The last time the Ducks and Wild locked horns,* John Gibson won a goalie duel with Cam Talbot as Anaheim prevailed 1-0. Ryan Miller helped the Ducks stay in another game on Wednesday, but Kirill Kaprizov and the Wild ultimately won 3-2.
Here are some thoughts from the Wild win over the Ducks.
* – OK, ducks probably don’t have horns. But various wild(s) do.
Should the Wild tweak Kaprizov’s running mates?
So far, Kirill Kaprizvov’s been a revelation for the Wild. Sometimes players struggle to justify hype — right away, or even overall. We don’t know about Kaprizov’s staying power yet, but it’s obvious that he’s given the Wild a shot in the arm offensively right off the bat.
In other words: Kirill Kaprizov is the real deal.
Yet the Wild’s status as an offensively-challenged team prompts some concern about squandering Kaprizov’s gifts. If he makes plays, but Victor Rask cannot cash in on those chances, then it might feel like a waste.
The Wild have sifted through plenty of options for centers with Kaprizov. Rask received looks, as did the likes of Marcus Johansson and Nick Bjugstad. But people have really been clamoring for Joel Eriksson Ek to receive some chances.
It should be Joel Er1Cksson Ek imo
— EvolvingWild (@EvolvingWild) January 21, 2021
Every now and then, us nerds are vindicated — even immediately. It didn’t take much time for Eriksson Ek to bury a Kaprizov-powered sequence home. It appears that it was amid a partial line change, too, as if the Wild staff need an extra nudge.
By trading Eric Staal, the Wild opened up debates about who should center which lines. Maybe Eriksson Ek isn’t the ideal fit — he’s viewed as a defensive stopper, first and foremost — but he might stand as the Wild’s best option to pair with Kaprizov at this very moment.
Will the Wild need to overcome their goalies again?
Last season, people might not have been truly aware of how strong the Wild’s defense was. If you only looked at goals allowed, you’d probably lean toward middle-of-the-road.
That’s because the Wild’s goaltending was abysmal. Alex Stalock did what he could as a career backup, but Devan Dubnyk was dreadful. (As in, “Why did the Sharks want him?”-level dreadful.)
I tabbed Cam Talbot as an under-the-radar free agent signing not because Cam Talbot is a superstar. Instead, he’s generated a decent run of solid goaltending, and that might be all the Wild need to be a tough out. Behind that defense, they can make a good goalie look great.
So far, Talbot’s won two of three games, sporting a sparkling .926 save percentage. Considering the formatting of the 2020-21 season, the Wild will need to rely on more than just Talbot, though. On Wednesday, the Wild turned to Kaapo Kahkonen, and they almost regretted it.
Kahkonen was really battling it throughout the game, struggling with rebound control. The Ducks fought back from a 2-0 deficit to tie things up 2-2 in part because of some shakiness from the Wild’s goalie.
Seeing some shaking moments doesn’t guarantee that Kahkonen will struggle. After 56 games (and perhaps some playoff battles?), he could very well stand above Talbot. Either way, the Wild will need better nights from Kahkonen when they face more explosive teams than the Ducks.
Ducks’ offense treading water
Right now, most — if not all — NHL teams look more explosive than the Ducks.
The Ducks didn’t put up much of a fight during the first period, with Ryan Miller keeping it to a 1-0 edge for the Wild. Once again, Anaheim relied on its goalie to try to win a low-event game; previously, John Gibson gave them decent chances to overcome their weak scoring.
Still, the Ducks have been limited to six goals over four games this season. That sort of production will only really work for you if you’re the Ducks plugging things up with Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger during that grim series where the Wild could basically only squeeze out a bit of offense from Marian Gaborik.
Yes, the Ducks don’t seem very talented overall. If they’re going to win, it’s largely going to be because Gibson or Miller succeeds.
Even the best goalies need some goal support, though. Miller didn’t receive enough on Wednesday.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.