What’s Bugging AJ? (3-15-21)

Mar 14, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild left wing Kevin Fiala (22) celebrates his third period power play goal against the Arizona Coyotes with teammates at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

The Wild just wrapped up another win taking down Arizona 4-1. Over its last 14 games Minnesota holds a record of 11-2-1 and are currently riding a four game win streak. More impressively though they have not one, but two power play goals over the past three games and picked up the win today despite missing Marcus Foligno. Things look to be on the upswing for this team but where there’s success, there’s always room for improvement.

Odd Man Mush

Courtesy: nba.nbcsports.com

Whether you’re a basketball fan or not you know you’ve seen this picture before. The iconic dunk from Dwayne Wade to LeBron James from late 2010. It’s over a decade old so if you don’t quite recall what led up to that moment let me refresh your memory.

Now I know at least one person reading this is asking themselves why I’m using a basketball highlight to talk about the Wild, just humor me for a minute. Did you see how smooth that was? Going end to end quickly yet organized with the end result being two points. By no means am I anywhere knowledgeable on the game of basketball but I do know that points in transition is an important part of the game, just like it is in hockey.

Unfortunately the Wild have had about as much success on the odd man rush this season as they have had on the power play. In case you wanted to ruin your day or just genuinely wanted to get depressed here’s a Twitter thread of the Wild’s failed chances on the odd man rush this season.

More than you would’ve thought, huh? Not to mention there was this atrocity at the end of yesterday’s contest.

My point here is that the Wild have absolutely no idea what to do once the other team puts themselves in a vulnerable spot. It’s almost as if as soon as the other team takes a penalty or commits too deep in the offensive zone some type of “Minnesota nice” curse takes over the team. Forcing them to just not punish the opposition whatsoever, it’s truly a sight to behold.

In all seriousness, when watching these failed attempts it seems quite simple. They are passing when they should be shooting and shooting when they should be passing. In the instances when they opt to pass it falls under what my dad would describe as “Golden Gopher hockey.” To specify, this is more accurate of the Don Lucia era rather than the current Bob Motzko regime. What that means though is that they’re just trying to be too cute. Trying to make that one extra pass because it’s going to look that much cooler on the highlight reel when you watch it back after the game. There’s no need for that, but do you know what else is really cute? Getting the camera zoomed in on your face after the ensuing whistle as you hang your head and skate back to the bench while the announcers talk about how you just blew a great scoring chance.

I know this is easy for me to criticize while I sit on the couch getting an overhead look at the play. I’m able to get a better read on the defenseman’s positioning and where the other Wild player is located but these are professionals we’re talking about. Let’s load up NHL 21 and boost up the awareness attribute here fellas. Just read the defender and if there isn’t a clear passing opportunity let that thing fly. You don’t think you see any openings on net? Fine, go ahead and fire a shot at the far pad and try to generate a rebound for your teammate who should be crashing the net. I can’t take watching another odd man rush up ice that doesn’t result in a shot on goal, when in doubt just shoot the puck.

Novokuznetsk Nice?

On my drive to work this morning one of the thoughts that crossed my mind was, “The Minnesota Wild play hockey today.” Possibly more importantly though I get the opportunity to watch Kirill Kaprizov play hockey. So far in his time with the Wild the 23-year old Russian has helped bring a certain culture to the franchise that it’s been missing for so long. His skating talent has floored opposing teams’ broadcasters, his playmaking ability is that of something the Wild have never seen, and from everything we’ve heard there isn’t a person in the locker room who has a bad word to say about him.

Go ahead, you know you want to watch that video a second time. I won’t tell anyone, it’ll be our little secret.

All done? Perfect, now let’s continue.

So why am I bringing up Kaprizov in a piece where I typically rant about things? Simple, because of his shooting. Now before you close this and get in your car to come beat me to a pulp for slandering KK97 let me explain. It’s not that his shot isn’t good, it’s amazing in fact. The problem is that he hasn’t been shooting enough. To put it bluntly, Kaprizov is playing a too selfish brand of hockey. As someone who played hockey growing up but by no means was ever labeled as anything close to a goalscorer I tend to get more excited about pretty assists rather than pretty goals. Kaprizov has checked this box for me a number of times already during his rookie campaign. For the sake of the Wild though I’d prefer him to put this on the back burner and just shoot the puck. 

League leaders in shots per games played, Courtesy: NHL.com
Minnesota Wild leaders in shots per games played, Courtesy: NHL.com

During the first half of the season it would be a shock if Kaprizov would tally anything above a total of three shots in a game. There would be situations where you’d expect him to let one rip but instead he would cycle below the net and look to the slot to thread a pass. From what I’ve read this issue had been brought up at some point within the organization to where even his father was telling him to shoot more.

Now this section was going perfect on Friday when I started writing it but then later that evening Kaprizov followed through on his promise.

You read that correctly, EIGHT (8) whole shots on net and look what happens! The man records his first career hat trick. Today he continued firing a barrage of shots and landed another eight on net, but despite ending the game without a goal this is a step in the right direction. In my perfect world Kaprizov and Fiala each record a minimum of five shots on goal per game. Fiala has already shown that he isn’t shy about putting the puck on net and KK97 needs to follow in his footsteps. If you have two thoroughbred horses you don’t keep them locked up in the barn, you let them out to run as they please and the rest of the roster should be on board with this concept. No disrespect to Kyle Rau, but if I see another game like last Wednesday’s where he has more shots than Kaprizov I’ll drive down to St. Paul and sort this out myself.