Taylor Hall’s natural hat trick leads Oilers over struggling Thrashers

There are days to debate and then there are days to just sit back and pay respect. This afternoon, Taylor Hall scored three straight in the 3rd to erase a 3-1 deficit and helped lead Edmonton to their third straight win at Rexall Place while sending the Thrashers deeper into the abyss. The talk going into the game was if Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart could help right the ship. But by the time the final horn sounded on a 5-3 Oilers’ victory at Rexall Place, the only talk was about Taylor Hall and his goal scoring explosion.

Saturday afternoon’s contest hardly looked like the kind of game that would have us singing Hall’s praises. Come to think of it, for the first 40 minutes of action, it wasn’t the kind of game that would have us praising anyone in an Edmonton jersey. The Thrashers had the lead and the look of a team that was getting a fresh start with fresh faces in the lineup. If only the game lasted two periods. Unfortunately for Atlanta, the 3rd period and Taylor Hall’s scoring spree will make just about everyone forget about what could have been.

It was only 8 months ago when the biggest debate in the hockey world was Taylor vs. Tyler. There were those who thought Taylor Hall had been born and bred to be the next great star in the NHL, and there were fans and scouts who thought Tyler Seguin was so similar to a young Steve Yzerman that it would be crazy to pass him up. It’s far too early to make a definitive statement on the careers of a pair of teenagers, but on days like this all you can do is sit back and enjoy the show. This just in: Taylor Hall isn’t going to be good one day. He’s good right now.

The three 3rd period goals give him 20 goals on the season—making him the 4th rookie to reach the 20-goal plateau this season. Mix in his 18 assists and he’s currently 2nd in the league in rookie scoring (only behind Jeff Skinner). It’s games like Saturday’s that have the “wow” factor, though. He had 3 goals, 9 shots on goal, a failed break away, and created at least two scoring chances when his teammates should have buried their opportunities. He showed flashes of being one of the strongest players on the ice when he charged to the front of the net. He showed flashes of being the fastest player on the ice when he constantly got behind the Atlanta defense on odd-man rushes. And with the three goals, he showed that his shot made him unquestionably the most dangerous player on the ice.

There’s a certain quality that superstars have that most NHLers will never experience—some people call it the “it” factor. Hall controlled the game. It wasn’t the shots, it wasn’t the odd-man rushes, and it was just the way the game flowed. When he was out there, the Oilers were a dangerous team—when he wasn’t, they weren’t. He was the player you looked for during the entire game and when he jumped over the boards, you held your breath because you had no idea what he’d do next. It was that “edge-of-your-seat” factor that only a handful of guys are capable of producing—and he did it 19-years-old.

Isn’t this what we expect from a #1 overall pick?

Celebrating Lundqvist’s remarkable career as he nears 20,000 saves

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When it comes to impressive milestones, some numbers register with players, fans, and media more than others.

With that in mind, it’s not overly shocking that Henrik Lundqvist essentially shrugged his shoulders when he was informed that he’s on the verge of 20,000 saves, which would make him the 15th goalie to do so. NHL.com’s Dan Rosen reports that Lundqvist admits he’s more interested in wins (and you can be certain more interested in a certain large, silver thing you can drink and eat out of.)

“It means a lot to me to be up there with those names,” Lundqvist said. “The amount of saves, I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about that number. I’m happy I’ve been able to play a lot of hockey throughout my 12 and a half seasons here. That’s pretty much the only thought I get when I hear 20,000 saves.”

Lundqvist needs four stops to reach that mark, in case you’re counting.

Rosen recently provided perspective that should really cement that Lundqvist isn’t merely accruing volume: “King Henrik” is slated to allow the lowest total of goals of any netminder who’s collected 20,000 saves. Lundqvist comes into tonight’s game with 1,748 goals allowed, while Jacques Plante is the current gold standard in that regarding, giving up 1,960.

Lundqvist notes that he’s happy to have played a lot of hockey, and that brings something else to mind: how remarkable a success story he really is.

It’s easy to forget that the Rangers drafted Lundqvist in the seventh round (205th overall) back in 2000. You don’t hear Lundqvist’s name mentioned all that often when people discuss all-time draft steals, perhaps because goalies are tough to project and possibly also because he took off almost the instant he hit the NHL.

In 2005-06, Lundqvist managed a sparkling .922 save percentage in 53 games as a rookie, helping the Rangers make the playoffs. He really never looked back, and Hank is really starting to pile up milestones, all while managing a fantastic .920 career save percentage.

Maybe that’s also part of the reason this is such a “meh” thing for Lundqvist: he’s probably getting bored when it comes to setting high marks.

Two other interesting goalie milestones

While Lundqvist has been the model for consistent brilliance for more than a decade, two other veteran goalies are reaching or have reached fairly significant milestones, even as their careers have been far more turbulent.

In each case, we’re talking about 300 career wins.

Carolina Hurricanes stalwart Cam Ward already accomplished that task, as his team’s 3-2 shootout win against the Vegas Golden Knights marked his 300th W.

It’s been an odd career for Ward, who started off hot as the 25th pick of the 2002 NHL Draft. As you almost certainly remember, Ward won the Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie, taking over for the Hurricanes mid-playoff-run (after a weak regular season for Ward) and helping them to a shocking Stanley Cup. How bizarre is it to realize that both Ward and Lundqvist would diverge after sensational starts to their NHL careers? Considering where they were drafted, many probably would have tabbed Ward to be the guy with great year-in, year-out numbers, yet he’s instead floundered, sitting with backup-like career save percentage of .909.

Still, he has that championship ring, so there’s at least one area where he’d draw Lundqvist’s envy.

The third goalie of note was taken before Ward in the 2002 NHL Draft, as Kari Lehtonen‘s walked an odd path since going second overall that year.

There were flashes of genius during his early days, yet injuries and inconsistency marred his Atlanta Thrashers run with disappointment. His time with the Dallas Stars has been mixed, as he’s gone from a goalie who often carried an over-matched team to a netminder who, along with Antti Niemi, often held the Stars back.

(Many will, fairly, point out that Lehtonen’s play dipped noticeably after concussion issues, opening another “what if?” door for the occasionally star-crossed goalie.)

Either way, he aims for win 300 of his own tonight, as he’s getting back-to-back games as the Stars face the Islanders.

As an aside, one might find it interesting that Kari Lehtonen currently boasts the same average save percentage of .912 between his Stars and Thrashers years. Maybe he’s just been secretly consistent?

Ultimately, this could be quite the week for goalie milestones, even if certain marks might be met with a shrug by the netminders in question.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers, Sabres show personality in ‘Road to Winter Classic’ debut

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All apologies to Epix, but “The Road to the Winter Classic” series just feels right heading to NBCSN.

The documentary series that gave us memorable moments like Bruce Boudreau avowing his love for ice cream, Boudreau unleashing a fugue state of locker-room profanities, and also great moments not featuring Boudreau is set to debut at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN tonight, spotlighting the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres as they approach the outdoor extravaganza.

[2018 Winter Classic: Sabres vs. Rangers]

For fans who want to see more personality from hockey players, this is manna from heaven. The good stuff goes beyond that, really, as sports documentaries are almost always fun to watch, but it only gets better when the NHL is involved.

To whet your appetite for well-filmed and well-scored peeks behind the curtain, enjoy some teasers for the first episode.

In the video above this post’s headline, you’ll note Alain Vigneault and the Rangers discussing things getting back on track as the team adjusts to a different core, including the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk.

The best stuff, for me at least, comes when there’s humor, and that’s where the next couple of videos shine.

First, we have some nice self-effacing fun from Zach Bogosian, who provides much of the banter for the Sabres’ charity bowling event:

Next, here’s some fun-goofy footage of Rangers players taking the subway to practice:

Note: the NHL should mandate that players wear their uniforms in more inorganic situations, as that’s always fun. Plus it really would align with the advertising practice of having hockey players in their sweaters, even when they’re at restaurants or making toast.

Anyway, “Road to the Winter Classic” should be a good time, and should find a fitting home on NBCSN. It should pair well with tonight’s Bruins – Red Wings game, which you can read more about here.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hall among injured Devils, but it could be much worse

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When people see a hard knee-to-knee collision, the general reaction is to a) wince at the possibility for something serious and b) debate the dirtiness of said check, if you’re into that sort of discussion.

New Jersey Devils fans must have grimaced last night, as Taylor Hall had a real scare in a collision with Kurtis MacDermid of the Los Angeles Kings, which you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

There may have been extra grunts as this was arguably garbage time in the game, as the Devils were up 4-0 in a game they would eventually win 5-1, and Hall put on a show, including scoring this goal:

Well, Hall and the Devils didn’t go totally unscathed, but most N.J. fans will breathe sighs of relief at today’s update. Head coach John Hynes labels Hall day-to-day, with Thursday’s game at Montreal being ruled out, but there’s no structural damage to the prolific forward’s knee. The injury is considered a contusion.

So, a mostly dodged bullet there, and while the Devils are a little damaged, the injury news is generally heartening.

Like Hall, Kyle Palmieri has been ruled out for Thursday’s contest against the Habs. The Bergen Record’s Andrew Gross reports that Palmieri is in a walking boot and will probably miss a week of action. With Marcus Johansson also a little banged-up, the Devils must show some resiliency, yet the bounces go their way to some extent even here, as other teams are missing key players for longer spans of time.

This injury update seems like a worthwhile excuse to exalt Hall’s fantastic 2017-18 season, so let’s take a quick look at how special he’s been.

Hall of a time

The 26-year-old (yes, he’s still that young, and his birthday came on Nov. 14) had a perfectly fine first season with New Jersey, scoring 20 goals and 53 points in 72 games. It was the third straight season in which Hall scored on fewer than 10 percent of his shots on goal, connecting on 8.4 percent. He was an impressive possession factor, as he’s been for much of his career.

In 2017-18, he’s producing some of the best work of his woefully underrated career.

Hall has 11 goals and 20 assists for 31 points in 30 contests, leading the Devils by 11 points. With a 1.03 points-per-game average, he’s on one of the best paces of his career, and if this knee issue is truly minor, he could set some career-highs. Sadly, inopportune injuries have been almost as much of an unfortunate theme for Hall as has been “lottery luck.”

It will be tough for Hall to top his best-ever work in 2013-14, when he scored 27 goals and 80 points in 75 contests, but perhaps he’ll finish closer to 80 GP and match at least one of those marks?

Of course, Hall likely values a possible first playoff run more than any individual milestones.

You hear that sort of talk quite frequently with players, yet that cliche is virtually guaranteed to be the honest truth for Hall. If anyone deserves the sort of bounces that have been going the Devils’ way so far this season, it’s this long-suffering left winger.

So here’s hoping that his knee issue really is minor, and he can get back to reminding observers that he’s one of the best wingers in the NHL.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Another league changes its rules, thanks to David Leggio

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In what should come as no surprise, the Deutsche Eishockey Liga has changed its rule regarding when a goaltender goes and pulls a David Leggio when facing an odd-man rush.

According to Wednesday’s league announcement, should a goaltender purposely dislodge his own net to prevent a scoring chance, a goal will be awarded. The original league rule, which followed IIHF guidelines, awarded a penalty shot.

[Goaltender David Leggio knocks own net off again to avoid breakaway (Video)]

The change was in response to Leggio’s actions on Friday night while playing with EHC Red Bull München. With Ross Mauermann of the Fischtown Pinguins skating in on a breakaway, the netminder turned and knocked his net off, stopping play and eliminating the scoring chance.

Leggio, who was also fined an unspecified amount for “gross unsportsmanlike conduct,” would go on and stop the penalty shot during a 5-2 Munchen victory.

Appearing on NHL Network earlier this week, Leggio told E.J. Hradek that from where he stood he thought he was facing a 2-on-0 and not a 1-on-0 breakaway, which is why he went to the move he pulled in the AHL in 2014. (The AHL would tweak its own rule that awarded a penalty shot to also eject the goaltender.) If he would have realized it was just a simple 1-on-0 breakaway, he said he would have preferred to face that rather than a penalty shot.

“When I was at the World Championships playing for USA, I went in the game and [Russia] had a 3-on-0 with Ovechkin and Tikhonov and surprise, surprise, they scored,” he said. “That would have taken some courage to do it in that situation. So I figured out the rule [and] if this ever happens again let’s take the percentages and take the penalty shot instead.”

Leggio added that during his second year in Germany, when the league implemented 3-on-3 in overtime, he spoke with officials to clarify what the rule was in that situation. When he was informed the punishment would only be a penalty shot, he knew he could pull off his famous move at during an odd-man rush.

You can love what Leggio did or you could think it’s a cheap move, but you have to give him credit for knowing the rules and taking advantage of them. Two leagues in two different countries have now tweaked their rulebook because the Williamsville, N.Y. native found a creative way to prevent a scoring chance.

Leggio is also now 2-for-2 in stopping penalty shots following a net dislodging, so maybe he’ll move on to another country next season and keep that streak going.

Stick-tap to Christian Baumeier for the translation help

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.