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.
Nathan MacKinnon: 33 points in 20 games (135 point 82-game pace)
Nazem Kadri: 42 points in 27 games (127 point pace)
Gabriel Landeskog: 33 points in 25 games (108 point pace)
Mikko Rantanen: 36 points in 27 games (109 point pace)
Cale Makar: 28 points in 26 gp (88 point pace)
— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) January 7, 2022
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?
1,700 games. Four franchises. One incredible milestone.
Congratulations, Joe Thornton. 🎉#NHLStats: https://t.co/5Ur8AtNhT7 pic.twitter.com/IAGGAHU06e
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) January 7, 2022
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.
MATT BOLDY GOAL. SEND TWEET.#mnwild pic.twitter.com/TCuIorzjmU
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) January 7, 2022
The family reaction of that first Boldy NHL goal makes for an even better highlight.
Just checking in on the Boldy family… 🥺#mnwild pic.twitter.com/fCdRnisbOL
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) January 7, 2022
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.
This set up from Nikita Kucherov to Brayden Point 👀 pic.twitter.com/FJWSEsbxBK
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) January 7, 2022
Nifty stuff from Dylan Strome.
I could watch this terrific mid-air pass from Dylan Strome thousands of times and not be bored. Beauty!#Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/Nl3KgefxTl
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) January 7, 2022
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.
Trent Frederic ▶️ Kirill Kaprizov
See the fights between Frederic and *checks notes* both –
Dmitry Kulikov: https://t.co/4UtoF3O5Rj
Marcus Foligno: (below)#HfHits #MnWild #NHLBruins https://t.co/AjuDzrWtbf pic.twitter.com/dxIq0he6oc
— Daily Faceoff (@DailyFaceoff) January 7, 2022
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.