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Connor McDavid may author one of NHL’s best wasted seasons

Considering the fact that he plays for the Edmonton Oilers, it’s probably most tempting to compare Connor McDavid to Wayne Gretzky.

The 2017-18 season might prompt McDavid to feel a little bit more like early-years Mario Lemieux: a superlative player whose sensational scoring often wasn’t enough to lift some putrid teams into the playoffs.

Thanks to last night’s dazzling four-goal, one-assist effort in a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning, McDavid is now tied for third place in scoring with 61 points, just five behind Nikita Kucherov‘s 66 for the NHL lead.

Monday served as the exclamation point to what’s been another great season by McDavid, yet it’s difficult to shake the impression that even his superstar work won’t foist the Oilers into the playoffs.

As of this writing, the Oilers are barely ahead of the Vancouver Canucks for third-to-last in the West, and they trail the final wild card spot by a whopping 11 points. Different forecasts put their playoff chances somewhere between three and less than one percent.

Quotes like these make it sting to realize that hockey fans probably won’t see McDavid during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

With a scoring pace just a step behind last year’s 100-point masterpiece, McDavid might end up putting together one of the truly great runs for a player whose team missed the playoffs.

Actually, it begs the question: what are some of the best performances by players whose teams missed out?

This isn’t a comprehensive list, so feel free to add your own suggestions.

Might as well call it The Mario Lemieux Trophy

From his debut in 1984-85 through the 1988-89 season, Lemieux scored 715 points in just 368 regular season games. During that same time period, “The Magnificent One” only played in 11 postseason contests.

McDavid’s run with Edmonton lasted 13 games last postseason, so number 97 can take solace in the suffering number 66 endured before Lemieux eventually raised the Stanley Cup on two occasions.

Then again, if forced to choose, McDavid would rather follow the path of Lemieux rather than all-time great/bad luck case Marcel Dionne, who collected 1,771 points during his career but only played in 49 playoff games.

Some interesting contemporary examples

  • Last season, Kucherov provided a preview of what he could do, even without a boost from Steven Stamkos (who’s suffered through a few lousy seasons of his own, during the darker Lightning days). Kucherov’s 40 goals ranked second in the NHL last season, and his 85 points placed him fifth, but Tampa Bay still fell short of the playoffs.
  • You might as well consider a section for Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.

Marian Hossa had some great seasons in his short stay with the Thrashers, with his 100-points season in 2006-07  helping Atlanta actually make the playoffs … only to be swept. Ilya Kovalchuk slogged through eight seasons with the Thrashers, scoring 328 goals while being limited to that lone sweep. Kovalchuk got a chance to show that he could be a prolific playoff performer in New Jersey, as Hossa did bouncing around from great teams until he stuck with the Blackhawks.

The Thrashers make the Winnipeg Jets’ growing pains seem modest, but that doesn’t mean that Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele haven’t seen some strong seasons go to waste. Wheeler’s been there since the latter Atlanta days (23 games before the move), so he deserves extra kudos if Winnipeg can finally make a big run this season.

  • It’s a blessing that Jarome Iginla enjoyed the spotlight of a run within one win of a Stanley Cup, because he dealt with a raw deal in 2001-02.

His 52 goals and 96 points were pretty outstanding during the height of the ugly “clutch and grab” days, yet he was robbed of the Hart Trophy (sorry, Jose Theodore) and finished out of the playoffs with 79 standings points.

  • Taylor Hall is about to play his 500th regular season game without ever playing in the postseason. At least he’s had a sense of humor about his lack of team luck … maybe this is the year he finally makes it?

  • Jack Eichel is closing in on his first truly great season, as he’s on pace to shred his career-highs of 24 goals (he’s already at 20) and 57 points (Eichel has 49 in 52 games). The top two picks of the 2015 NHL Draft probably don’t want to have this sort of thing in common, but alas.

***

You could probably throw some great goalies and defensemen from bad teams into the mix, too, but this post was already getting a little sprawling, so add your own picks in the comments (or on Twitter/via email).

It would be a shame (some might argue a fireable offense) to see McDavid’s wonderful work wasted this season. At least he’s not alone, though.

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.

Connor McDavid returns to Oilers lineup Sunday night

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After missing the past six games due to a left quad injury Connor McDavid will be back in the Edmonton Oilers lineup on Sunday night when they visit the Los Angeles Kings.

Oilers coach Dave Tippett announced the news on Sunday afternoon, and said his superstar center will be playing on a line — at least to start — between Sam Gagner and Alex Chiasson.

The Oilers ended up going 3-2-1 in McDavid’s absence, collecting seven out of a possible 12 points in the standings during that stretch. All things considered, that’s not a bad showing given how thin the roster is outside of their top handful of players and with all of the other injuries they have been dealing with. James Neal, Oscar Klefbom, and Kris Russell are all currently sidelined for the Oilers.

Edmonton enters Sunday’s game in third place in the Pacific Division, just one point back of the Vancouver Canucks for the second spot and only three points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the top spot, while still having two games in hand.

The biggest reason the Oilers were able to stay competitive in McDavid’s absence was the near superhuman play of their other superstar forward, Leon Draisaitl. He enters Sunday’s game as the league’s leading scorer with 97 points (35 goals, 62 assists) in 61 games. He has a nine point lead over Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak despite having played in two fewer games. Draisaitl scored four goals and 12 total points in the six games McDavid missed.

Rookie forward Kailer Yamamoto has also been great recently with four goals and nine points over the past six, while also averaging a point per game (20 points in 20 games) for the season.

McDavid enters Sunday’s game with 81 points (30 goals, 51 assists) in 55 games.

Now that McDavid is back in the lineup, the focus for the Oilers has to shift to getting him some help before Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. It is great to have him back in the lineup, but concerning that the best offensive player in the world is skating between two wingers that are best suited for bottom-six depth roles.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Capitals storm back to beat Penguins, regain top spot in Metropolitan

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It still probably wasn’t the exact way they want to play, but the Washington Capitals found a way to end their four-game losing streak on Sunday afternoon. Thanks to a four-goal third period they were able to rally for a 5-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins to regain the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Washington now sits in sole possession of first place in the division with 82 points, two points ahead of Pittsburgh.

The Penguins still have one game in hand while the two teams will meet two more times this season with both games in Pittsburgh.

In the end, this was a gutsy win for Washington. Despite being outshot 36-23 and struggling to find much sustained offensive zone time, they still managed to cause enough havoc around the Pittsburgh net and feasted on a couple of glaring mistakes by the Penguins in the third period.

After Patric Hornqvist and Sidney Crosby scored two goals less than 30 seconds apart in the second period, the Penguins entered the third period holding a 2-1 lead. But Washington quickly struck for a pair of goals early in the third period.

Tom Wilson scored the equalizer on a breakaway following a brutal turnover by Pittsburgh’s Marcus Pettersson.

Carl Hagelin responded moments later when he scored on a net-front scramble in front of Penguins goalie Matt Murray to help the Capitals regain the lead.

The Penguins seemed to steal momentum back thanks to a highlight reel goal from Evgeni Malkin, but a T.J. Oshie goal just a few minutes later ended up being the game-winner. Hagelin added an empty-net goal (his second goal of the game) in the final minute.

A few other takeaways from this game:

1. It might get lost in the madness that was the third period, but Braden Holtby played a great game in net for the Capitals. He did give up the three goals, but two of them were great individual efforts from two of the best players in the world (Sidney Crosby and Malkin) and, well, sometimes that is just going to happen. That also should not take away from how strong he was overall. He stood tall on a couple of Penguins power play opportunities, while also shutting down a handful of odd-man rushes. His overall production has rapidly declined the past couple of years but he is still capable of getting hot and taking over a game.

2. Malkin’s third period goal will not be showing up on John Carlson‘s Norris Trophy highlight reel this season, but it was still a big day for the Capitals’ defenseman on Sunday. His assist on Hagelin’s first goal was the 475th point of his career, making him the highest scoring defenseman in Capitals franchise history, passing Calle Johansson.

3. As for the Penguins, this is their third consecutive loss and it is becoming obvious that the injury situation is finally starting to catch up to them defensively. There is not a single trade that general manager Jim Rutherford can make before Monday’s trade deadline (3 p.m. ET) that will do more to help the team than the return of injured players Brian Dumoulin, John Marino, Dominik Kahun, and Zach Aston-Reese. That quartet represents two of their top-four defenseman (perhaps their two best defensive defensemen) and two outstanding defensive forwards. That is a lot to overcome, and it is not a coincidence that their injuries have coincided with a downward trend in their defensive performance.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Hurricanes selling David Ayres shirts

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On Saturday afternoon few in the NHL knew the name David Ayres.

But after the 42-year-old emergency goalie was forced into action in an emergency role for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, he is the talk of the league on Sunday.

Ayres stopped eight out of 10 shots (and recorded a shot on goal of his own) in the Hurricanes’ stunning 6-3 win.

Now, if you want, you can buy an Ayres No. 90 t-shirt through the Hurricanes’ team shop.

The description from Carolina Pro Shop:

“Zamboni driver by day, emergency goaltender by night” David Ayres earned First Star honors and saved the day for the Canes in Toronto! Grab your t-shirt jersey to support the Canes’ newest legend!

The Hurricanes also add that Ayres will receive royalties from the sales, while a portion of the proceeds will go a kidney foundation. Ayres underwent a kidney transplant in 2004.

He entered the game after Hurricanes goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek both exited the game due to injury.

He has served as a fill-in goalie for the Maple Leafs during practices and has also dressed as an emergency backup in the AHL, where he also is a Zamboni driver for the Toronto Marlies.

The Hurricanes also announced that Ayres will be in Raleigh on Tuesday night to sound the siren before their game against the Dallas Stars.

Related: Hurricanes’ emergency goalie David Ayres beats Toronto Maple Leafs

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Golden Knights aim to stay hot vs. Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

To put things mildly, Vegas has been through some challenging times in 2019-20. Yet, after navigating many bumps in the road, the Golden Knights are heating up, and hope to keep that surge going against the Ducks on NBCSN on Sunday.

Golden Knights gathering steam under DeBoer

Honestly, it’s still kind of jarring that the Golden Knights fired Gerard Gallant. It sure didn’t seem like their struggles stemmed from bad coaching.

And yet … whatever the explanation might be, the Golden Knights seem like they’ve regained their swagger.

Now, it’s worth noting that the Golden Knights didn’t take off right away under Peter DeBoer. Their struggles extended from coach to coach, as Vegas suffered through a 4-7-2 stretch from Jan. 7 – Feb. 11. But now? Now they’re starting to look like the dangerous team many expected.

The Golden Knights have rumbled through some stout competition lately, beating the Blues, Islanders, Capitals, and maybe most impressively, the Lightning on Thursday.

They needed to make the most of a five-game homestand in Vegas, and they have, winning all of those games after they made the Maple Leafs’ Saturday a little less disastrous by beating the Panthers.

Sunday closes off a back-to-back set, and represents a rare road game. The Golden Knights’ Sunday NBCSN contest against the Ducks serves as a bridge between that five-game homestand and another four-game stretch in Vegas starting on Wednesday.

Golden Knights, Ducks approach trade deadline very differently

The Golden Knights and Ducks already rank as buyers and sellers, even if they’re done with their deadline dealing.

The Ducks may have sold a bit low on Ondrej Kase, particularly since they took on David Backes’ contract from the Bruins. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights already seem pleased with the addition of Alec Martinez.

“I thought he did awesome,” Jon Merrill said of Martinez’s debut, via The Athletic’s Jesse Granger (sub required). “He’s a veteran defenseman with a lot of poise in his own zone. He’s a great defender and blocks a ton of shots. You have to read the play, and it’s timing when to step into the lane. It’s definitely an acquired skill. I think the more you do it, the more you get a sense of when the shots are going to come. He’s done a great job at it his whole career.”

Get a glimpse of Martinez and the Golden Knights as they face the Ducks Sunday on NBCSN.

John Forslund and Brian Hayward will call the action at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBC will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury.

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.