No one has faced Kirill Kaprizov more this season than the Kings, and Los Angeles is definitely aware of the Wild's rookie standout — even if the team hasn't been able to slow him down.
"If he isn't the top rookie in the league, he's going to be one of the top two or three," Kings coach Todd McLellan said after his team's six-game win streak was broken Friday night by a 3-1 Wild win that included another memorable goal from Kaprizov. "This is Game 6 or 7 against him already, and every night he's gotten better. I think his line is very good right now; they complement each other.
"For me, I just see him along the boards and he's not the biggest man, but he always seems to roll off and come out. He's a very slippery player."
Kaprizov was certainly elusive on his goal in the first period, picking up the rebound from his own shot and getting off a successful wrap-around as he was sprawled behind the Kings net.
Top-tier defenseman Drew Doughty was the one chasing Kaprizov, but the pressure didn't appear to faze Kaprizov.
Neither, it seems, is the attention he's receiving in between plays, with Kaprizov standing up for himself after Los Angeles' Austin Wagner gave him a few bumps before a faceoff.
"He's played against men for a while now," coach Dean Evason said, referring to Kaprizov's time in the Kontinental Hockey League before he started his NHL career. "It wasn't a shock to him to get pushed on, leaned on by men, and heavier men."
Despite going 23 days in between games, goalie Cam Talbot didn't look rusty at all in his return to action Friday — coming close to recording his first shutout of the season during a 27-save effort.
What helped Talbot settle back in after such a lengthy layoff due to the NHL's COVID protocols was the run support he received from the Wild, with the team scoring all three goals in the first period.
"It kind of calms you down and takes a little pressure off you to make that next save," Talbot said. "I was just trying to go out there, stay focused, put pucks where I want to put them, eat pucks when I could, just try to play as calm as possible and tried to make less work for myself in my first game back. I thought I was able to do a pretty good job of that [Friday]. Anytime I wasn't able to, the guys did a great job in front of me."
Talbot improved to 4-2 on the season after that performance, with a .926 save percentage and 2.19 goals-against average.
The Wild tabbed Kaapo Kahkonen to finish off the back-to-back against the Kings on Saturday, the only lineup change the team made; forward Marcus Johansson remains out with an upper-body injury.
Home sweet home
Blaine native Nick Bjugstad scored the 100th goal of his NHL career Friday on home ice, and his two goals before that also came at Xcel Energy Center earlier this season.
"I've got to find a way on the road, I guess," Bjugstad said. "It was interesting goal. It just kind of came to me. So sometimes you get the bounces like that."
Bjugstad capitalized on a fortuitous hop, with the puck rolling into the slot after caroming off the end boards. But a worker-bee mentality has been headlining his line with rookie Nico Sturm and veteran Nick Bonino.
"It's a good little combination, and I think we're playing in the offensive zone as a unit — being hard on those pucks," Bjugstad said. "It's kind of redundant, but that's how you create offensive-zone time and make it hard on their defensemen and create chances."