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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