The Wraparound: Wild need more than just Kaprizov vs. Blues

The Wraparound: Wild need more than just Kaprizov vs. Blues
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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television information.

• Catch up with all of Wednesday’s Stanley Cup playoff action with the NHL Rink Wrap right here. Sidney Crosby‘s injury from the Penguins’ Game 5 loss to the Rangers is definitely a story to watch.

• Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse received a one-game suspension for head-butting Kings forward Phillip Danault. The Oilers will face elimination without a key defenseman.

Trevor Zegras, Michael Bunting, and Moritz Seider were announced as the 2021-22 Calder Trophy finalists.

Entering Game 6 (9:30 p.m. ET; TNT, SN360, TVA Sports) on the brink of elimination, the Wild can’t blame Kirill Kaprizov for trailing the Blues 3-2 in this series.

You can gather some of that from the box score alone. In Game 5, Kaprizov scored both of the Wild’s goals (each on the power play), helping to create a 2-1 lead that would not stand against the Blues. Beyond that, Kaprizov’s dazzled with great moves, setting up linemates for plenty of near-misses.

It’s the sort of run that should mute any remaining (and, frankly, already silly) questions about Kaprizov being an outright star.

Yet he can’t do it alone. In a Blues – Wild series that seemed to pit two deeper-than-ever teams on hot streaks against each other, only St. Louis has really enjoyed the luxury of multiple heroes coming through.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 First Round schedule, TV info]

Look at goals stats alone, and you’ll wonder where 85-point scorer Kevin Fiala has been.

Of course, that’s not totally fair.

For one thing, Kevin Fiala assisted on both of Kaprizov’s goals in Game 5. Three assists through five games is a disappointment, but he’s trying.

Sometimes, there are cold streaks that scream “it’s just a matter of time.”

  • Kevin Fiala’s fired 12 shots on goal during the playoffs, more than two per game.
  • Now, you might note that Fiala was also snakebitten during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fair. Yet, during that postseason, Fiala and his on-ice partners lost the high-danger chances battle 16-17 at 5-on-5. In five games between the Wild and Blues, Fiala’s done a good job mostly with Matt Boldy and Frederick Gaudreau, generating a 12-7 HDC advantage. Combine that, his skill, and utility on the power play, and a patient approach seems ideal.

[Still, after Game 4, even Fiala admitted he’s a bit frustrated.]

It brings up a question, one illuminated greatly by Michael Russo of The Athletic (sub. required). Should Wild head coach Dean Evason make some adjustments to help Kaprizov, Fiala, and others against the Blues?

There are a few things to consider:

  • Should the Wild jumble their lines? Frederick Gaudreau’s a scrappy, inspiring story. But he’s also a player who’s bounced between the AHL and NHL a bit.
  • Would it be wise for the Wild to put Fiala and Kaprizov together? At 5-on-5, the Wild only trotted Fiala and Kaprizov out together for 40 minutes (Fiala played almost 1,000 minutes without him). Clearly, it’s not something Evason goes to often, but maybe that would light up Fiala’s shooting?
  • Matt Boldy’s a rookie. He’s been beyond-his-years for a while, but maybe this is a tough spot for him? Or, would a daring decision to bump him to the top line pay off?
  • Look at his faceoffs taken over the years alone, and you can tell that Ryan Hartman‘s not necessarily a “natural center.” He’s been tremendous between Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, but maybe there’s room to experiment there?
  • You at least need to have the conversation about tweaking Joel Eriksson Ek‘s setup. Yes, the Wild love his chemistry with Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway, but maybe Minnesota’s better off “shortening its bench.”

Actually, on that note, one key might be to lean even more on top forwards.

More of a good thing?

So far, Kirill Kaprizov’s averaging 18:53 TOI per game, Zuccarello’s slightly ahead (18:57), while Eriksson Ek and Kevin Fiala both average 18:15 per night. That’s mostly in line with their regular season averages, but perhaps it’s time to manufacture a few extra reps.

For all we know, getting Kaprizov and Fiala an extra shift per period (or even 1-2 more than usual in Game 6) could make that extra difference for the Wild vs. Blues.

Ultimately, there’s no silver bullet. Again, Fiala is due; maybe he’ll simply finally get some bounces, giving Kaprizov that extra boost. Or maybe someone else will rise to the occasion.

All of that said, sometimes the difference between failing or succeeding in the postseason comes down to adjustments. Sometimes you even have to do what you generally don’t want to do.

Because you really don’t want a great season to end so soon (especially with a salary cap crunch looming).

NHL PLAYOFF GAMES TODAY

Game 6: Carolina Hurricanes at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET — TNT, SN360, TVA Sports (CAR leads 3-2): So far, the Hurricanes have dominated in Carolina, while the Bruins found ways to win in Boston. Even the (surprise) return of Charlie McAvoy didn’t change that pattern in Game 5. We’ll see if the Hurricanes can end that sequence, or if the Bruins can force a winner-takes-all Game 7.

Game 6: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET — TBS, CBC, SN, TVA Sports (TOR leads 3-2): When the Lightning took a 2-0 lead after a lopsided Game 4, people gave up on the Maple Leafs in Game 5. The last two nights of NHL playoff action firmly remind us not to overreact to a 2-0 or 3-0 lead, though. The Maple Leafs’ big guns came through in a thrilling comeback, and now the Lightning’s three-peat hopes are on the line, as they’re on the brink of elimination.

Game 6: Edmonton Oilers at Los Angeles Kings, 10 p.m. ET — TBS, SN360, TVA Sports (LAK leads 3-2): Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl saw their Oilers down 3-1 entering the third period, and basically willed them to overtime. Yet, once that OT period began, the Kings went back to hogging the puck against the Oilers. There’s just not much of an excuse for the sort of game-winner Adrian Kempe scored in overtime. Blame McDavid and Draisaitl, Mike Smith, or a franchise that continually fails to find adequate support for its core. Either way, the Oilers could follow a season of ups and downs with a crushing upset loss against the steady, structured Kings.

FRIDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 6: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET — TNT, CBC, TVA Sports, SN (PIT leads 3-2)
Game 6: Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET — TBS, SN360, TVA Sports (FLA leads 3-2)
Game 6: Calgary Flames at Dallas Stars, 9:30 p.m. ET — TNT, CBC, TVA Sports, SN (CGY leads 3-2)

PHT’s 2022 Stanley Cup previews
Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

Hurricanes vs. Bruins
• Penguins vs. Rangers
• Panthers vs. Capitals
Blues vs. Wild
Oilers vs. Kings
Flames vs. Stars

First Round, Stanley Cup predictions
Why your team will (and will not) win the Stanley Cup

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    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

    mark stone surgery
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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

    brunette dui
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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”