NHL Rink Wrap: Penguins push streak to 10; Kaprizov injury

NHL Rink Wrap: Penguins push streak to 10; Kaprizov injury
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Top players from Thursday in the NHL

Gabriel Landeskog/Avalanche top line in general

If you have to pick one player from the Avalanche’s 7-1 shellacking of the Jets, you might go with Gabriel Landeskog (hat trick plus an assist). Although, is it ever really wise to count out Nathan MacKinnon, especially when he erupts for five points (1G, 4A)?

When you add in Mikko Rantanen‘s three-point evening (1G, 2A), it gets that much more compelling. By blowing out the Jets, the top Avalanche line reminded us that they may remain the most explosive and dominant in the NHL.

We also got another taste of the Avalanche near the height of their powers. Injuries and/or COVID haven’t made that possible for significant chunks of 2021-22, and that may allow the Avalanche to sneak up on people. At least, as much as this collection of talent can sneak up on anyone.

Johan Larsson, Coyotes

Coming into the NHL slate of games on Thursday, Johan Larsson didn’t have a single goal. He ended the night with three after collecting a hat trick.

In most cases, you’d expect Larsson to make his biggest impact defensively. He’s been more explosive lately, however. On Dec. 28, Larsson generating three assists. During the past three contests, Larsson’s produced more than half (six) of his 11 points in 20 games this season.

Uneven offense or not, there’s a solid chance Larsson will set a new career-high in 2021-22. He’s never generated more than 18 points in a season, yet again, he already has 11.

Highlights from NHL games on Thursday

Joe Thornton became just the sixth player in NHL history to reach 1,700 games played. Maybe a powerhouse Panthers team can get “Jumbo Joe” that elusive first: a Stanley Cup ring?

Speaking of firsts, Matt Boldy scored his first goal in his first NHL game, and the Boston-area native did so in front of family as his Wild beat the Bruins in Boston.

The family reaction of that first Boldy NHL goal makes for an even better highlight.

Now, this might be a bit much from the Wild, although it may be one of the only Matt Boldy puns that doesn’t either hinge on “bold” or “boldly.”

Nikita Kucherov looked dangerous in his return to NHL action on Thursday. This assist to Brayden Point was the highlight, but Kucherov looked dangerous early and often.

Nifty stuff from Dylan Strome.

Might as well soak in the frightening glory of the top Avalanche line from dominating the Jets:

Similarly, these Coyotes – Blackhawks highlights include that Larsson hat trick:

NHL takeaways from Thursday

NHL COVID news from Thursday

Some of the NHL COVID news from Thursday came pretty late, as Ducks – Red Wings was postponed, and Igor Shesterkin was unable to suit up for the Rangers. Read up on the bad news here.

Boldy scores, Wild win, but Kaprizov leaves with injury

Keeping with the theme of NHL COVID/injury/etc. news for the Wild, there was some good in the mix.

In what’s a great story, former Boston College star Matt Boldy scored his first goal in his first NHL game for the Wild, and did so in front of family to help Minnesota beat the Bruins. As you can see in the highlights section for the NHL on Thursday, Boldy scored his first NHL goal quite impressively, too.

By beating the Bruins, the Wild ended a five-game losing streak.

Unfortunately, there’s some bad news. After scoring his 14th goal of the season, Kirill Kaprizov left that game after a hit by Trent Frederic. Frederic ended up in more than one fight following that hit on Kaprizov.

While Frederic said he didn’t mean to hurt Kaprizov, Dmitry Kulikov believes it was dirty, and that Frederic “knew” Kaprizov was in a vulnerable position. Whether it was a bad hit or bad luck, here’s hoping Kaprizov avoids anything too severe.

Penguins push winning streak to 10 games

Want a quick idea of how strong the Atlantic Division is, and the quality at the top of the Eastern Conference, in general? An already-solid Penguins team pre-winning streak has now won 10 straight games … and merely sits in wild card position.

As much as injuries opened up opportunities for the likes of Evan Rodrigues, the bottom line is that the Penguins could look even scarier if they truly get fully healthy.

Granted, picturing full health hasn’t always jived with Pittsburgh’s larger reality. (See: the period when Sidney Crosby struggled with concussions, and unfortunately, much of Evgeni Malkin‘s later years.)

Impressively, the Penguins only needed to go beyond regulation in one of the 10 games during their current winning streak.

Lightning win, Kucherov looks impressive in return to lineup

During recent years, Nikita Kucherov’s had quite the way of dismissing rust. Or, at least, if he’s rusty, then it’s hard to fathom what Kucherov would accomplish at full speed.

In what ended up being a lopsided game on Thursday (instead of a potential big NHL showdown), Kucherov collected two assists. Scroll to the highlights and you’ll see the first Kucherov assist, where he really set the table for Brayden Point.

Even with Kucherov in tow, the Lightning are by no means a lock to win the Atlantic Division, or even gain home ice advantage over one of the Maple Leafs or Panthers. Then again, the Lightning did quite alright without home ice early in their last playoff run …

Friday’s big story

Two games, four likely playoff teams

Assuming the NHL doesn’t need to postpone any games on Friday, we’ll see two games between four likely playoff teams: Flames at Hurricanes, and Capitals at Blues.

With the Hurricanes hot (four-game winning streak, wins in eight of 10), that game could be an interesting test for the Flames. For the most part, things have gone right for the Flames this season (at least relative to other teams). But you could argue that they’re experiencing at least a mild bit of turmoil. In their past two losses (including to the Lightning during the NHL action on Thursday), the Flames have been outscored 10-3. They’ve also dropped six of eight games (2-5-1). Not a meltdown, yet the Hurricanes heighten the risk of more tension for the Flames. (Especially since Carolina boasts the rest advantage.)

In the other game, the Capitals hope to strengthen their standing in the competitive Metro, while the Blues have at least a shot at a Central Division title — or at least comfier seeding.

Thursday’s NHL scores

Wild 3, Bruins 2
Sharks 3, Sabres 2
Lightning 4, Flames 1
Devils 3, Blue Jackets 1
Penguins 6, Flyers 2
Stars 6, Panthers 5 (SO)
Avalanche 7, Jets 1
Coyotes 6, Blackhawks 4
Golden Knights 5, Rangers 1
Predators 4, Kings 2

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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    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
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    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.

    Former Bruins coach Cassidy wins; Boston’s home streak ends

    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Vegas Golden Knights made former Boston coach Bruce Cassidy’s return a success on Reilly Smith‘s score in the fifth round of the shootout, beating the Bruins 4-3 to end their NHL-record for home victories to open a season at 14 games.

    The 57-year-old Cassidy was fired by Boston following 5 1/2 seasons in June after the Bruins were eliminated by Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs.

    Eight days after he was let go, he was hired by Vegas.

    In a matchup of two of the league’s top three teams, Western conference-leading Vegas opened a 3-0 lead early in the second period on two goals by Paul Cotter and the other by Jonathan Marchessault before the Bruins started their comeback when Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak scored just over six minutes apart late in the period.

    They tied it on Taylor Hall‘s power-play goal 3:08 into the third when he spun in front and slipped a shot from the slot past goalie Logan Thompson.

    Smith had the only score in the shootout, slipping a forehand shot past goalie Jeremy Swayman.

    Cassidy took over as Boston’s interim coach on Feb. 7, 2016, before getting the head job that April. His teams made the playoffs all six seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when they lost the seventh game at home against St. Louis.

    Cassidy knows what it sounds like in TD Garden with The Standells’ song “Dirty Water” blaring after Bruins’ wins.

    “Now that you brought it up, I’m used to hearing “Dirty Water” at the end of the game,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad I didn’t hear it tonight. The streak is irrelevant to me. It’s nice to come in and play well.”

    Boston lost for just the second time in 12 games.

    “This locker room sticks together, and we knew we were going to do something special tonight,” Swayman said. “It (stinks) losing, but we’re going to make sure we fix the problems.”

    The Bruins’ home-opening streak broke the record of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    Before the shootout, Thompson made 40 saves. Boston’s backup Swayman had 21.

    “This city meant a lot to him, and he was fired up ready to go,” Thompson said of Cassidy. “We went out there and tried to get him two points tonight.”

    Cotter collected William Karlsson‘s pass inside the left circle and unloaded a wrister under the crossbar 1:36 into the game.

    Marchessault stole Pastrnak’s attempted clearing pass, broke in alone and tucked in his own rebound to make it 2-0.

    Cotter’s second came 51 seconds into the second period when he slipped a wrister past Swayman’s glove.

    “We couldn’t get it done early, before the shootout. We had chances,” Pastrnak said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”

    Vegas star forward Jack Eichel missed the game with a lower-body injury.

    TRIBUTE

    The Bruins played a video montage of Cassidy on the Jumbotron late in the opening period that ended with a picture of him and said: “Welcome back, Bruce.”

    The crowd gave him a nice ovation and he waved thanking them.

    “It’s a really nice gesture by the Bruins’ organization,” he said. “I appreciate it. I said all along that I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I’m thankful they did it.”

    FOR THE RECORD

    Cassidy finished tied for third on the Bruins’ coaching list with Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt (1955-66) at 245 victories, behind Claude Julien’s (2008-17) 419 and Art Ross (1925-45) with 387.

    EXTRA SPECIAL TEAMS

    The Bruins entered the game ranked second in the league both with their power play (29.6%) and penalty killing (84.1%).

    UP NEXT

    Golden Knights: Host the New York Rangers.

    Bruins: At the Colorado Avalanche.

    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

    kris letang
    Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.