Matthews the Odds-On Favourite to Capture NHL’s Maurice Richard Award
Sidney Crosby reaches an assist milestone, Kyle Connor and Kevin Fiala extend their goal streaks and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM:The Boston Bruins widened their lead atop the overall standings by edging the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1. Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk scored for the Bruins (96 points), who sit nine points over the Lightning for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Third-period goals by Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz lifted the St. Louis Blues to their eighth straight win by downing the New York Rangers 3-1. The Blues (90 points) hold a three-point lead over the Colorado Avalanche for first place in the Western Conference. With 74 points, the Rangers remain four points out of an Eastern Conference wild-card spot.
Bryan Rust’s hat trick powered the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Ottawa Senators 7-3 to snap a six-game losing skid. Evgeni Malkin collected four assists while Sidney Crosby (one goal, two assists) picked up his 800th career assist. The Penguins (82 points) sit one behind the Philadelphia Flyers for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Crosby became just the sixth player in NHL history to reach 800 assists in less than 1,000 games.
Vegas Golden Knights netminder Robin Lehner made 27 saves in a 3-0 shutout of the New Jersey Devils. Max Pacioretty and William Karlsson each had a goal and an assist. The Golden Knights (82 points) have won nine of their last 10 contests and sit atop the Pacific Division.
Alex Chiasson’s overtime goal gave the Edmonton Oilers a 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars. Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen kicked out 42 shots as Edmonton (80 points) remains two back of the Golden Knights, while the Stars (82 points) remain in third place in the Central Division. Oilers winger James Neal returned to the lineup for the first time since being sidelined by a foot injury on Jan. 29.
Winnipeg Jets winger Kyle Connor scored twice and set up another to lead his club over the fading Buffalo Sabres 3-1. Connor’s goal streak has reached four games as the Jets (74 points) moved into the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference. The Sabres have dropped four straight.
Kevin Fiala extended his goal streak to five games as the Minnesota Wild dumped the Nashville Predators 3-1. Wild goalie Alex Stalock made 37 saves as the Wild (73 points) moved one point ahead of the Predators to sit one point out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Preds have dropped three straight games.
A three-goal third period carried the San Jose Sharks to a 5-2 upset of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Evander Kane scored twice for the Sharks. With 78 points, the Leafs sit in third place in the Atlantic Division. Leafs center Auston Matthews tallied his 46th goal to move into second place among this season’s goal-scoring leaders.
The Montreal Canadiens rolled to a 6-2 victory over the slumping New York Islanders, who’ve won just two of their last 10 games. Isles defenseman Johnny Boychuk left the game in the third period after being inadvertently struck in the face by the skate blade of Canadiens winger Artturi Lehkonen. Boychuk suffered a facial cut but his eyesight was unaffected. Canadiens winger Tomas Tatar left the game early in the first with an upper-body injury. The Isles (78 points) cling to the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens (71 points) sit seven points behind them.
A four-goal second period lifted the Chicago Blackhawks to a 6-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks, Dylan Strome tallied two goals and collected an assist.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand will be sidelined eight-to-ten weeks following surgery to repair an ankle sprain and a hairline fracture.
THE SCORE: Carolina Hurricanes goalies Petr Mrazek (concussion) and James Reimer (lower-body injury) are expected to miss at least another week. The Hurricanes are winless since Mrazek and Reimer were sidelined.
VANCOUVER SUN: Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers and Quinn Hughes are questionable for tonight’s game against the Arizona Coyotes.
SPORTSNET: Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said head coach Claude Julien will return behind the bench next season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Canadiens fans are calling for Bergevin and Julien to be fired as the club is on the verge of missing the playoffs for the third straight year. Neither guy is going anywhere, but this off-season and the Canadiens’ performance in 2021-22 will determine if they still have their jobs a year from now.
The Nashville Predators have opened the doors of their arena to people affected by the tornado that ripped through the city early Tuesday morning. At least 19 people were killed and 40 buildings were destroyed.
Updates on Kyle Connor and Rasmus Ristolainen, plus the latest on the Devils, Panthers, Oilers, Ducks, and Predators in today’s NHL rumor mill.
UPDATE ON THE AVS’ RUMORED INTEREST IN CONNOR
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman followed up on the recent rumor suggesting the Colorado Avalanche were interest in Winnipeg Jets winger Kyle Connor. The speculation had the Avs offering up defense prospect Bowen Byram as part of the return. Friedman claimed he’d heard it was Connor for Byram and Vladislav Kamenev, but he received multiple denials when he looked into it.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Colorado Hockey Now’s Adrian Dater reported the Avs scouted the recent Rangers-Jets game. He thinks they need to find a suitable replacement for sidelined center Nazem Kadri. Connor, however, isn’t a center. Neither is Chris Kreider, who could be shopped if the Blueshirts fail to re-sign him before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
As I said before, Byram has the potential to become a top-pairing NHL defenseman, but he’s yet to play a single game in the big league. The Jets need immediate blueline help. If they’re thinking about moving Connor (and I don’t believe they are), it would have to be for an established No.1 d-man.
SHOULD THE SABRES SHOP RISTOLAINEN?
THE BUFFALO NEWS: Travis Yost believes the Sabres should trade Rasmus Ristolainen before it’s too late. The 25-year-old defenseman has attractive individual skills, but Yost indicates the Sabres have been out-scored and out-chanced whenever he’s on the ice.
Nevertheless, he considers Ristolainen’s contract friendly enough to teams around the league that believed the blueliner’s circumstances are largely out of his control. He’s signed through 2021-22 with an annual salary-cap hit of $5.4 million. “It’s not working in Buffalo, and getting assets for a player who is having no impact on your team’s performance is always worth consideration,” writes Yost.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ristolainen was a frequent topic of conjecture last summer after it was revealed he requested a trade at the end of last season. He reportedly changed his mind, but one wonders how much more losing he can tolerate. His lack of no-trade protection gives Sabres management plenty of potential trade partners.
A Ristolainen deal, however, might have to wait until the summer. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, however, suggests the Sabres are more likely to deal players like Michael Frolik, Johan Larsson, Evan Rodrigues, and Conor Sheary.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM FRIEDMAN’S LATEST “31 THOUGHTS”
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman reports the Florida Panthers have explored the trade market for Mike Matheson and he believes there are teams interested in the 25-year-old defenseman. However, his contract complicates things.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Matheson have an affordable $4.875-million AAV, but it runs through 2025-26. As Friedman points out, his actual salary steadily rises to $6.5 million per season in the final years of the deal. Any attempt to move him would probably have to take place in the off-season.
The Edmonton Oilers have been uninterested in moving their first-round pick, RFA winger Jesse Puljujarvi, or any of the top defense prospects for a rental player. Friedman doesn’t see that changing with captain Connor McDavid sidelined.
Friedman doubts the Anaheim Ducks are keen to move key pieces like Josh Manson, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Jakob Silfverberg, and Rickard Rakell. Instead, he sees Ondrej Kase and Derek Grant as possibilities.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I can see why Ducks GM Bob Murray doesn’t want to part with those core players. Depending on what moves he makes between now and the start of next season, as well as the performance of young players like Max Jones, Troy Terry, and Sam Steel, the Ducks could be more competitive in 2020-21.
The Nashville Predators are going to have to decide if they’ll retain or trade pending UFA winger Mikael Granlund.
WHICH DEVILS ARE MOST LIKELY TO BE MOVED?
NJ.COM: Chris Ryan believes Sami Vatanen is most likely to be moved by the trade deadline. The pending UFA is among the top trade options in the market, which could drive up his value as the deadline approaches. They could also move pending UFAs Andy Greene or Wayne Simmonds, but Ryan suggests they could also retain them.
It would take substantial offers to pry away Kyle Palmieri, Blake Coleman or Nikita Gusev. The biggest obstacle to moving defenseman P.K. Subban is his $9-million AAV. Ryan believes Nico Hischier, Travis Zajac, Jack Hughes, and Mackenzie Blackwood aren’t going anywhere.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said the Devils seek “hockey trades” that will fetch young players to grow with Hischier and Hughes.
Game recaps, Oilers re-sign Nurse, Brock Boeser sidelined, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: The Winnipeg Jets tallied five unanswered goals to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2. Kyle Connor led the way with two goals and an assist for the Jets (63 points), who moved into the first wild-card berth in the Western Conference. With 58 points, the Blackhawks are four points out of the final Western wild-card spot.
Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog each scored for the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild. The Avs (70 points) picked up their fourth straight win and moved within three points of the first-place St. Louis Blues in the Central Division. With 58 points, the Wild are four points out of a playoff spot in the West.
Andreas Athanasiou scored twice as the last-overall Detroit Red Wings upset the first-overall Boston Bruins 3-1, snapping the latter’s six-game winning streak. Jonathan Bernier made 39 saves for the win. It’s the Wing’s second victory in their last 12 games.
Three first-period goals enabled the Anaheim Ducks to hang on for a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Ducks backup Ryan Miller made 31 saves.
New York Rangers rookie goalie Ilya Shesterkin kicked out 42 shot backstopping his club over the Los Angeles Kings 4-1.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Nurse, 25, is in the final season of a two-year, $6.4-million contract. He was slated to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. This deal provides a nice raise for Nurse, who’s become an invaluable part of the Oilers’ defense corps. It also pushes the Oilers’ salary-cap payroll for 2020-21 to over $68 million invested in 13 players.
Nurse’s new contract takes him up to his eligibility age (27) for unrestricted free agency. It appears Oilers management is buying time by having him agree to an affordable short-term contract with the potential for a more lucrative deal two years from now. Given his value to the Oilers, I expect they’ll attempt to re-sign him to a longer-term extension in the summer of 2021.
Vancouver Canucks winger Brock Boeser will be sidelined at least two games with an undisclosed injury.
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: Golden Knights center William Karlsson hopes to return to action on Tuesday. He’s been sidelined by a broken finger since Jan. 14.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Bruins defenseman Jeremy Lauzon received a two-game suspension from the NHL department of player safety for checking Arizona Coyotes center Derek Stepan in the head on Saturday.
SPORTSNET: Details have emerged over Saturday’s report indicating the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation are willing to address NHL issues to get players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics. They’re willing to address insurance and travel costs, as well as marketing opportunities.
Chris Johnston said Olympic participation is an important issue for NHLPA membership in collective bargaining talks with the NHL. He suggests this recent news of contact between the IOC and IIHF with the league could lead to progress in CBA talks.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The league makes lots of noise over how the team owners don’t like take a three-week Olympic break in their schedule. The reality, however, is they had no real issue with it as long as the travel and insurance costs (an estimated $20 million) for the players were covered by the IOC and IIHF. A cut of the marketing revenue would also be enticing.
If the league agrees to these proposals, it could (as Johnston suggests) lead to a new CBA getting hammered out before its current expiration in September 2022.
Patrik Laine’s hat trick power the Jets over the Senators, Ilya Kovalchuk comes through again for the Canadiens, Claude Giroux reached 800 career points, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Patrik Laine tallied a hat trick and Kyle Connor picked up four points as the Winnipeg Jets downed the Ottawa Senators 5-2. Laine moved past Sidney Crosby with the seventh-most goals (133) scored by a player before the age of 22. With 61 points, the Jets passed the Arizona Coyotes into the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Speaking of the Coyotes, they dropped a 4-2 decision to the Boston Bruins. While they also have 61 points, the Jets hold a game in hand. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask made 29 saves to extend his home points streak to a team-record 18 games. Charlie Coyle scored twice and Patrice Bergeron had a three-point game. The Bruins (80 points) hold a three-point lead over the Washington Capitals in the overall standings. Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta was scratched before the game with a lower-body injury.
Two third-period goals by Leon Draisaitl lifted the Edmonton Oilers over the Nashville Predators 3-2. The Oilers had a scare when captain Connor McDavid suffered a bruised knee in the second period, but he returned to play over five minutes in the third. Draisaitl (85 points) holds a four-point lead over McDavid for top spot in the NHL scoring race. The Oilers (64 points) moved within a point of the Vancouver Canucks for first place in the Pacific Division, while the Predators (59 points) remain two points out of a Western Conference wild-card berth.
The Montreal Canadiens edged the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on an overtime goal by Ilya Kovalchuk. Marco Scandella scored the tying goal late in the third period. John Tavares tallied for the Leafs. Kovalchuk leads the Habs with three game-winning goals, with two of those in overtime. Montreal winger Jonathan Drouin returned to action for the first time since suffering a wrist injury on Nov. 15. The Canadiens (61 points) are five points behind the Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division.
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy extended his franchise-record points streak to 18 games with a 3-1 victory over the New York Islanders. Brayden Point had a goal and an assist for the Bolts, who’ve won six straight and remain five points behind the Bruins in the Eastern Conference standings. The Lightning also revealed defenseman Ryan McDonagh will be sidelined for two weeks with a lower-body injury.
Kris Letang had a goal and an assist and Tristan Jarry kicked out 33 shots as the Pittsburgh Penguins hung on for a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers. The Penguins (73 points) sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division.
New Jersey Devils netminder Mackenzie Blackwood picked up his second straight shutout to blank the Los Angeles Kings 3-0. Nikita Gusev, Blake Coleman, and Kyle Palmieri were the goal scorers. The Kings have dropped nine of their last 10 contests.
Claude Giroux picked up three points, including his 800th career point, as the Philadelphia Flyers thumped the Washington Capitals 7-2. Sean Couturier tallied two goals for the Flyers, while Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin remains two goals away from 700 career goals. The Flyers (67 points) sit just outside the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Third-period goals by Nazem Kadri and Nathan MacKinnon gave the Colorado Avalanche a 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, ending Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins’ winning streak at eight games. The Jackets (69 points) sit third in the Metropolitan Division.
Dallas Stars winger Roope Hintz scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in a 3-2 overtime victory over the St. Louis Blues. The Stars sit third in the Central Division with 67 points. Dallas winger Alexander Radulov missed the game with an upper-body injury.
The Calgary Flames snapped a three-game losing skid by thrashing the Vancouver Canucks 6-2. Christian Dube had a goal and two assists and Milan Lucic had a goal and an assist for the Flames (62 points), who cling to the first wild-card berth in the Western Conference. Canucks winger Brock Boeser left the game with an apparent arm injury and could be sidelined for a little while.
Shootout goals by Andrei Svechnikov and Justin Williams gave the Carolina Hurricanes a 6-5 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. Jake Gardiner picked up three assists for the Hurricanes, who hold the final Eastern Conference wild-card berth with 67 points. The Golden Knights (64 points) sit third in the Pacific Division.
IN OTHER NEWS…
STLTODAY.COM: The Blues will retired Chris Pronger’s No. 44 next season. The date has yet to be announced. Pronger had his best seasons with the Blues, spending nine years in St. Louis. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015, Pronger won the Hart and Norris Trophies with the Blues in 2000.
ARIZONA SPORTS: The Arizona Coyotes organization may face $5 million in fines if found guilty of allegations involving physical fitness testing of draft prospects.
TSN: The International Olympic Committee engaged with the NHL last week. It’s unclear if they offered enough to sway the league into allowing its players to participate in future Winter Olympics.