While Peter is out enjoying a trip to see some hockey games in person, I’m filling in with a recap of the past week’s NHL action.
Player of the Week: Blake Wheeler
Wheeler has been the definition of streaky, of late, but this week was the good side of the coin. He broke a four-game pointless drought last Monday against Minnesota, getting one goal and two assists.
After being held without a point against Colorado, he put in another three-point performance (all assists) against Vegas.
But he would save his best for Sunday against the Ottawa Senators. In a game that saw the Jets beat the Senators 5-0, Wheeler had a point on all but one of the goals, putting up one goal and three assists. He had a beautiful cross ice pass to set up Mark Scheifele on the first goal of the night and the Jets never looked back tallying three of their goals on the power play.
Wheeler has passed Steven Stamkos to take the league lead in assists with 28 and has helped power the Jets to the top of the Western Conference, something few expected as the season began.
Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings
Just when it looked like the Kings might be fading after a hot start, they went 4-0 this week and moved six points ahead of the second-place Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division, exactly as the media expected before the season began, right? The Kings won the first three of those games by three goals each.
After one period of play in their Tuesday game in Detroit, the Kings found themselves down 1-0, but Dustin Brown, who has had a heck of a comeback season, evened it up at 1 and Anze Kopitar then put them ahead 2-1 before the second period was over. LA would add two more in the third on goals from Adrian Kempe and Kopitar’s second of the night.
Next up for the Kings was another road game against the Caps. Again, the Kings gave up an early lead on a goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Marian Gaborik would even it up, only for Kuznetsov to get a second goal. Jonny Brodzinski would tie it again and nine seconds later Jussi Jokinen would put the Kings ahead. After that, it was all Kings.
The Kings continued their road trip Friday with a visit to play the St. Louis Blues, one of the best teams in the league to this point in the season. This time the Kings got the early lead on a Tyler Toffoli tally. Kopitar would then bang home a rebound to make it 2-0. Before it was over, Kempe and Toffoli would add goals and the Kings would win 4-1 despite being outshot 40-28 on a stellar performance by backup goaltender, Darcy Kuemper.
The Kings finished their week and their road trip in Chicago on Sunday. Through two periods the game was scoreless. Christian Folin finally put the Kings up with just over 10 minutes left in the game. Then things got a little weird with just over two minutes left in the game. First, Brown would get an empty net goal. Then the Hawks would answer on a goal from Jonathan Toews with 1:46 left to end Quick’s shutout bid. But Kopitar would put the final nail in the coffin with 51.5 seconds left in the game with a final empty net goal.
As long as the Kings continue to get these types of performances from Brown, Kopitar and solid goaltending, they will have a very good chance to lock down the Pacific Division.
Game of the Week: Edmonton Oilers 7 @ Calgary Flames 5, Saturday, December 2, 2017
One of the first NHL games I can remember watching on TV was Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers against Lanny McDonald’s Flames. This game was a throwback to that era when goalies for some reason spent much of their time standing up and, consequently, watching pucks go past them. This is the type of game you hope to see with all of the offensive talent on these two teams and the reason you stay up to watch the late game on Hockey Night in Canada if you live in the Eastern Time Zone.
Connor McDavid skated around the Flames zone early and his persistence led to Jesse Puljujarvi cashing in on the rebound. The Oilers then had what looked like their second goal of the night from Patrick Maroon taken off the board as the goal was kicked. Eric Gryba then set up Puljujarvi for his second of the night on a redirection of Gryba’s point shot.
Mikael Backlund then forced a turnover on the penalty kill that set up Michael Frolik for a short-handed goal to pull the Flames within one goal. But the Oilers scored again before the first period ended to go up 3-1. In the second period, Mark Letestu scored on a short-handed breakaway to expand Edmonton’s lead. Gryba made another shot from the point which was tipped in, this time by Milan Lucic, to go up 5-1.
As the third period started, Mike Smith was replaced in net by David Rittich. Unfortunately for the Flames, Rittich bungled a handoff behind the net and the Oilers capitalized to go up 6-1. One might assume this is where the Flames might call it a night. But Sam Bennett made a tough angle shot to get the score to 6-2. Next, Micheal Ferland notched a power play goal to bring the Flames within three goals. Bennett added a second goal on a 2-on-1 where he took the puck top shelf. Suddenly the score was 6-4 with a lot of time left in the game. Johnny Gaudreau then made another tough angled shot off a stretch pass, taking advantage of young Oilers netminder, Laurent Brossoit. The impossible seemed possible with the score 6-5. But Brossoit would make a key save on Gaudreau on a two-on-one to prevent the tying goal.
With 1:01 left, the Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tried to center a pass, but it bounced into the net off T.J. Brodie’s stick to salt away the win for Edmonton by a final of 7-5. While the Flames couldn’t quite finish their comeback, it was the sort of game that reminded you why the Battle of Alberta was once such a big deal.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
Trade Rumors seem to be starting earlier than normal and we have already seen one blockbuster and several smaller trades.
This past week saw Anaheim and New Jersey make a significant hockey trade if not a true blockbuster. The Ducks sent right-handed defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional pick to the Devils in exchange for Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a third round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. The move was a much-needed improvement on the back end for the Devils, who are one of the surprises of the early season. As for the Ducks, with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler still out, Henrique can help at center and, when they return, he can provide forward depth.
Who is next?
Well, the name that seemed to be coming up repeatedly during the past week was Pittsburgh’s Ian Cole. The left-handed defenseman was a healthy scratch and several sources had stated that his relationship with Mike Sullivan had been rocky, leading the Pens to consider a trade. However, their asking price may be higher than what a willing buyer will give them for Cole—Pittsburgh is still seeking an improvement at center for their third line after Riley Sheahan has failed to impress. Toronto is a destination that has been mentioned with Tyler Bozak falling out of favor and the Leafs wanting to upgrade their defense, but to this point nothing seems imminent.
The Edmonton Oilers have also been frequently mentioned in trade rumors. While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins name has probably been mentioned the most, more recently the Oilers have been mentioned in connection with smaller trades that might see them shipping out the likes of Pat Maroon. It is hard to see how Maroon would produce the sort of return that might get the Oilers back into contention in the Western Conference.
Another name that has been brought up repeatedly is Evander Kane. Buffalo is one of the few teams clearly out of the hunt at this early date, but it seems most likely they will wait until the deadline to move Kane when they might extract the highest possible return for the wing, who will be a free agent this summer.