NHL Rink Wrap: Hats off to Sam Bennett, Ducks slumping, and Avalanche extend home streak

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Top player in the NHL on Friday

Sam Bennett, Florida Panthers

When the Florida Panthers are at their best they are a complete and total buzzsaw. They were at their best on Friday night in a dominating 7-1 win against the Dallas Stars that was highlighted by huge performances from some of their top players. Anthony Duclair had another big game, Jonathan Huberdeau continued his great season, and Sam Bennett recorded a hat trick. That three-goal effort from Bennett earns him top star honors on Friday as he continues to be a great addition to the Panthers’ lineup. General manager Bill Zito has hit all of the right buttons over the past two years in building this team around Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, and the trade deadline acquisition (and contract extension) of Bennett has been one of his better moves. Bennett now has 20 goals in his first 38 regular season games with the team dating back to the end of the 2020-21 season. That averages out to a 44-goal pace over 82 games.

Highlights from around the NHL on Friday

A lot of teams allowed Anthony Duclair to get away from them way too soon. Here he is scoring his 15th goal of the season for the Panthers on Friday night.

Here is Eric Staal scoring a goal for the Iowa Wild in his American Hockey League tryout. That is his first AHL goal since the 2004-05 season.

At the NHL level for the Wild Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello teamed up for this beauty of a one-timer goal.

Nazem Kadri (who has a great All-Star game argument) wins it for the Colorado Avalanche in a shootout with this beauty of a goal against the Arizona Coyotes.

Three takeaways from the NHL on Friday

The Panthers found another dominant line

The trio of Jonathan Huberdeau, Anthony Duclair, and Sam Bennett is just ripping things apart for the Florida Panthers right now. That trio was dominant during the Panthers’ 7-1 win against Dallas on Friday night, owning a 5-0 goals advantage during 5-on-5 play with Bennett recording his aforementioned hat trick. For the season that trio has played more than 74 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season and outscored opponents by a 10-1 margin. Huberdeau has been one of the league’s best players for years now (read more about him here) while Duclair and Bennett have been great additions over the past two years.

Any concern for the Ducks?

The Anaheim Ducks have been one of the bigger surprise teams in the league so far this season, but they have been trending in the wrong direction over the past couple of weeks. Things did not show any sign of reversing on Friday night in a 7-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild. With that loss the Ducks have now lost seven out of their past nine games and are now down to fourth place in the Pacific Division by points percentage, and just narrowly ahead of the Edmonton Oilers. They banked a lot of points early in the season to give themselves some cushion, but that cushion is starting to disappear. They do have some key players out right now due to COVID protocols, including starting goalie John Gibson and breakout star Troy Terry, but even without those absences they are definitely starting to cool down a little as a team.

Avalanche extend home winning streak

It has been more than two months since the Colorado Avalanche lost a game on home ice. They extended their home winning streak to 13 games on Friday night with a 4-3 shootout win against the Arizona Coyotes. After the starting the year with a 4-5-1 record the Avalanche have gone 19-3-2 in the 24 games since to climb to the top of the Western Conference standings.

Saturday’s big story

There is an awesome matchup in St. Louis where the Blues are looking to extend their home point streak to 14 consecutive games (13-0-1 during this stretch) when they host a Toronto Maple Leafs team that has been one of the league’s best so far this season. While the Blues look to continue running their home point streak, Auston Matthews looks to extend his road goal scoring streak having scored a goal in each of the Maple Leafs’ past nine road games.

Friday’s NHL Scores

Florida Panthers 7, Dallas Stars 1
Minnesota Wild 7, Anaheim Ducks 3
Colorado Avalanche 4, Arizona Coyotes 3 (SO)
Edmonton Oilers vs. Vegas Golden Knights (Postponed)

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    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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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.