This wasn't the first rut of Kirill Kaprizov's career.
Five years ago, when he was still playing in the KHL, he didn't score his first goal until Game No. 10.
"I finally scored," Kaprizov said, "and I happened to score three that night."
He also halted his latest skid — this one an eight-game drought as the Wild opened the NHL season — with an exclamation point.
Kaprizov capped off a 5-4 victory against Ottawa in overtime on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center, steering a Kevin Fiala pass into the back of the net before jumping into Fiala's arms.
"Very happy," Kaprizov said Thursday in Russian through a translator. "A lot of relief to finally get one in. Feels a lot better once you get the first one."
After leading the Wild and all first-year players in scoring last season, Kaprizov and his potential will undoubtedly be measured by how many goals he serves up for an encore.
But the reigning Rookie of the Year said he feels he needs to concentrate on his play and not so much his production.
"Obviously this will give me a little bit of confidence," Kaprizov said of his slump-ending goal, "but not to really think about not scoring. Just play the game and the goals will come if you play well. That's where I need to focus."
As a rookie, Kaprizov didn't have to rebound from many dry spells.
The longest he went between goals was six games, twice in the regular season, but his typical turnaround was one to two games. He had five separate goal streaks, including a career-best five-game run from April 17-24, and four multi-goal games.
By the end of the season, the winger's 27 goals were the eighth most in the league and he was recognized for those contributions with the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie and with a five-year, $45 million contract from the Wild.
"You want to make sure you can answer all those questions, answer everything and live up to the hype essentially," said Kaprizov, who finished with 51 points in 55 games.
Those accolades increased the scrutiny on his return, and Kaprizov felt nervous after his slow scoring start.
"I definitely was in my own head," said Kaprizov, who made a flashy debut the previous season when he became only the third player in NHL history to score an overtime goal in his first game.
His early-season woes, however, weren't indicative of his looks at the net.
Through the first eight games, Kaprizov unleashed 26 shots on net and was responsible for 19 scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick, while assisting on six goals. Now, he has a team-high seven helpers to go along with eight points, which are tied with Marcus Foligno for the most on the Wild.
"Every team we're playing is keying on him," coach Dean Evason said. "You see him getting hit. He gets squeezed off in the corner. They're going to do that."
The 24-year-old has noticed teams defend him differently, which he pointed out resulted in him committing a few penalties. But Kaprizov said he believes he has to funnel all his energy on playing the game.
"It definitely felt like the teams kind of targeted me, but it's my fault," said Kaprizov, who hadn't spoken to local media since his contract-signing news conference. "I should have been scoring. I had the chances. I didn't put them in the back of the net. So that's on me. I own that."
These struggles also overlapped with Mats Zuccarello's absence.
The winger has been Kaprizov's most consistent linemate, but he's missed the past three games because of COVID-19. He and Rem Pitlick, who also tested positive last week, could be released from the NHL's protocols on Friday, but neither will travel to Pittsburgh where the Wild plays on Saturday.
Sunday would be the earliest either could play when the Wild is back at Xcel Energy Center to play host to the New York Islanders.
"We have a really good relationship," Kaprizov said of Zuccarello. "He helps me a lot off the ice, on the ice. Out of all the people on the team, he understands me the most in my broken English. It's been fun. He's been very helpful. We have a really good relationship, and we're definitely good friends."
Another teammate who has helped Kaprizov is fellow Russian Dmitry Kulikov, who hadn't met Kaprizov before joining the Wild after the defenseman signed as a free agent in the offseason.
"We just have a lot in common, going to dinners on the road and hanging out," Kulikov said. "He is really passionate about hockey. You can tell he wants to do good, and he wants to be the best player on the ice every game."
Away from the rink, Kaprizov has settled in Minneapolis.
"Just sit home and play a little bit computer," he said in English.
His parents catch every game, and they are planning to visit Kaprizov.
"They love watching in person," he said.
That's where the spotlight is brightest on Kaprizov — on the ice during games. The number of goals he scores will continue to determine his success and the Wild's. But that's not the only factor.
"It all comes from your head, [and I try] not to think about it and just to play," he said. "Help the team out as much as you can and not focus on just the goals and just being the best player you can be."
- The Wild sent defenseman Calen Addison to Iowa in the American Hockey League. Addison, who scored his first NHL goal on Tuesday, was called up last week while the Wild was dealing with injuries on its blue line. The team is optimistic about Alex Goligoski returning after sitting out three games because of an upper-body injury.