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Zulgad’s Roundup: No shot: Kirill Kaprizov passing up too many scoring opportunities

NHL: Nashville Predators at Minnesota Wild
Oct 24, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov (97) looks on during the third period against the Nashville Predators at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Kirill Kaprizov had only one goal and five points in the first five games of his brilliant rookie year last season, so it’s certainly not time to panic because the talented winger doesn’t have a goal and is sitting on five points in the first five games of 2021-22. But there is a different feeling when it comes to Kaprizov’s first handful of games this season.

Kaprizov hasn’t started his second season with the same confidence or flair that he did when he ended up leading the Wild with 27 goals and 51 points in 55 games. His play took a dip in the Wild’s two weekend games against Anaheim (an overtime win) and Nashville (a lifeless loss) as Kaprizov only had six shots on goal total. Teammate Kevin Fiala had six shots alone against the Predators.

There are some who believe Kaprizov crashing into the end boards during the home opener last Tuesday against Winnipeg affected him, but he stayed in the game and no one is using that as an excuse. What is obvious is that opponents are paying more attention to Kaprizov, trying to take him off his game with physical play, and the Russian also has the pressure of a five-year, $45 million contract that he signed as training camp opened.

That contract comes with expectations that Kaprizov will continue to be the Wild’s best player on a nightly basis. What is obvious is that Kaprizov has returned to the one habit that he showed early last season. That is a need to try to create the perfect play by passing up shots. Kaprizov has 13 shots in five games, putting him sixth on the team behind guys like Ryan Hartman (17) and rookie Brandon Duhaime (16).

This makes little sense given how dangerous Kaprizov can be when he shoots. Kaprizov’s linemate Mats Zuccarello takes care of being the playmaking winger, so if Kaprizov is doing the same it defeats the purpose of having those two play together. Zuccarello has only one fewer shot than Kaprizov and center Joel Eriksson Ek leads the line with two goals and 14 shots.

Wild coach Dean Evason acknowledged after Sunday’s game that Kaprizov is pressing.

“You could ask him, too, and I bet he says the exact same thing,” Evason said. “We had a little chat with him before the game. I know he recognizes it. He’s trying to do too much. He’s got a lot going on and everything and trying to do too much. He’s getting special attention and when you try to do too much and try to do something extra to try to beat somebody, it doesn’t go well because not only one guy is concentrating on you, all five guys on the ice are watching for him. So if you try to beat people one-on-one it usually turns over, or try to make a softer play, it turns over. As we know, he’s a gritty guy. He’ll figure it out.”

Evason attempted to jumpstart Kaprizov in the third period Sunday by reuniting Hartman between Kaprizov and Zuccarello and putting Eriksson Ek back with Marcus Foligno and the so-far-way-too-silent Jordan Greenway. It didn’t help as Kaprizov finished as a minus-2 in what was one of his worst performances in a Wild jersey.

Last season tells us that Evason is right and that Kaprizov will figure it out. In his first 17 games in the pandemic-shortened season, Kaprizov averaged 1.67 shots per game and had five goals. That figure increased to 3.37 shots per game and Kaprizov had 21 goals in the next 35 games.

This much is certain: The sooner Kaprizov starts shooting — and stops worrying about making pretty plays — the sooner he will return to being the player who ran away with the Calder Trophy. He is one player who can get away with being a little more selfish and no one is going to complain.

A POSTSEASON STAR

I had no issue with the Twins’ decision to move on from Eddie Rosario last offseason. He was a talented player but he also was a guy whose mistakes on the bases and at the plate caused one to wonder if he was paying attention.

Rosario was eligible for arbitration after 2020 and was projected to make $9.6 million. The Twins had little interest in paying that and didn’t plan to sign Rosario to a long-term contract so he was non-tendered.

The Twins, who placed Rosario on waivers in December, weren’t the only team that was lukewarm on the left fielder. Cleveland ended up signing him to a one-year, $8 million contract and then shipped him to Atlanta at the trade deadline for veteran Pablo Sandoval in a salary dump. Cleveland even included $500,000 to help pay the estimated $3 million that remained on Rosario’s salary.

Rosario’s debut with Atlanta — a team that made several moves at the deadline — was delayed because of a strained right oblique. It’s unlikely the Braves had any idea just what they were getting.

Rosario earned MVP honors in the Braves’ six-game victory over the Dodgers in the NLCS by hitting .560 (14-for-25) with three homers and nine RBIs. That included two four-hit games. His 14 hits tied the mark for a postseason series. The Braves will now face the Astros in the World Series beginning on Tuesday night in Houston.

“We just couldn’t figure him out,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters. “We just didn’t have an answer for him.”

  • Rosario should get paid this offseason but that seems unlikely to happen with the report there is almost certain to be an MLB work stoppage for the first time in 26 years when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on Dec. 2. Leave it to MLB to have the beginning of the World Series overshadowed by what fans will see as greed on the part of owners and players.
  • The Gophers weren’t the only Big Ten team to have a big rushing day last Saturday. While Minnesota’s running backs had 326 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry in a win over Maryland, Illinois went for 357 yards (5.3 yards per) in its nine-overtime win over Penn State; Michigan had 294 yards (5.4 yards per) against Northwestern; Wisconsin had 290 yards (5.7 yards per) against Purdue; and Ohio State had 187 yards (5.8 yards per) against Indiana. The Gophers have five running backs and a quarterback (Cole Kramer) who have rushed for more than 100 yards this season. Six teams, including Minnesota, are averaging more than 200 yards per game on the ground.
  • As bad as the Gophers’ loss to Bowling Green was in nonconference play, P.J. Fleck could find himself drawing attention from some of the bigger programs with openings this offseason if he continues to win Big Ten games. The Gophers (5-2, 3-1), on a three-game winning streak, can take sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West on Saturday with a victory at Northwestern (3-4, 1-3) and an Iowa (6-1, 3-1) loss at Wisconsin (4-3, 2-2). The issue with Fleck isn’t how he runs a program or recruits but rather his in-game decisions.
  • In his seventh NBA season, the Wolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns still hasn’t learned to control his emotions when it comes to officiating calls that he either doesn’t get or that go against him. That was on display Monday night in the Wolves’ 107-98  loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Towns was called for two early fouls, didn’t get a few calls he wanted and was assessed a technical in the first quarter. That seemed to throw him off his game for a substantial portion of the first half as the Wolves fell behind by 11. This was in Game No. 3 of an 82-game season. If Towns is going to be the leader of the Wolves, allowing the officiating to dictate his emotions needs to stop. Now.
  • Struggling guard D’Angelo Russell made only 3-of-14 shots from the field, including 1-of-8 from three-point range, and finished with nine points in 29 minutes on Monday. Wolves coach Chris Finch expressed little concern about Russell’s rough start.