defensive players against Matt Boldy’s line. Their shutdown defense pair of Marc-Édouard Vlasic and Matt Benning have controlled play and smothered their opponents all year, but Nikolai Knyzhov has returned next to and Erik Karlsson, who make up a true number one pairing as well. 

    Overall, it seems like this could be a get-right game for the Wild’s snake-bitten forward group, and a good warm-up to life without Kaprizov as the regular season winds down. 

    Burning Questions

    Can Matt Boldy shoulder the load going forward? 

    With Kaprizov no longer in the lineup, the best offensive weapon on the Wild is almost certainly Matt Boldy. With the addition of speedy veteran Marcus Johansson, Boldy has been finding the scoresheet with somewhat greater regularity. 

    Not only is Boldy top dog at 5-on-5, he also likely becomes the trigger man on the power play with Ryan Hartman taking Kaprizov’s spot rather than seeing any type of reshuffling. With the coaching staff hoping to see more of a shoot-first mentality from Boldy, this is a great opportunity for him to develop that mentality against a team with poor goaltending. 

    How will the Sharks try to check the new-look Wild forward group? 

    With Kaprizov no longer headlining the Harman/Zuccarello line, it’s likely that other teams will start to hone in on Matt Boldy’s line. After all of the deadline moves that the Sharks made, it will be interesting to see which forwards San Jose deploys to check Boldy’s line as well. The Sharks have had massive roster turnover, shipping out star winger Timo Meier, linemate Michael Eyssimont, and shutdown forward Nick Bonino to continue their rebuild. This leaves the sharks with a solid core of center-ice men in Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, and Nico Sturm, so I would expect San Jose to feast in the faceoff dot — but nowhere else. 

    Who steps up to provide secondary scoring? 

    This Wild lineup is now filled with secondary scorers. Whether Boldy can turn on some star power or not, Minnesota will need one or two goals each night to continue stacking wins. Hartman and Zuccarello aren’t exactly passengers, but they will need to find new ways to score without Kaprizov on the ice. The entire Wild forward group has underperformed offensively this season, and I almost wonder if defensemen like Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, Alex Goligoski, or new addition John Klingberg can remedy that scoring drought. 




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