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Who’s going to win the Maurice Richard Trophy?

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It wasn’t long ago that Alex Ovechkin looked primed for his seventh Maurice Richard Trophy.

The Great 8 was consistently notching goals and keeping a distance between himself and his nearest competitors. What would be needed from prospective challengers to close the gap was a lengthy run in the goal department.

And that’s exactly what has happened.

The last couple of weeks have thrown a mighty wrench into Ovi’s plans of seeing his name engraved Rocket’s trophy again. This isn’t to say that Ovechkin won’t claim the title this season — he’s done it more times than anyone since it was introduced in 1999 — it’s just that the race has gotten pretty exciting as the NHL heads into its final swath of games.

Let’s break down the challengers and a couple pretenders who might get a promotion over the final few weeks of the season.

THE LEADER

Alex Ovechkin:

The man the top snipers in the league have been chasing for the majority of the season. Entering Saturday’s action, Ovechkin sits on the throne when it comes to goal scoring. He’s the only man to have hit 40 this season and looks primed to add to that total over the past 15 games of the season. It’s certainly not out of the realm for Ovechkin to hit 50 this year, and he may need to do so to fend off some of those sitting very close behind him.

THE CHALLENGERS

Patrik Laine:

Laine idolized Ovechkin growing up. And now he has an opportunity to snatch the goal scoring title from his childhood hero. Just 10 games ago, Laine was sitting with a cool 25 goals. Fast forward to Thursday night, and Laine scored his 14th goal in his past 10 games, putting him one behind Ovechkin in the race. What’s even more incredible about Laine is that he’s only 19 years old, and he plays the game like he has ice in his veins. It’s unlikely he’s going to let any nerves get to him as he tries to usurp Ovi. Did I mention Laine is only 19? Yikes.

Evgeni Malkin:

Our very own Joey Alfieri wrote an excellent piece on Malkin and why people haven’t been talking about him. Malkin has 24 goals in 28 games since the beginning of 2018. It’s an insane amount, and a run that has him sitting on 38 goals on the season. Malkin is going to be in the running for the Hart this season. Winning the Rocket Richard might put him over the top.

Eric Staal:

It’s been a decade since Staal produced a 40 goal season. He’s 33 now. But father time and the odds he brings don’t seem to care too much this season — Staal has simply turned back the clock. Staal’s heater has him with 18 goals in his past 20 games, putting him just three shy of Ovechkin with 37. Staal’s shooting percentage is sitting just below 20 percent this season and he’s averaging close to three shots a game. The math suggests he’s got a few more in him this season.

Tyler Seguin:

Seguin mirrors Ovechkin in terms of his consistency. While Laine, Malkin and Staal have gone on some pretty epic goal-scoring excursions, Seguin has just scored at a nice rate throughout the year. That means Seguin will need to have some sort of streaky stretch to catch up, but his 36 goals have him right in the mix. And even a small streak could swing things in his favor if the players above him cool off.

THE PRETENDERS

William Karlsson:

No one expected this. (And it’s one of the reasons why I debated having Karlsson in as a challenger). Out of all the top goal scorers in the league, Karlsson sits at the summit with a near-24 percent shooting percentage. The jury is really out on what Karlsson can do in Vegas’ last 15 games. He’s averaging north of two shots per game but hasn’t scored in his past three. No one expects him to win this race, and that’s what makes his 35 goals so intriguing.

Nathan MacKinnon:

You could put Nikita Kucherov here. He’s got one more goal than MacKinnon’s 32. But Colorado’s playoff hopes rest on MacKinnon’s shoulders and MacKinnon has shown all season that he’s up for the task. MacKinnon has eight goals in his past 10 games after being sidelined for three weeks due to injury. The odds aren’t the best, but he’s scoring a rate this season and rivals those ahead of him.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

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.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

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.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

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If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

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.

Canucks’ Miller scored an awesome water bottle breaker in OT

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Over time, you can become jaded as a sports (and specifically hockey) fan.

Stories about abusive coaches, lockouts, fans booing players for simply no longer being on their teams — it can sap some of the joy of the game.

Thankfully, we have highlights, and I can’t think of many simpler joys than someone scoring a goal and absolutely obliterating the goalie’s water bottle in the process. (As long as no one gets too dehydrated in the making of such films.)

Vancouver Canucks winger J.T. Miller did it one better on Saturday: he scored an important goal that way. Miller presented the ultra-rare OTBBGWG (overtime bottle-breaking game-winning goal) as the Canucks beat the Buffalo Sabres 6-5 in OT.

Bask in the glory of that goal in the video above this post’s headline. Here’s a fun alternate angle:

By the way, Miller continues to be a deadly offensive weapon for the Canucks. This one-goal, one-assist output extended his current point streak to an impressive eight games (5G, 6A for 11 points). Overall, Miller has 31 points in 30 games during his first season in Vancouver.

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.