NHL Rink Wrap: Ovechkin makes more history

NHL Rink Wrap: Ovechkin makes more history
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Player of the Night

Alex Ovechkin

Independent of some history, Alex Ovechkin aleady had a claim for the player of Wednesday in the NHL. The 36-year-old enjoyed a brilliant season-opener, collecting two goals and two assists. Those four points all happened on special teams: three power-play points, one shorthanded.

If he needed a tiebreaker, making history should do.

With his first goal of the 2021-22 season, Ovechkin tied Marcel Dionne for fifth all-time. That same night, Ovechkin finished all alone at fifth all-time with 732 goals.

Highlights of Wednesday in the NHL

Watch Ovechkin pass Dionne with goal 732:

Jack Johnson isn’t the first person you’d expect to score this type of goal. It was nifty stuff from the journeyman defenseman, and a sign of a long night to come for Marc-Andre Fleury.

Mason McTavish becomes the youngest player in Anaheim Ducks franchise history to score a goal.

Three Takeaways from NHL on Wednesday

Don’t count Ovechkin out of … any goals race, really

By reaching that milestone on Wednesday, plenty pondered Ovechkin chasing Gretzky’s 894 goals. Certainly, it will be something we think about whenever Ovechkin lights the lamp, especially more than once.

But Ovechkin looked spry enough on Wednesday that we shouldn’t dismiss him in more immediate NHL races. (He even generated offense away from his “office.”)

To be specific, are we certain that Ovechkin can’t threaten to win the 2022 Maurice Richard Trophy?

Last season, Ovechkin finished with 24 goals, earning a tie with several other players (including Sidney Crosby) for 13th in the NHL. Combine Ovechkin being 35 with Auston Matthews‘ 41 goals (in just 52 games!), and it’s understandable that people wonder if his Richard days are over.

Don’t forget that Ovechkin tied for the Richard Trophy as recently as the 2019-20 season. Ignore his continued sniping ability at your goalie’s peril.

The Blackhawks weren’t ready (at least not for the Avalanche attack)

The NHL’s schedule-makers stumbled upon some real trials by fire to open the 2021-22 season.

First, the Kraken had to play their first-ever NHL game against the powerhouse Golden Knights. Impressively, the Kraken looked like they belonged, and absolutely had a chance to win.

Heading into this season, the Blackhawks look dramatically different. Their defense is wildly changed, with Seth Jones as the headliner (but not the only tweak). Most expected Marc-Andre Fleury to face a significant upswing in chances, even if Chicago improved.

Well, the NHL didn’t exactly let Chicago ease in. Even without Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche can attack with the best of them.

If you’re generous, you’d say the Blackhawks settled things down after they went down 3-0. But they still seemed overmatched. Over time, we’ll see if that’s a larger trend, or just the nature of facing the Avalanche.

Ducks recipe for this season on display

If the Anaheim Ducks are going to do anything other than be a bottom team in the Western Conference this season they are going to need two things to happen.

The first is a big season from star goalie John Gibson.

The second is some young players to take big steps forward and become impact players.

That recipe was actually on display on Wednesday night in their 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Gibson stopped 33 out of 34 shots, while 18-year-old rookie Mason MacTavish scored his first NHL goal and added an assist. Rookie defenseman Jamie Drysdale also added an assist in the win. McTavish, Drysdale, and Trevor Zegras need to be the difference makers for the Ducks this season.

Thursday’s big story

First test of Hurricanes makeover

Give the Carolina Hurricanes credit; they march to the beat of their own drum.

During the offseason, the Hurricanes decided to change both of their goalies. They allowed a Norris-range defenseman leave in Dougie Hamilton. Then, they brought in Tony DeAngelo, one of the league’s most polarizing players.

Oh yeah, then they gained revenge by way of Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet. Busy folks.

Some of their moves carried the air of “smartest guys in the room.” If they finally break through, then we’ll look at those changes as key catalysts. That said, the Hurricanes are running out of benefit of the doubt — and maybe some of their lovable charm.

Did they become actual jerks? That might be worth it if they also become big winners.

Wednesday’s NHL scores

Capitals 5, Rangers 1
Maple Leafs 2, Canadiens 1
Oilers 3, Canucks 2 (SO)
Avalanche 4, Blackhawks 2
Ducks 4, Jets 1

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.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

Andrei Kuzmenko
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

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DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.


Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

He found a little of both.

The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

“I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

“It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

“That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

“We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

“It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”


Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.