Player of the Night
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.