Everyone wants #PicsWithZdeno

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If this was the Summer Olympics, Zdeno Chara probably wouldn’t (literally) stick out so much. After all, his 6-foot-9 frame would put him in the NBA power forward range.

This is the Winter Olympics, though, so the gargantuan Slovakian ice hockey defenseman’s height has become a meme generator. Specifically, other athletes are having a good time taking photos with the Boston Bruins blueliner and posting the often-cartoonish height disparity under #PicsWithZdeno.

Conveniently named figure skater Kirsten Moore-Towers’ photo from Feb. 7 probably started the craze, and likely remains the champion:

She certainly wasn’t the only athlete to hop on the bandwagon, though:

OK, this one probably qualifies as cheating since it happened in January, but it’s still a great shot of a fan looking up to Chara in a very dramatic and literal way:

It hasn’t been all fun and games (and maybe a few eye-rolls) for the 36-year-old defenseman, though. Sometimes that freakish height can come at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to getting a good night sleep:

With that in mind, #NapsWithZdeno probably won’t get off the ground …

The Buzzer: Pro Niemi; Odd night for the Blues

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Three Stars

1. Antti Niemi

After floundering with the Stars and flopping briefly with the Penguins, it sure seemed like last season would be Niemi’s last in the NHL.

Niemi even played two forgettable games for the Panthers team he frustrated tonight, so you can forgive his former teammates for wondering where this guy was. (Stars management might be doing that, too, if they’re not cursing Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for losing to the Lightning.)

Niemi set a new career-high with 52 saves against Florida, with only Mike Hoffman‘s Forsberg-like goal beating him.

That performance stands taller than some other great goalie performances that should get at least honorable mentions. Andrei Vasilevskiy pitched a 35-save shutout against Benn and those Stars. Laurent Brossoit continued his brilliant work as Winnipeg’s gem of a backup, making 43 out of 44 stops. But Niemi’s 52 saves fell one short of tying a franchise record for the NHL’s most storied franchise. Seems fair to give him the top spot.

Not bad for a guy who legitimately seemed to be done last season.

2. Mika Zibanejad

As much as the Rangers’ opponents from Carolina rank as a team to watch at the trade deadline, the Rangers are no slouches themselves in sell mode.

It would be surprising to see Zibanejad go in such a liquidation, at least if the Rangers don’t want this to be a lengthy rebuild. He’s a prime-age scorer, with Tuesday’s two goals and two assists pushing his season total to an impressive 41 points. Zibanejad only had 47 points all of last season, and 2015-16’s 51 represent a career-high, so he could really set a new bar for himself. The talent’s seemingly always been there, so it’s pretty exciting to see such growth, and it must be painful to compare his work to that of trade partner Derick Brassard.

Mats Zuccarello collected three assists in this one as well, including a truly brilliant one to set up one of Z’s goals. Zuccarello now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game run.

The Rangers really dominate the Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden, apparently.

3. Viktor Arvidsson

Arvidsson was one of two players to collect a hat trick on “National Hat Day,” with Tomas Hertl being the other. Arvidsson gets the nod for two reasons: 1) one of Hertl’s three goals included an empty-netter and 2) Arvidsson managed a GWG in his efforts.

(Joe Thornton scored the game-winner in what was his 1,000th game with the Sharks.)

Some of those Arvidsson goals included some great moments from his teammates, much like Zibanejad was boosted by Zuccarello. You can see a great outlet pass from Mattias Ekholm and a falling helper from Ryan Johansen in the highlights of Nashville’s one-sided win against Washington.

Strange, tough night for St. Louis

The Blues lost in overtime to the Islanders, with Jordan Binnington suffering his first defeat. But that wasn’t what made this an unusual night.

Early in the game, Oskar Sundqvist continued his unlucky 2018-19 by losing his edge and falling into an on-ice official, needing help off of the ice. Luckily, he would come back later in the game.

It wasn’t the only unusual reaction between a Blues player and someone other than an Islanders player, as a trainer helped a struggling Zach Sanford to the bench:

Here’s hoping Sanford ends up OK. David Perron extended his point streak to 12 games, but that’s about where the good news ended for St. Louis on Tuesday.

One more great highlight

Click here for that Hoffman goal. It was pretty ridiculous.

Also ridiculous: Hertl’s effort on this tally. The Czech winger grew up idolizing Jaromir Jagr, so it must have felt great to emulate number 68 in overpowering Evgeni Malkin on his way to this tremendous goal:

Apparently Hertl’s hat-trick goal pushed him to 100 career tallies. So not a bad consolation prize for Hertl.

Factoids

Another sign that, yes, scoring is way up this season.

The Islanders are the first team since the 2011-12 Flyers to have eight players score at least 10+ goals through 45 games.

PHT’s Scott Billeck notes that Laurent Brossoit’s 26 saves in the second period set a new Jets franchise record for saves in a single period. So, yeah, Brossoit has a strong argument for a three stars nod, along with quite a few others from a busy Tuesday.

Scores

NYI 2 – STL 1 (OT)
NYR 6 – CAR 2
CBJ 4 – NJD 1
MTL 5 – FLA 1
DET 3 – ANA 1
NSH 7 – WSH 2
MIN 3 – LAK 2 (SO)
WPG 4 – VGK 1
TBL 2 – DAL 0
SJS 5 – PIT 2

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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.

Wild get crucial, tough win against Kings

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It wasn’t always pretty against the Kings on Tuesday, but if Bruce Boudreau was looking for some fight from his team, the Wild showed quite a bit of it.

Ultimately, Minnesota gritted out a 3-2 shootout win against Los Angeles, improving to 23-20-3 in 2018-19. The Wild are currently ranked as the West’s second wild-card team with 49 points in 46 games, managing a two-point edge against the idle Canucks and Oilers, and also two points ahead of the sprawling Ducks.

[Who has the edge in these races?]

If you’re scrolling through the scoreboard alone, a 3-2 (SO) win against lowly Los Angeles doesn’t seem so impressive, and that’s fair enough.

But for the Wild, it’s encouraging. After all, Minnesota was closing out a back-to-back set after a painful 7-4 loss to the Flyers on Monday.

Fatigue must have been weighing Minnesota down, and it must have been frustrating early on, as Jonathan Quick did not make things easier. The Wild weren’t able to score in the first period despite a 14-8 shots on goal edge, and they ended up needing a shootout despite a SOG advantage of 42-33 overall.

Both teams showed a lot of effort on each of their regulation goals, with Alex Stalock stopping 31 of 33 shots, as he’s playing in place of a quietly struggling Devan Dubnyk, who’s not necessarily putting up All-Star numbers.

The Wild got goals from some key players who’ve struggled this season. First, Nino Niederreiter finally broke through midway through the second period on a nice second-effort:

Not long after being the target of Boudreau’s ire, Eric Staal was credited with the Wild’s second goal after Ryan Suter‘s shot/pass/shot-pass bounced off of him:

Grinding out a win like this won’t really “wow” many people, and it is unlikely to silence the Wild’s critics.

[Pondering Boudreau’s future in Minnesota.]

Still, it says quite a bit about this team that, instead of giving in to frustration and fatigue, they found a way to eke out this win. As much as postseason runs hinge on beating other bubble teams and contenders, it’s also important to win against teams that are languishing lower in the standings, and the Wild put the work in to do just that on Tuesday.

For all we know, getting those extra two points could end up making all the difference as these tight races go along.

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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.

Red Wings push Ducks’ skid to 12 games

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Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray gave head coach Randy Carlyle (the deadly?) vote of confidence and shipped Andrew Cogliano out of town, but playing against the struggling Detroit Red Wings did little to change this team’s path.

Despite Rickard Rakell scoring the opening goal, the Ducks dropped their 12th game in a row, as the Red Wings fired off three unanswered goals to win 3-1 on Tuesday.

Since beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 to improve to 19-11-5 on Dec. 17, the Ducks have gone 0-8-4 to slide down to 19-19-9, leaving them outside of the West’s eight playoff spots, and in a position of significant uncertainty in the conference’s clogged bubble races. So this could be a full month-long losing streak if the Ducks can’t beat the Minnesota Wild in their next game on Thursday, Jan. 17.

This wasn’t exactly the effort of a desperate team trying to save their coach’s job (and avoid further trades), as the Red Wings actually narrowly edged the Ducks in shots on goal at 25-24.

All three of the Red Wings’ goals happened in the third period. Anthony Mantha tied it up a little less than six minutes into the final frame after Rakell’s second-period goal, while Gustav Nyquist collected the game-winner with 4:16 left in the third. Darren Helm then added the insurance goal.

Things might not get much easier for Anaheim in the near future, as this loss represented the second game of a five-game road trip, and after one home date, they must endure another road run:

Thu., Jan. 17: at Minnesota
Sat., Jan. 19: at New Jersey
Sun., Jan. 20: at Islanders
Wed., Jan. 23: vs St. Louis
Sat., Feb. 2: at Winnipeg
Mon., Feb. 4: at Toronto
Tue., Feb. 5: at Montreal
Thu., Feb. 7: at Ottawa
Sat., Feb. 9: at Philadelphia

Ouch.

We’ll find out soon enough if something else gives with the Ducks, whether that means yet another trade, or even a coaching change. It’s fair to wonder if there’s much anyone can do, as even all-world goalie John Gibson has no longer been able to stop the bleeding.

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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.

Mike Hoffman didn’t need shootout to do the Forsberg move

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When your team is struggling (like the Florida Panthers are, what with a six-game losing streak), it’s easy for a player like Mike Hoffman‘s standout season to go under the radar. Especially when teammate Aleksander Barkov takes up a lot of the mainstream “underrated” talk, to the point where maybe that point is now overrated.

But that’s actually a point that makes the Panthers a little frustrating.

Barkov’s one of those guys who ranks as an elite, Selke-level forwards, and Hoffman put that Ottawa drama behind him to the tune of an impressive debut season with the Panthers.

He had a heck of a streak going earlier in 2018-19, and Hoffman appears slated to crush his career-high goals total of 29 from 2015-16. Hoffman’s going to have trouble topping his 22nd tally of this season, as he dusted off the awesome Peter Forsberg shootout move … but against opposing defenders. Impressive.

This leaves Hoffman with 22 goals and 41 points with some time remaining in his 45th game. His career-high for points (61 in 2016-17) is also very much in play, even if he cools off his career-best pace.

The Panthers game was also noteworthy for this hit by Paul Byron, which only netted a two-minute penalty. Should it draw supplemental discipline?

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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.