NHL Rink Wrap: Boudreau’s Canucks beat Capitals; League-leading Ovechkin

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Top player from Canucks – Capitals

Elias Pettersson, Canucks

Coming into Canucks – Capitals (the only NHL game on Sunday), Elias Pettersson was mired in a four-game pointless streak. Pettersson’s struggles went deeper than that, too. He only managed an assist over six games, and went seven games without a goal.

For a player who’s already been frustrated, managing just 17 points in 37 games is pretty mind-boggling. Maybe debilitating.

So the Canucks have to hope that Elias Pettersson’s two goals against the Capitals might be a confidence-builder. (If nothing else he now averages a point, er, every two games.)

Pettersson’s second goal was a nifty mix of luck and, perhaps, the sort of hubris a great player needs to make plays mere mortals can only dream about?

Canucks – Capitals highlights

Soak in highlights as the Canucks beat the Capitals 4-2 as the only NHL game on Sunday.

Sunday NHL Takeaways

Catch up on a busy Saturday in the NHL

While there was only the Canucks – Capitals game on Sunday, Saturday was a busy night in the NHL. Catch up on that action with the Saturday NHL Rink Wrap.

(If you want a deep dive, there’s also a detailed look at the slumping Edmonton Oilers.)

Canucks improve to 9-3-1 under Boudreau after beating Capitals

In the grand scheme of things, it’s far too early to act like Bruce Boudreau has “solved” the Canucks. At least this season, it seemed like the Canucks dug themselves too big of a hole to make the playoffs.

But it’s easy to forget just how promising the Canucks were not that long ago. As much as Jim Benning bungled surrounding impressive young talent with the depth needed to thrive, the Canucks retain some pieces who could be core players in a winner. And those players aren’t ancient by any means.

  • Pettersson is just 23, and his $7.35M cap hit runs through 2023-24. If Pettersson can rebuild his confidence, that should be a bargain. Maybe Boudreau can be the beacon of positivity that Pettersson needs?

  • Considering the gold rush prominent defensemen (some deeply flawed) enjoyed this offseason, locking up Quinn Hughes at $7.85M through 2026-27 ranks as one of Benning’s best recent moves. The 22-year-old’s quietly enjoying what looks like a redemptive season.

  • With Brock Boeser on an expiring contract and Bo Horvat‘s deal ending after 2022-23, it’s unclear if those two players will remain with the Canucks. If they do, they can provide some more prime years. Boeser is 24 and Horvat is 26.
  • Again, Benning’s made blunders that could linger. At least 25-year-old Conor Garland‘s a gem at just under $5M per year through 2025-26.
  • Thatcher Demko, 26, could be a nice bargain at $5M through 2025-26.

Ideally, the Canucks would boast a slew of other valuable players. Still, the decline of top, seemingly blue chip young players was downright disturbing under Travis Green.

Maybe the reality is that expectations must be reset on many of them. But if they weren’t reaching their potential, perhaps Boudreau can bring the best out of many of them?

If nothing else, this certainly has been a promising start.

Ovechkin ends Sunday tied for NHL goals, points lead

Alex Ovechkin‘s been producing at a Hart-adjacent level for months now, but it’s still stunning.

With a goal from his “office,” on Sunday, Alex Ovechkin ended Sunday tied with Leon Draisaitl in two NHL-leading stats: goals (26) and points (54). Now, it’s true that the totals can be a bit misleading, as Ovechkin’s played four more games (39) than Draisaitl (35).

Nonetheless, it remains a stunning development. You also never know in the NHL with injuries, cold streaks, and sad Oilers.

At minimum, you have to give Ovechkin a real chance to win another Maurice Richard Trophy, and don’t count him out as a possible Hart Trophy finalist. Incredible.

Monday’s big story

Central Division clashes

There’s room for movement among the top teams in the Central Division, so two Monday NHL games are worth monitoring.

In the afternoon, the Avalanche (24-8-3, 51 points in 35 games played) host the Wild (22-10-2, 46 points in 34 GP). Increasingly, the Avalanche seem like they’re looking like the dominant Avs team many of us expected. Most simply, you may note Colorado’s 8-1-1 record in its last 10 games. While the Wild have been up and down, they carry a three-game winning streak into Monday’s NHL games.

Later on, the surprising Predators (24-12-3, 51 points in 39 GP) visit the sneaky-strong Blues (22-11-5, 49 points in 38 games). The Blues will also retire Chris Pronger’s number 44 in that game.

While it looks like the Avalanche are the Central Division frontrunners, those other three teams are very much in the mix. (Naturally, the Jets and Stars are also in said mix.) Monday’s NHL games could shift outlooks a touch, especially if they end in regulation.

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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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.