Chicago Blackhawks Star Cam highlights:
Chicago Blackhawks Star Cam highlights:
USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program side is off to a great start in the United States Hockey League this season. They’ve won their first four games, are the highest scoring team in the league (27) and may have already locked up goal of the season.
Jack Hughes, a 2019 NHL draft prospect, made the Green Bay Gamblers defense look mighty silly during a 6-4 win on Sunday afternoon.
At first watch, if you’re strictly paying attention to Hughes, you might think Team USA is on a power play. But then you realize there are five skaters in black despite what seems like a lot of space for the 16-year-old to work with.
Hughes, who’s tied for second in league scoring with seven points, finished with three points on the afternoon and is already being dubbed the “Next One.” We’ll be hearing a lot of his name over the next year and a half as June 2019 approaches.
“He’s a special player,” said Barrie Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk to the Toronto Sun’s Mike Traikos last spring. Hawerchuk had planned on taking Hughes No. 1 overall in last year’s OHL draft before he decided to go the NTDP route. “He’s so fast and a such a great skater. But he’s also got great instincts. He thinks the game on another level.”
Player of the Night: Sven Baertschi
Last season, Baertschi was a bright spot for a dismal Vancouver Canucks team, generating new career-highs in goals (18) and points (35) in 68 regular-season games.
The 25-year-old carried over some of that momentum early on, generating three points in seven games, but they were all assists. Sunday marked his best moment of 2017-18, as Baertschi scored his first two goals of the campaign (giving him five points in eight contests).
Bo Horvat is the honorable mention in the Canucks’ 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings, collecting his first two assists of the season. Jake Virtanen also found the net for his first goal of the season.
(As an aside, Derek Dorsett somehow has five goals already in 2017-18. Dorsett’s career-high is 12 goals, but he’s already in range of tying his second-best mark of seven.)
Highlight of the Night: Why not go with Baertschi’s two goals?
Factoid of the Night: This marks the fourth straight loss for the Red Wings, dropping them to 4-4-1 after a promising 4-1-0 start. But the hits could keep coming.
Beginning with Tuesday’s game against the Sabres in Buffalo, Detroit will play three straight road games and seven of their next eight away from home. The bright side is that they’ll enjoy a ton of contests at their expensive new pad starting in mid-November, but the next few weeks could really dim whatever optimism the Red Wings built up early on.
(For pro-tanking Red Wings fans, this might not be such a bad thing.)
Sunday’s lone score: Canucks 4, Red Wings 1
The Vegas Golden Knights confirmed today’s fearful report: Malcolm Subban is expected to miss about a month thanks to a lower-body injury suffered during another Golden Knights upset (3-2 in OT vs. the Blues) on Saturday night.
It makes for a dizzying run of turnover in the Cinderella expansion team’s net; Calvin Pickard went to the Toronto Maple Leafs as the odd man out, Subban is headed to IR, and Marc-Andre Fleury is sidelined with another concussion.
The spotlight, then, turns to Oscar Dansk, the 23-year-old goalie who stopped 10 of 11 shots against St. Louis when Subban went down with that injury.
Golden Knights GM George McPhee said the predictable, right things regarding Dansk and the situation:
“Injuries provide opportunities for others and that is the situation we have here,” McPhee said. “Our top two goaltenders are currently sidelined so we will now give our AHL goalies the chance to play in their absence. We felt Oscar Dansk performed well in relief on Saturday in his NHL debut.”
In a way, Dansk feels like a lower-level version of Subban. While Subban is/was a struggling former first-rounder, Dansk was the second-round version; the Columbus Blue Jackets made him the 31st pick of the 2012 NHL Draft.
(Hey, the 31st pick is now a first-rounder thanks to the Golden Knights, so there’s that.)
Dansk hasn’t been setting the hockey world on fire at other levels, but maybe that makes him an interesting fit for this weird situation, as the Golden Knights continue to defy odds and puck-gravity during a 6-1-0 start.
What to expect
While the Chicago Blackhawks boast the sort of firepower that could make for an unpleasant introduction for Dansk, at least the Golden Knights still have a few games remaining on their first-ever homestand:
Tue, Oct 24 vs Chicago
Fri, Oct 27 vs Colorado
Mon, Oct 30 @ NY Islanders
Tue, Oct 31 @ NY Rangers
That back-to-back to end the month could be Halloween-scary, but at least Vegas has some time to prepare. The losses are likely to come starting on Oct. 30, as they face a six-game road trip and eight of nine games away from home. That’s challenging, no expansion disclaimers needed.
How they’ve been playing
Some wonder if the Golden Knights should loosen their defensive logjam by trading for a netminder.
Rather than wading too deep into that discussion, this seems like a reasonable time to look at the Golden Knights seven games (and six wins) in.
The Golden Knights should expect more struggles in both regards, at least at times, this season. Maybe this long run of home-ice advantage and their expansion status helped avoid most whistles? Perhaps Gerard Gallant has them playing extra-smart?
This isn’t to dismiss those wins, but sometimes close games are more like “coin flips,” and some of those will start going against the Golden Knights eventually.
Through some intriguing combination of competence and beginner’s luck, the Golden Knights are off to a shockingly good start.
It’s one thing to lose one goalie, but seeing both go down is brutal for any squad, let alone an expansion team. The Golden Knights have every excuse to start to fade, and were likely to see slippage even at full strength.
Even so, credit this team for being far better than anyone expected, and this hungry bunch will at least be able to point to doubtful bits like these if they need some “us against the world” motivation.
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The modern NHL is no stranger to star players missing extended stretches because of injuries, opening the door for “What if?” frustrations.
As glorious as the last couple years have been for Sidney Crosby, the threat of another concussion looms like Michael Myers in the bushes. Connor McDavid lost half of his rookie season. Carey Price has already dealt with serious issues of his own.
Still, you can forgive Steven Stamkos and Tampa Bay Lightning fans for being especially miffed over the years, as his issues have bordered on the freakish. Stamkos has dealt with blood clots, his most recent right knee injury that required surgery, and broke his tibia after taking this bad-luck spill in 2013:
(Even about four years later, it’s still unsettling to watch Stamkos rapidly become aware of how bad his injury was.)
Stamkos has missed playoff time and saw at least two seasons short-circuited by injuries, as he only played in 17 games in 2016-17 and 37 in 2013-14.
Heading into this season, it was reasonable to try to limit expectations; most athletes struggle in the first year after significant surgeries. Maybe Stamkos will hit a wall at some point, but so far, he’s enjoyed the best start of his career, riding shotgun with budding superstar Nikita Kucherov.
It almost seems fitting, then, that Stamkos scored his 600th regular-season point during the Lightning’s 7-1 beatdown of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even so, it’s resounding that – with all Stamkos has been through – he’s at that level at 27, and he’s done so in 595 games.
Impressive. With this incredible head start of 18 points in nine games, a healthy Stamkos might match or exceed the work he did during his best days earlier in his career. Note how dominant he was from his second through fourth seasons (while Stamkos managed 29 goals and 57 points in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, his fifth):
2009-10: 51 goals, 95 points
2010-11: 45 goals, 91 points
2011-12: 60 goals, 97 points
The other eye-popping stat from that run: he played in all 82 regular-season games in each of those three campaigns.
For some perspective, during the stretch of 2009-10 to 2011-12, Stamkos’ 283 points ranked second in the NHL, with only Henrik Sedins’ 287 ranking higher. His 156 goals easily led all players for that three-year stretch.
If that’s not enough to make you wonder where a healthy Stamkos might rank among the NHL’s upper echelon, consider this: from his sophomore 2009-10 season through today, he’s third in points-per-game among players who’ve played in at least 200, slightly edging Patrick Kane (1.06):
As you can see, Stamkos ranks among six active players who’ve averaged at least one point-per-game since 2009-10.
Chances are, Stamkos will cool off mainly because, as great as Kucherov is, he’ll settle down a bit too. The Russian winger currently boasts a 29.4 shooting percentage, nearly doubling his already-impressive career average of 15.1 percent.
Still, it’s plausible that Stamkos could enjoy one of the best seasons of his career, and the interesting wrinkle might be that this stupendous sniper may serve as something of a facilitator (he currently has three goals versus 15 assists).
Now, don’t forget that Kucherov has been the catalyst for this burst, even if Stamkos makes this one of the NHL’s most scintillating symbiotic relationships. Hitting the 600-point milestone is merely a friendly reminder that Stamkos shouldn’t get lost in the elite conversation, and that hockey fans should be very, very happy to have him around.
Just stay a while this time, Stamkos. We like seeing you.
(Many stats via the wonderful resource that is Hockey Reference.)
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