What Next For The New Jersey Devils?
Connor McDavid widens his lead in the NHL scoring race, Mikko Rantanen enjoys a four-point performance and Robby Fabbri tallies a hat trick. Details and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Connor McDavid scored twice to lead the Edmonton Oilers to a 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets. The Oilers have the same number of points (40) as the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs in the Scotia North Division but the latter hold three games in hand. McDavid (58 points) extended his points streak to eight games and leads the NHL scoring race by nine points over teammate Leon Draisaitl.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: McDavid is on pace for 98 points in 56 games this season.
Colorado Avalanche winger Mikko Rantanen scored twice and added two assists in a 5-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild. Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog each had a goal and two assists as Colorado peppered Wild goaltender Cam Talbot with 55 shots. Avs defensemen Cale Makar and Bo Byram returned from upper-body injuries that had sidelined each from multiple games. Wild defenseman Matt Dumba left the game in the second period with a lower-body injury. The Avalanche (38 points) moves one point up on the Wild into second place in the Honda West Division.
A hat trick by Robby Fabbri enabled the Detroit Red Wings to hold off the Dallas Stars 3-2. It was a costly victory for the Wings as goalie Jonathan Bernier left the game in the second period with an apparent injury to his right leg. An update is expected on his condition today.
The New Jersey Devils held off the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 thanks to goaltender Scott Wedgewood’s 40-save performance. Devils forward Jack Hughes had a goal and an assist. Wedgewood got the call after starter Mackenzie Blackwood suffered an upper-body injury during warmups. No update was provided for his status. Earlier in the day, the Penguins placed forwards Evgeni Malkin and Teddy Blueger (undisclosed) on injured reserve. The Pens sit in third place in the MassMutual East Division with 37 points.
A new head coach didn’t change the Buffalo Sabres fortunes as they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Boston Bruins in their first game with Don Granato behind the bench. The Sabres fall to 0-11-2 in their last 13 games. David Krejci collected three assists for the Bruins, who sit one point behind the Penguins in the East Division.
The Philadelphia Flyers (33 points) moved to within three points of the Bruins by edging the New York Islanders 4-3. The Flyers blew a 3-0 lead but got the win on Oskar Lindblom’s second goal of the game late in the third period. Travis Konecny had three assists for the Flyers while Isles defenseman Nick Leddy had three helpers. Before the game, the Flyers announced defenseman Robert Hagg would be sidelined two-to-four weeks with a shoulder injury. The Islanders (42 points) remain in second place in the East.
An overtime goal by Seth Jones lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets over the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2. It was Jones’ second goal of the game. Carolina center Sebastian Aho countered with two goals. The Hurricanes remain in third place in the Discover Central Division with 42 points while the Jackets (31 points) climbed to within two points of the fourth-overall Chicago Blackhawks.
Speaking of the Blackhawks, they dropped a 4-2 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 19 saves for his 10th straight victory while Victor Hedman had a goal and an assist. The Lightning (44 points) opened a two-point lead over the Hurricanes and Florida Panthers for first place in the Central Division. Chicago center Dylan Strome scored in his first game since being sidelined a month ago by a concussion. The Blackhawks have dropped three straight.
The Nashville Predators got two goals from Calle Jarnkrok and a 40-save effort from Juuse Saros to edge the Panthers 2-1. Jonathan Huberdeau scored for the Panthers, who remain in second place in the Central.
Anaheim Ducks rookies Jamie Drysdale and Trevor Zegras each scored their first NHL goals in a 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes. Drysdale finished the game with two points while Adam Henrique tallied the game-winner. Clayton Keller and Conor Garland replied for the Coyotes.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Drysdale and Zegras offer what could be a promising look at the Ducks’ future depending on what moves management makes to rebuild the roster.
TSN: Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen admits he’s been battling a nagging lower-body injury for the past six games.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That news won’t silence Andersen’s critics but it explains his struggles since returning to action from the same injury that sidelined him for two weeks in the second half of February.
Recaps of Thursday’s action, Pierre-Luc Dubois benched, an update on the four Capitals sidelined under COVID-19 protocols, and a lengthy list of injuries in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Tyler Toffoli scored twice as the Montreal Canadiens thumped the Vancouver Canucks 7-3 in the second game of their three-game series. With the score tied 2-2 following the first period, the Canadiens blew the game open with four unanswered second-period goals.
Montreal winger Joel Armia also scored twice but suffered a concussion late in the third period from a blindside hit by Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers, who received a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Habs forward Paul Byron also left in the third after being struck in the leg by a shot from teammate Shea Weber. Canucks defensemen Travis Hamonic and Alexander Edler missed the game with upper-body injuries, while blueliner Jalen Chatfield suffered a first-period upper-body injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Toffoli now has five goals in two games against his former club this season. It’s uncertain if Myers will receive supplemental discipline for his cheap shot on Armia. The Canadiens and Canucks will play the final game of this series on Saturday, with the Habs unbeaten in regulation (3-0-2) thus far.
Jake DeBrusk tallied the only goal in a shootout to give the Boston Bruins a 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Nick Ritchie had a goal and an assist while David Krejci collected two assists. James van Riemsdyk tallied twice and Jakub Voracek collected three assists for the Flyers, who gave up 43 shots in this contest. The Flyers played without forward Morgan Frost (dislocated shoulder, injured reserve) and defenseman Philippe Myers (fractured rib, week-to-week).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s a big win for the Bruins, who entered this game sitting dead-last in goals for per game (1.00). A porous defense saw the Flyers blow 2-0 and 3-2 leads in this game. The injuries are piling up for the Flyers, who were also playing without Sean Couturier and Shayne Gostisbehere.
The Tampa Bay Lightning picked up their third straight win by edging the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 on an overtime goal by Brayden Point. Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois was benched for almost the entire game, seeing less than four minutes of ice time in the first period.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Bolts victory was overshadowed by Dubois’ benching. This is ramping up speculation over the 22-year-old center’s future with the Blue Jackets and his relationship with head coach John Tortorella. I’ll have more in the Rumors section.
New York Islanders winger Jordan Eberle tallied twice in a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Isles center Mathew Barzal had a goal and two assists. Josh Bailey returned to the Isles lineup after spending one day on the club’s COVID-19 absence list. The Devils were without starting goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who was placed on the club’s COVID list, though that doesn’t mean he’s tested positive for the coronavirus.
Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers each had a goal and an assist to lead the Winnipeg Jets over the Ottawa Senators 4-1. The Jets took control of the game with three unanswered second-period goals. Jets winger Patrik Laine missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury.
The Los Angeles Kings got their first win of the season by doubling up the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. The Kings overcame a 2-0 deficit with Adrian Kempe netting the game-winner in the third period. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen each had a goal and an assist for the Avs.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov has tested positive for COVID-19. Samsonov, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov were placed on the NHL’s COVID protocol-related absence list on Wednesday. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Orlov will miss at least four games while Samsonov could be sidelined longer. It remains to be seen if the other three tested positive.
Samsonov’s positive test triggered contact testing within the Capitals dressing room, leading to the NHL discovering the four players spent time socializing in the team hotel without facial coverings on multiple occasions. The league fined the Capitals $100K.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some pundits and fans questioned the NHL’s protocols when this story broke on Wednesday. The bottom line is the Capitals, and every other team in the league knew what the protocols were before this season started. The NHLPA voted for them. Every player had the opportunity to opt-out of playing this season. The players involved in this incident broke those rules and must now suffer the consequences.
The NHL’s COVID protocols were based on CDC and Health Canada guidelines enabling the 31 NHL teams to stage this season in their home arenas. They must also follow local guidelines.
Those rules have had an effect upon this season. A ban on non-essential travel at the Canada-US border has limited Canadian teams to playing among themselves during the regular season. The San Jose Sharks started this season on the road because Santa Clara County has prohibited all sports activities due to high local COVID levels.
The NHL has already postponed games involving the Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes because of COVID outbreaks. They cannot risk further spread jeopardizing the season because some players won’t adhere to the rules.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Marcus Pettersson and Juuso Riikola will each be sidelined several weeks with undisclosed injuries.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That could have Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford shopping for help. I’ll have more about that in the Rumors section.
SPORTSNET: Anaheim Ducks defenseman Josh Manson is sidelined for six weeks with an oblique muscle injury.
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Stars defenseman John Klingberg (medical reasons) is questionable for his club’s season-opener on Friday against the Nashville Predators.
TORONTO SUN: Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews left practice early yesterday as he wasn’t feeling great, according to head coach Sheldon Keefe. His status will be updated today. Forward Joe Thornton is expected to miss some games with an upper-body injury.
CALGARY SUN: Flames winger Dillon Dube is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
WGR550: Buffalo Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton will miss at least two games with a head injury. Sabres starter Linus Ullmark revealed he missed Monday’s game against Philadelphia as he was grieving the death of his father in Sweden. Ullmark returned to practice and is slated to travel with the club for their upcoming two-game series against Washington.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: My condolences to Ullmark during this difficult time.
The 2020-21 schedule is released, Nikita Kucherov sidelined for the season, plus a roundup of the latest notable signings and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: The league released the schedule for the 2020-21 season. It begins on Jan. 13 with five games, including the Tampa Bay Lightning raising their 2020 Stanley Cup championship banner before facing off against the Chicago Blackhawks at Amalie Arena.
The other four games see the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Philadelphia Flyers, the Montreal Canadiens face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Vancouver Canucks squaring off against the Edmonton Oilers, and the St. Louis Blues tangling with the Colorado Avalanche.
The league also announced the postponement of the 2021 Stadium Series slated for Feb. 20, 2021, featuring the Carolina Hurricanes.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: All timings for those games have yet to be announced. Those will likely be revealed after the locations for the Canadian games are determined.
TSN reported last night the five Canadian provinces hosting NHL teams released a letter calling for increased testing of players, staff and close contacts as well as enhancing the schedule to group game into blocks to reduce inter-jurisdictional travel. The other option is reinstating a bubble model similar to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which the league and the NHLPA aren’t keen to implement.
TAMPA BAY TIMES: Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov has hip surgery scheduled for next week and is expected to be sidelined for the entire regular season. The club hopes to have him back in time for the 2021 playoffs beginning in May.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This is a big blow to the Lightning’s scoring punch but they will receive $9.5 million in salary cap relief by placing the former Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy winner on long-term injury reserve. That should free up sufficient cap space to sign restricted free agent Anthony Cirelli. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t need to make a cost-cutting deal. I’ll have more about that in the Rumors section.
The Lightning also signed forwards Mathieu Joseph and Alex Volkov to short-term, one-way contracts. Joseph inked a two-year deal worth $1.475 million while Volkov inked a one-year, $700K deal.
NJ.COM: The New Jersey Devils signed goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood to a three-year, $8.4 million contract. The annual average value is $2.8 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: An affordable deal for the Devils. Blackwood will be their starting goaltender entering this season. A solid performance on his part over the course of this deal will ensure more lucrative terms on his next contract.
SPORTSNET: The Nashville Predators signed forward Erik Haula to a one-year, $1.75 million contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This signing comes on the heels of the Predators bringing back winger Mikael Granlund. It’s a good, cost-effective depth addition. Haula has an injury history but when healthy is a speedy, versatile two-way forward with a decent scoring touch who can skate on the wing or at center.
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: Goaltender Ryan Miller is returning for another season with the Anaheim Ducks, inking a one-year contract worth $1 million. He’s served as their backup netminder for the past three seasons.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: No surprise here. Miller and his family live in the Anaheim area and he doesn’t want to relocate at this stage of his career.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: The Canadiens added more experienced depth to their forward links by signing winger Michael Frolik to a one-year, $750K contract.
WGR 550: The Buffalo Sabres signed center Casey Mittelstadt to a one-year contract worth just over $874K.
SUN-SENTINEL.COM: The Florida Panthers inked goaltender Sam Montembault to a one-year, two-way deal.
NBC SPORTS CHICAGO: Blackhawks forward Kirby Dach suffered an apparent injury to his right wrist during Canada’s 1-0 win over Russia in a tune-up game for the upcoming 2021 World Junior Championship in Edmonton. Dach left the game, underwent X-rays and is undergoing other tests to determine the severity of the injury.
Meanwhile, Blackhawks forward Alex Nylander recently underwent knee surgery and is expected to be sidelined for four-to-six months.
SPORTSNET: The Vancouver Canucks hired Jason King as their new assistant coach and Chris Higgins as their new skills and development coach.