NHL Rink Wrap: Flames get best of Bennett, Panthers

NHL Rink Wrap: Flames get best of Bennett, Panthers
Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

Top players from Tuesday in the NHL

Johnny Gaudreau, Flames

The good news is that Johnny Gaudreau is the version of Gaudreau fans love seeing. He ranks among the NHL’s most electric playmakers, and that was on display in the Flames’ win against Sam Bennett and the Panthers.

Gaudreau collected an impressive four assists, pushing him to 43 points (15G, 28A) in 35 games this season. He’s dangerously close to topping last season, when he generated 49 points in 56 games. There was also a bit of a lull — by his standards — the previous season, as he was limited to 58 points in 70 games in 2019-20.

So far, Gaudreau’s comfortably on pace to average a point-per-game (and change). The last time he did that was 2018-19, when he finished just shy of 100 points with 99. In doing so, he may have set expectations too high.

But, this year, he’s living up to expectations. Which does bring us to the one bit of less-good news: Gaudreau still needs a new contract, and every big game provides another bullet point for a hefty raise.

NHL highlights from Tuesday

Phew, a close call for Semyon Varlamov, and the sort of break you don’t get when you’re on a nine-game losing streak like the Flyers.

A strange goal. Being that Mark Jankowski scored it, you may even be tempted to call it janky.

Tom Wilson has scored in three straight games for the Capitals, and this one was an overtime game-winner:

Congrats to Jets rookie Cole Perfetti for scoring his first NHL goal, likely one of many to come. Especially if he develops anywhere as well in real life as he does in Franchise Mode.

Tuesday NHL Takeaways

Watch the Bruins retire Willie O’Ree’s number 22

In a wonderful ceremony, the Bruins retired number 22 in honor of Willie O’Ree becoming the first Black NHL player on Jan. 18, 1958. You can read more about that here, but check out the ceremony inn the video below.

NHL, NHLPA announce that asymptomatic players will not be tested for COVID

Yes, this development carries a weary air of inevitability. For better or worse, it’s the direction many in the world — especially the sports world — are heading. But time will tell if the NHL and NHLPA relaxing COVID testing standards following the 2022 NHL All-Star break (asymptomatic players won’t be tested) ends up being a wise idea.

Although, with the way players fight off injuries, and teams refuse to provide much details on injuries, maybe we’ll be in the dark if tweaked NHL COVID policies end up ill-advised? (Like, say, if family members get ill?)

Anyway, read up on the details here.

Other NHL news: Canadiens name new GM, “Last Men In” revealed for All-Star Game

Two other bits of NHL news from Tuesday worth noting:

Things are getting “award press conference” bad for the Oilers

Yeesh, this exchange between Leon Draisaitl and Jim Matheson is profoundly uncomfortable. And thus entertaining.

Flopping Flyers see losing streak grow to nine games

Not that long ago, there were rumblings that the Flyers didn’t want to trade the likes of Claude Giroux because they still had playoff dreams (faint or not). Well, you might need a microscope to view how small the Flyers’ playoff chances are after seeing their losing streak grow to nine games after falling to the Islanders.

If the Flyers aren’t trading off pieces now, one half-wonders if Chuck Fletcher is just too preoccupied with worrying about his own job security.

Before the Flyers lost yet again on Monday, PHT’s Adam Gretz broke down how things have gone wrong for Philly.

Flames get the latest laugh, even if Sam Bennett scored a goal

Remember when the Flames traded Sam Bennett to the Panthers? Honestly, things were a lot grimmer for both the Flames and Bennett when that trade went down.

While Bennett exploded out the gate with Florida, Calgary suffered for the rest of last season. Although they’ve stumbled lately, it’s clear that Darryl Sutter is getting more out of the Flames in 2021-22. It almost makes you wonder if Bennett may have thrived in that scenario.

But Bennett’s thriving with the Cats. He came into the NHL action on Monday with a very MLB pitcher stat line (15G-8A for 23 points), and scored his 16th against the Flames in Calgary. That would end up being the Panthers’ lone goal against the Flames, as Calgary got the best of Bennett on this occasion.

Wednesday’s big story

Rangers vs. Maple Leafs: two premium NHL franchises who are currently riding high

Whenever outlets release NHL franchise value estimates, the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs tend to dominate the top ranks. Yet, when you look up at the standings, you rarely see both teams dominating at once. (Sadly for Rangers and Maple Leafs fans, it might be slightly more common to see both teams struggling.)

Yet, during the 2021-22 NHL season, both the Rangers and Maple Leafs can daydream about special things. Sure, some of those dreams might be less realistic than others, but then again, look at how many surprises happen in hockey postseasons.

Heading into the NHL action on Wednesday, the Rangers are 25-10-4, while the Maple Leafs sport a 24-9-3 record.

As you likely know, both the Rangers (Artemi Panarin) and Maple Leafs (Auston Matthews) boast big-money superstars. There’s a better than 50-50 chance you could see some amazing feats. But these are also teams who have been stingy so far this season. Ranking second, the Rangers have only allowed 2.44 goals per game, while the Maple Leafs entered Monday fourth in the NHL at a 2.56 goals allowed average.

Ideally, fans get to see where the Rangers and Maple Leafs might be a touch underrated without that sneaky-stingy play killing all the fun of watching stars trade goals.

NHL scores from Tuesday

Hurricanes 7, Bruins 1
Sabres 3, Senators 1
Capitals 4, Jets 3 (OT)
Islanders 4, Flyers 3 (SO)
Canucks 3, Predators 1
Canadiens 5, Stars 3
Flames 5, Panthers 1
Lightning 6, Kings 4

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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    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports

    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

    caufield surgery
    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.