The Buzzer: Mike Smith, Sam Gagner star on Thursday in NHL … yes, in 2021

Mike Smith Sam Gagner The Buzzer Thursday in the NHL
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NHL Three Stars from Thursday

1. Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers

No doubt about it, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are the (conductors of?) the engine that drives the Edmonton Oilers. That double-headed monster of a superstar duo ranks as the main reason the Oilers have now won 11 of their last 13 games.

But in a team sport like hockey, it can’t be all about McDavid and Draisaitl. Others have to step up, at least when you really start to put wins together.

One of the bigger surprises lately has been Mike Smith. The 38-year-old won a goalie duel with Thatcher Demko (30 saves), as Smith pitched a 32-save shutout on Thursday. Smith already carried a .934 save percentage for the season into Thursday, so the veteran goalie is on a roll. He’s 6-0-0 so far this season.

Malcolm Subban kept the Blackhawks’ run of goaltending going with a 26-save shutout of his own, but Smith gets the edge for Thursday in the NHL.

2. Sam Gagner, Detroit Red Wings

Seeing Mike Smith as one of the top three NHL stars on a Thursday — in 2021 — already feels decidedly old-school. Why not add Sam Gagner, someone who enjoyed some of his biggest nights many moons ago for the Oilers?

Nowadays, Gagner is toiling away for the Red Wings. Despite being a rebuilding phase, the Red Wings have been scrappier this season — just ask the struggling Predators. Thursday marked the second time Detroit beat Nashville so far in 2020-21.

Gagner collected a hat trick in that latest Red Wings upset(?) of the Predators. This marks the third hat trick of Sam Gagner’s career, and the first on a team other than the Oilers (he last collected a hat trick in 2012).

If you needed the point hammered home that few could have seen a 2021 Sam Gagner hat trick coming on Thursday (at least in the NHL), consider that Gagner had zero goals and two assists through 13 games coming into this one. He also hasn’t reached double digits in goals since 2017-18, and even then, he only just got to 10.

Honestly? Good for Gagner. He’s been through more lows than highs lately, at least on the ice.

(For quirky bonus Sam Gagner reading material, enjoy this bit on sleep habits for him and other NHL players from The Athletic back in 2019 [sub required].)

3. Pavel Zacha, New Jersey Devils

Jack Hughes isn’t the only highly-drafted Devils player off to a promising start to 2020-21. Although most would’ve picked Hughes to put up strong numbers way before they’d tab Pavel Zacha.

Now, Zacha has a ways to go before people won’t groan at him going fifth overall in 2015 — ahead of the likes of Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski, Mikko Rantanen, and Mathew Barzal. But Zacha can only do the best with the opportunities he receives, and he’s been running with them lately.

With an overtime game-winning goal and two assists on Thursday, Zacha now has 12 points in 15 games. He set his career-high at 32 points last season, so this is fairly uncharted territory for the 23-year-old.

How cool would it be if long-struggling high draft picks like Zach and Jesse Puljujarvi simply turn the corner this season, and never look back?

Highlight of Thursday night in the NHL

Wow, there’s a little bit of that Alex Ovechkin goal is that beautiful, one-handed diving effort from T.J. Oshie:

Lowlight of the night

Look, it has to be frustrating to allow a goal from waaaaay downtown. But bonking your head like this makes it a lot worse.

Clearly, David Rittich learned nothing from the struggles of Gus Frerotte.

Thursday’s NHL scores

Islanders 7, Bruins 2
Capitals 5, Penguins 2
Lightning 3, Hurricanes 1
Panthers 3, Stars 2
Blackhawks 2, Blue Jackets 0
Senators 6, Flames 1
Devils 4, Sabres 3 (OT)
Red Wings 5, Predators 2
Jets 6, Canadiens 3
Oilers 3, Canucks 0

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.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.