Jason Brough


It’s McDavid vs. Matthews (and also Oilers vs. Leafs) tonight in Toronto


It’s no ordinary game tonight in Toronto, where the last two first overall picks, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid, will play each other for the first time in NHL history.

Hockey legends Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, and Paul Coffey are reportedly at the ACC for the morning skates. It should be good fun later this evening when both the Oilers and Maple Leafs try to get back on the winning track.

The Oilers enter with a 7-2-0 record, tops in the Western Conference, but were were shut out Sunday by Craig Anderson and the Senators. McDavid leads his team (and the league) with 12 points (5G, 7A) in nine games.

Toronto, meanwhile, has dropped two in a row. The latest loss came Sunday in Brooklyn, where the Leafs fell to 2-4-3 after getting blasted, 5-1, by the Isles. Matthews has failed to notch a point in his last three games, but still has an impressive six goals and four assists in nine games. His linemate, William Nylander, leads the team with 11 points (4G, 7A.)

Matthews is well aware of what the Oilers have done out of the gates.

“They’ve gotten off to a hot start,” he said, per the Toronto Star. “It’s going to be a good challenge for us. I think all of us will be pretty hungry to get back in the win column.”

As for McDavid, who grew up in suburban Toronto, he’s finally getting his chance to play the Leafs at the ACC. He missed his first opportunity last season due to injury.

“I’m looking forward to it, first time at the ACC playing against the Leafs. That’s the team I grew up watching,” McDavid said, per the Edmonton Sun.

Of course, there’s more to this game than the two teenage stars. The starting goalies should make for a good story as well.

In the Oilers’ net, Cam Talbot has been excellent to date, going 7-2-0 with a .936 save percentage. That contrasts with the Leafs’ Frederik Anderson, who’s 2-2-3 with an .876 save percentage. Andersen has been much better in his last two outings, but still has a ways to go before his numbers can be considered respectable again.

There are no games today, so here are five NHL stat leaders

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Dustin Byfuglien: Leads all skaters in average ice time, at 28:36. Byfuglien always plays big minutes, but the situation with Jacob Trouba has forced him to play even more. (Ditto for Tyler Myers, though he was held out of Sunday’s loss to the Sabres with a lower-body injury.) Second in average TOI is the Kings’ Drew Doughty, at 27:44, and you have to wonder if that could edge higher with the injury to his partner, Brayden McNabb. Much will depend on how Tom Gilbert fares on the right side of the second pairing. Gilbert logged a season-high 21:07 last night in Chicago, where the Kings lost, 3-0. Veteran Matt Greene played just 11:37 on the third pairing.

Cam Talbot: Leads all goalies in time on ice (528:20). Talbot has started all nine games for the Oilers, and with a .936 save percentage has been a major factor in their 7-2-0 start. It does, however, beg the question of when backup Jonas Gustavsson will get the nod. Edmonton plays back-to-back Saturday and Sunday in Brooklyn and Detroit, respectively, so maybe then.

Rasmus Ristolainen: The 22-year-old leads all NHL defensemen with six power-play assists. The Sabres rank sixth overall with the man advantage, which has been key in two of their three victories. Next on the list is New Jersey’s Damon Severson with four PP assists, followed by multiple d-men with three. Erik Karlsson led this category last season (25), but he’s only managed one PP helper in his first eight games.

Alex Edler: Leads all players with 31 blocked shots. This stat often says just as much about the team as it does the player, and Edler’s Vancouver Canucks have certainly spent a lot of time in their own end this season. Calgary’s Mark Giordano is second with 27, while shot-blocking specialist, Edmonton’s Kris Russell, is tied for third with San Jose’s Brent Burns; they’ve each got 26.

Shea Weber: Leads in plus-minus at plus-12. This stat isn’t cited as much as it used to be, and for good reasons. But it does show how well things are going for Weber and the 8-0-1 Habs. P.K. Subban, meanwhile, is at minus-7 for Nashville, which coincides with the Predators’ poor start. The league’s worst rating, minus-8, is held by six players, including three members of the stumbling Tampa Bay Lightning (Ondrej Palat, Jason Garrison, and Tyler Johnson.)

Bobrovsky has been excellent (and busy) for the Blue Jackets


John Tortorella is famous for riding his best players and giving them a ton of ice time.

Or maybe the word is infamous.

Regardless, Tortorella is doing it again. The Columbus head coach has given goalie Sergei Bobrovsky all seven starts this season, including three in four nights last week at Los Angeles, San Jose, and Anaheim.

So far, Bobrovksy has responded well to the challenge. He earned a 35-save shutout in Friday’s 4-0 victory over the Ducks, improving his save percentage to a very impressive .940. He also had a shutout last Saturday in Dallas.

“(Bobrovsky’s) been solid right on through,” Tortorella said, per the club’s website. “That’s what we talked about in the third period, let’s play for him a little bit here and try to help because he’s bailed us out along the way.”

The Jackets had almost a week off after their first two games, so Bobrovsky was well-rested before the team hit the road. Even now, he’s only 11th in total time on ice among NHL goalies.

Still, it will be interesting to see how much work Curtis McElhinney gets as the season progresses. McElhinney went 2-7-3 with an .890 save percentage last season, so Tortorella’s reluctance to play his backup is understandable. Certainly, one could argue that sending Bobrovsky out there game after game gives the Jackets their best chance at making the playoffs.

But then, it could also be argued that playing Bobrovsky too much increases the risk of injury and/or fatigue. And when young Joonas Korpisalo returns from his groin injury, which should be soon, that may be another reason to give Bobrovsky a break.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Tortorella intends to give Bobrovsky 58-60 starts this season. But knowing Tortorella, if Bobrovsky stays healthy and keeps playing well, that number could easily be higher when all’s said and done.

“I’m not going to worry about what other people do with their goalies,” the coach said. “Bob is in great shape. He wants to play.”

The Jackets’ next game is tomorrow at home to Dallas. After that, they play back-to-back Friday and Saturday, at home to Montreal and on the road in St. Louis.

From bad to worse: Stars say Hemsky will miss 5-6 months after surgery

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The Dallas Stars are off to a frustrating, injury-riddled start. They’re 3-4-1 after eight games, and this morning they announced that winger Ales Hemsky would miss most, if not all, of the regular season after having hip surgery.

“Ales underwent surgery this morning to repair a labral tear in his hip,” said GM Jim Nill. “The injury was sustained while he was participating in the World Cup of Hockey. He will be out of the lineup for five to six months as he recovers and rehabilitates.”

Hemsky had 13 goals and 26 assists in 75 games last season. The 33-year-old did play one game for the Stars this season, logging 15:32 last Saturday against Columbus. But clearly he didn’t feel right in his return.

Five months from now, it will be the last day of March. The Stars play their final regular-season game on Apr. 8, meaning there’s no guarantee that Hemsky will be ready for the start of the playoffs.

Related: More bad news in Dallas: Mattias Janmark (knee surgery) out 5-6 months

Stecher’s play about the only positive during Canucks’ slump

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After four straight wins to start the season, things have turned decidedly sour for the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks dropped their fifth straight on Saturday, falling 5-2 to Washington. They’ve only scored four goals in their last four games, all regulation losses, and now they’re facing a six-game road trip that starts Wednesday in Montreal, where the Habs have yet to lose.

In fact, about the only thing that’s made Canucks fan happy the past few games has been the play of rookie Troy Stecher. The 22-year-old defenseman was called up last week to replace injured Chris Tanev. He made his NHL debut Tuesday against Ottawa, logging 21:42 on Vancouver’s top pairing with Alex Edler. Against the Caps, he played 22:35 and ended up leading all skaters with five shots.

An offensive defenseman, Stecher has already learned that simply getting the puck on net can be a challenge in today’s NHL, where shooting lanes are only open for an instant.

“The first night I think I had four blocked shots, so I watched some tape and realized how committed guys are to blocking shots,” Stecher told PHT. “Previously, I was able to walk the line and stickhandle. Here, it’s one fake and you have to get it off pretty quick.”

Stecher was not drafted. He was signed as a college free agent out of the University of North Dakota, where he won a national championship last season on a team that included Canucks first-rounder Brock Boeser. An undersized defenseman, he says he models his game after Chicago’s Duncan Keith and Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon.

Suffice to say, it’s a big jump from college hockey to the NHL, let alone college hockey to skating against the likes of Connor McDavid, which Stecher did Friday, and Alex Ovechkin, which came Saturday.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said. “It’s better this than babying it in. I’ll find my way. I’m going to make mistakes, and I know that. Ultimately, it’s going to make me a better player in the long run.”

The Canucks have a long road to travel before they’re contenders again. They don’t have a replacement for first-line center Henrik Sedin, and that’s going to be a major challenge for management going forward. But with Stecher, 22, Ben Hutton, 23, Erik Gudbranson, 24, as well as the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft, 18-year-old Olli Juolevi, the future of the defense looks considerably brighter now than it did a year ago.

It remains to be seen if Stecher will remain with the Canucks when Tanev is able to return to the lineup. Vancouver will have nine defensemen then, so unless Nikita Tryamkin is willing to accept an AHL assignment, or unless Philip Larsen, Alex Biega or Luca Sbisa are placed on waivers, it’s possible Stecher could be sent back to Utica.

Related: ‘It’s going to be a grind’ for the Canucks, who can’t play like they used to