The Minnesota Wild showed their true scoring power against the New Jersey Devils and recorded their fifth straight win. They came out strong immediately and looked to have their first-period mojo back compared to their start against the Arizona Coyotes earlier this week. The Wild’s top players kept up their scoring streaks, and their goaltending was top-notch again. While they were still without Frederick Gaudreau, the Wild did get a forward back in Mats Zuccarello. He jumped back to his spot on the top line, and it seemed like he was never gone.
The Wild’s top line produced a lot of points while the defense stood tall and helped protect goaltender Kappo Kahkonen. Those weren’t the only things the Wild had going for them either, they got their shot totals back up where they used to be and it showed with the number of goals they scored, of which their top line was the main contributor.
Wild’s Top Line Back Together
The Wild’s top line looked a bit different the last few games due to the absence of right-winger Zuccarello. He was out with an upper-body injury received in their win over the Winnipeg Jets, in which he scored two goals. He returned against the Devils and their top line was back together. That line didn’t waste any time getting reacquainted; Kaprizov scored near the halfway point of the first period to snag the lead with assists from the Wild’s leading scorer Ryan Hartman and with his very first point, goaltender Kahkonen
That line wasn’t finished; however, they contributed three goals and four assists for seven points. The line wasn’t struggling the last few games but was on fire against the Devils with Zuccarello back. Not only did that line contribute points, but they also had 16 of the Wild’s 38 shots on goal, Hartman had 10 shots alone. Kaprizov tallied two goals that pushed his total to nine and his assists jumped to 19.
Wild’s Shot Totals Where They Belong
The Wild’s shot totals had taken a hit a few times over the last month, but their winning streak has brought an end to that. In the last four out of five games, their shot totals have been 37 or higher, and they’ve reaped the rewards with a set of multi-goal games. So far this season, out of the Wild’s 23 games, 14 have had 30 or more shots on goal, and 12 of those have been multi-goal games. Unlike in previous seasons, the Wild have been very fortunate with goal scoring. They’ve scored 86 goals this season, just three behind the leaders, the Florida Panthers. They’ve also averaged the highest shots per game in franchise history this season at 33.9 shots per game. The Wild need to keep moving in this direction with the scorers they have in the lineup, more shots equal more goals.
Wild’s Defense Adjusting Well
The Wild’s defensive core has now been without captain Jared Spurgeon for six games and they’ve won five of those six games. They’ve adjusted pretty well without the leader of their defense, and that has shown how much this defense has learned from Spurgeon. Most defensive cores would fall apart after losing their defensive leader, but not the Wild’s and it showed against the Devils. The Wild had 15 blocked shots, the defense accounted for nine, and Jonas Brodin was at the top of the list with four blocked shots. The defense also got in on the Wild’s scoring. Dmitry Kulikov got his second goal of the season and the Wild’s fourth of the game with assists from Hartman and Kaprizov.
While discussing the defense, it wouldn’t be right if the goaltending wasn’t mentioned. In net against the Devils wasn’t the starter Cam Talbot but backup Kaapo Kahkonen, who started his second straight game. He proved himself with his second consecutive win, he saved 29 out of 31 shots on net. His save percentage (SV%) was impressive and the same exact number as his last game at .935 SV%. He stood tall against a strong Devils team who tried to come back but was stopped thanks to Kahkonen and the rest of the Wild’s defense.
Wild Face the Maple Leafs
The Minnesota Wild will face their toughest challenge yet on Saturday at home before they hit the road for a quick three-game trip, and that challenge will be the league-leading Toronto Maple Leafs. The Wild will have to be on the lookout for team captain John Tavares who leads the team with 25 points. William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Mitchell Marner are not far behind him. The Wild will need to pay special attention to Marner, who had the most points against them in 2019-20, the last time these two teams saw each other.
This matchup may become a battle of the goaltenders. The Wild has two capable goaltenders to choose from between Kahkonen and Talbot. Kahkonen’s recent success has shown he’s earned his spot, but Talbot has also been successful and he has more experience with teams like the Maple Leafs. Talbot will more than likely get the start in the net. Toronto’s goaltender Jack Campbell sits atop the league’s goaltending stats with 13 wins. He also has a .943 SV% and a 1.72 GAA as of Thursday evening, so he’s a tough goaltender to score against. Hopefully, the Wild’s goal scorers can keep up their streak and they’ll come out undefeated at home and beat one of the NHL’s top teams.
Mariah Stark (Holland) is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.