Wild’s Goal-Scoring Struggles Exemplified in Kaprizov’s Drought

It’s been hard not to talk about Kirill Kaprizov when discussing the Minnesota Wild over the last calendar year. First, it was when he surprised a lot of people with how NHL-ready he was when he tallied 51 points in 55 games in the 2020-21 season en route to winning the Calder Memorial Trophy. Next, it was the uphill battle to get him locked down with a long-term contract during the offseason until he finally agreed to a five-year, $45 million deal.

Fast forward to the 2021-22 NHL season, and the latest Kaprizov-related discussion is the fact that he’s goalless in the first eight games of the Wild’s campaign. It’s not like he hasn’t been contributing in other ways, as proven by his six assists. However, it’s never encouraging when a team’s best player isn’t finding the back of the net, regardless of where they sit in the standings. Especially when he’s looking slow at times and not fighting for the puck as hard as the team and fans know he can.

The thing is that Kaprizov’s issues aren’t an isolated incident. While the Wild are 5-3-0 and tied for second on the Central Division, the team has struggled to score the puck this season. It may be easy to highlight Kaprizov’s lack of success because of his price tag, but goal-scoring struggles are a team-wide issue for the Wild.

Here’s a closer look at Kaprizov’s goal slump, as well as how it correlates to bigger offensive issues in Minnesota.

When did Kaprizov’s Goal Drought Begin?

Kaprizov may not have scored in any of Minnesota’s first eight games this season, however, his drought goes back a bit further than that. While he notched a pair of goals in the Wild’s brief 2020-21 postseason run, the 24-year-old Russian hasn’t scored a regular season goal since May 7 against the Anaheim Ducks. In other words, Kaprizov hasn’t scored in his last 10 regular season games, which is by far his longest period without a goal at the NHL level.

Kirill Kaprizov Minnesota Wild
Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The most disappointing part about Kaprizov’s struggle is that expectations were high after he finished his rookie season with 27 goals. While that was good enough to lead all of last year’s rookies, it also had him finishing eighth among all NHL players. To put that in perspective, Kaprizov had more goals than notable goal-scorers such as Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Mika Zibanejad.

What’s frustrating is that it isn’t like Kaprizov isn’t generating chances, as he’s currently tied with Ryan Hartman for the team lead in shots with 26. The difference is that the 24-year-old Russian just hasn’t found the back of the net while Hartman leads Minnesota with four goals. Kaprizov is also seeing more opportunities at this point than he was last year. According to Dobber’s Frozen Tools, he was averaging 18:42 time on ice (TOI) and just 1.5 shots per game during his first 11 games in 2020-21. Fast forward to this season and Kaprizov is averaging 19:20 TOI and 3.25 shots per game.

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The positive to take away from this is that last year’s Calder Memorial Trophy winner is averaging the most minutes out of all Wild forwards who aren’t Joel Eriksson Ek. It’s also important to remember that he had issues scoring goals at the start of his rookie year, tallying just one in his first seven games. With that being said, as long as he continues to see steady ice time from head coach Dean Evason, it’s hard imagining Kaprizov’s drought continuing much longer.

Advanced Look at Kaprizov’s Goal Drought

While it’s easy to see Kaprizov’s drought on the box score, things go a bit deeper than that. The expected goals per 60 minutes (xGF60) advanced statistic is exactly what it sounds like: a way of telling people how many goals a player is expected to have based on their opportunities. Kaprizov is currently sitting at 0.43 xGF60, which puts him in a tie for 13th-best on the Wild. To put that into context, he averaged a team-high 1.22 xGFP60 last season. No matter how it’s looked at, it’s certainly underwhelming when a team’s best player is performing a third of the way he was as a rookie.

It’s also important to look at the type of shots that Kaprizov is taking this year. According to Money Puck, 91.2% of his unblocked shot attempts this season have been “low scoring,” which is defined as “all shots outside of the scoring chance area.” He’s also only generated one high and one medium danger shot this season. Meanwhile, 64.9% of his unblocked shot attempts last year were low danger while 25.4% and 9.6% were medium and high, respectively. At 5-foot-10, the Wild obviously don’t expect to see him crashing the crease every play for better quality chances, however, it’s evident that he needs to adjust his approach if the goals are to come.

Goals Are Hard To Come By for the Wild

It’d be easy to look at Kaprizov’s slump and lay the full blame at his feet. Nevertheless, that’s not the case here, because the Wild have been struggling to produce goals as a team so far. As of Nov. 1, the Wild are scoring 2.75 goals per game (GF/GP), which ranks 19th. That’s far from being the worst, however, it’s still disappointing considering that Minnesota averaged 3.21 GF/GP in 2020-21, which was good enough for 9th.

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Make no mistake about it: it’s great that the Wild have someone like Hartman scoring four goals in eight games or that players like Mats Zuccarello and Eriksson Ek have both found the net three times. Unfortunately, that’s offset by the fact that the group of Kaprizov, Jordan Greenway and Kevin Fiala have combined for one goal. Evason tried mixing the lineups a few days ago by putting Kaprizov and Fiala on different lines (from ‘Kirill Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala line broken up as Wild recalls Adam Beckman, puts Jordan Greenway on IR,’ Star Tribune, 10/29/21), but that has yet to pay off.

Kaprizov, Wild Still Have Time to Turn Things Around

The fact that Kaprizov hasn’t scored yet is disappointing and the Wild’s lack of goal-scoring is concerning after last season’s performance. Fortunately, the NHL season is 82 games for a reason and there’s a lot of time for both the team and player to improve. It’s important to remember that this is a different experience for him because he has to play all 31 teams this season whereas he only saw a handful during his rookie campaign. As mentioned before, he’s only 24 years old and is far too skilled for this slump to last forever. He just needs to show that he needs to find out what isn’t working, adapt to the situation, and remind people just why he earned the nickname “Kirill the Thrill.”

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