Two games, zero goals, and just one point which came in the final minute of Game 2 on a secondary assist. Those are the combined series numbers of superstars Mark Stone and Kirill Kaprizov.
Stone has been bottled up, almost looking frustrated on the ice, while Kaprizov has shown flashes of brilliance but for the most part has been kept to the outside and under heavy pressure.
Each has had one individual highlight moment, one in which Stone stickhandled through three Wild players drawing a penalty and nearly scoring, and the other where Kaprizov got in close and was robbed by a ridiculous save from Marc-Andre Fleury, but otherwise, the two main events in the series have been quiet.
Slowing down the two stars starts with defensive matchups. The Golden Knights have leaned heavily on Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb when Kaprizov is on the ice. More than half of the time Kaprizov has been out there, he’s skating into that pair. On the other side, the Wild have gone a bit more by committee against Stone. All six of their defensemen have shared the ice with Stone for at least eight minutes with Jared Spurgeon leading the way last night and Jonas Brodin taking the most minutes in Game 1.
As far as line matching, they’ve seen a lot of each other. Stone’s first line has skated against Kaprizov, Hartman, and Zuccarello for nine minutes in Game 1. That number decreased to just six in Game 2, with Stone seeing more of Joel Eriksson Ek.
Where each of the stars has started is important as well. Both Stone and Kaprizov have seen greater than 60% of their shifts start in the offensive zone. Both coaches are willing to abandon the matchup if it means an extra offensive zone start for their best player.
As the series shifts to Minnesota, the power to match lines and pairs now resides in Dean Evason’s hands, not Pete DeBoer’s. Does he look to find more favorable matchups for Kaprizov and Co. or is he comfortable with the fact that his best has been able to neutralize Vegas’?
If I had to guess, we’ll probably see the Wild try to get Kaprizov away from McNabb and Theodore as often as possible in Game 3 in an attempt to free him up. In the two games, Kaprizov has only been on the ice for two high-danger scoring chances when out there with McNabb and/or Theodore.
It’s clear on both sides though, focus on shutting down Stone and Kaprizov is at an all-time high.
I think obviously they’re paying special attention to him, whoever is up against him. But clearly, people around him are getting opportunities and we’re happy with the chances we’re getting. Clearly, we need to bury some of them, but the way he’s playing the game and how he’s playing the game in all three zones is real good. He just has to stay the course like we do and believe that we’ll all breakthrough. -Dean Evason, MIN Head Coach
I don’t know if they’re doing anything different with Stone than we’re trying to do to Kaprizov and Fiala. It’s the same story every year in the playoffs. The key guys get a lot of attention and when you get attention like that from really good, structured teams it’s hard to score and you have to be comfortable in that, and you have to rely on your depth and other guys to get you goals. That’s just the reality of this time of year. -Pete DeBoer
I mean, he’s their best player. He’s everywhere. He plays well. Honestly, he’s the real deal. He’s a great player. He’s been great all year. We’ve got to make his life harder. We’ve got to keep going. Same thing with Fiala. He’s a great player. They move well with the puck. They’re a threat every time down the ice and you have to be aware when you play against them. I think we did a pretty good job overall. -Jonathan Marchessault
In my opinion, the Golden Knights need Stone more than the Wild need Kaprizov in this series. Especially with Max Pacioretty missing, Vegas’ offense really relies on consistent point production from Stone. While the Wild have needed Kaprizov’s game-breaking ability in the past, and could have used it in Game 2, the depth of their lineup allows them more flexibility in the event that Kaprizov is unable to get on the board.
The usage numbers tell us that games in Minnesota should favor the Wild when it comes to matchups regarding Stone and Kaprizov. Vegas will no longer be able to consistently dictate the defense pair Kaprizov will face, while the Wild can hone in on which pair they prefer against Stone. Minnesota has held its own against Stone with any of their six defensemen, while Vegas has relied on Theodore and McNabb. Without last change, Vegas’ other four defensemen will have to step up.
The bigger issue on the road though is the depth of the Vegas lineup. The Golden Knights’ bottom-six have struggled when faced with difficult matchups. Minnesota’s power line of Eriksson Ek, Greenway, and Foligno have dominated the Golden Knights when presented with favorable matchups. They created heaps of dangerous chances when sharing the ice with the Vegas 3rd and 4th lines while they’ve been held more at bay against the top-six (overtime goal moments after the power play notwithstanding).
All in all, shutting down Stone and Kaprizov seems to be high on the priority list for both teams. So far, each have been successful and it’s meant a pair of low-scoring games in which the teams have split.
It’s only a matter of time though. The question is which ace in the hole will hit the table first. If you are rooting for Vegas, you better hope the Stone card is played before the Kaprizov one.
*TOI stats for this site were sourced from NaturalStatTrick.com*