NHL Rink Wrap: Reaves sparks Rangers comeback; Avalanche keep winning

NHL Scores
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Top player in the NHL on Wednesday

Ryan Reaves, New York Rangers

If you are going to be a top-tier team and a Stanley Cup contender sometimes you need an unexpected player to have a big game or two to help you get a win. The New York Rangers got that on Wednesday night when Ryan Reaves scored two goals to help them erase a 3-1 deficit to win a 6-3 decision over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Reaves entered the game with zero goals in his first 32 games this season, and had just 49 goals in 718 career games entering play on Wednesday. His two goals were the first two of the game for the Rangers and started the ball rolling on their comeback. It is only the second two goal game of his career and his first since the 2012-13 season when he was still a member of the St. Louis Blues in a game against the Calgary Flames.

Highlights from around the NHL on Wednesday

Mitch Marner had been on an extended power play goal drought that saw him go 101 games without a power play goal. The Maple Leafs power play was still rolling along as one of the best units in the league so it was not really hurting them, but that was still a lot of games without a power play goal. He snapped that drought on Wednesday thanks to an incredible no-look pass from William Nylander.

The Colorado Avalanche have one of the best defensive units in the NHL, and it is not just their defensive zone play that is elite. They are also the most prolific scoring blue line in the league and Sam Girard added to that goal total on Wednesday with this game-winning goal against the Anaheim Ducks.

Reaves with his two goals for the Rangers.

Great offensive zone shift here from the Arizona Coyotes in their win over the New Jersey Devils.

Three takeaways from the NHL on Wednesday

Maple Leafs let another lead get away

The two biggest criticisms of the Toronto Maple Leafs in recent years have always been about their defense and their lack of toughness and grit. Those criticisms are often times exaggerated or even unfounded. But when the head coach talks about how “soft” his team played and how they played without any purpose it is going to sound alarm bells for critics and, well, everybody else (read about all of that right here). You can understand head coach Sheldon Keefe’s frustration on Wednesday after he watched his team blow a multiple goal lead for the fourth time in the past five games. They had won two of the previous games but were unable to get even a point on Wednesday night against the Rangers. This is something they need to solve, and solve quickly.

Karel Vejmelka becoming bright spot for Coyotes

Not much has gone right for the Arizona Coyotes this season, but the play of first year goalie Karel Vejmelka has started to become a bright spot. He has had some incredible performances this season to steal a handful of games — especially recently — and he did it again on Wednesday night in a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. At one point the Coyotes were being outshot 27-8 early in the third period but they still had a two-goal lead thanks in large part to Vejmelka’s play in net.

Avalanche keep winning while Ducks lose again

Pavel Francouz gave the Avalanche an outstanding goaltending performance on Wednesday night in a 2-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks, while Sam Girard and Nazem Kadri provided the offense. The win helps the Avalanche increase their lead in the Western Conference as they remain one of the hottest teams in the league, owning a 22-3-1 record in their past 26 games. The Ducks, meanwhile, continue to struggle offensively without Troy Terry and Sonny Milano and have been shutout two games in a row while they have just two wins (and only one in regulation) over their past 11 games. They remain on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture by points percentage.

Thursday’s big story

The Philadelphia Flyers need a win against the Columbus Blue Jackets to avoid what will be their second 10-game losing streak of the season. The fact they have lost nine games in a row after losing 10 in a row just a few weeks ago is stunning enough. Having a second 10-game losing streak in the same season would be nearly unheard of. Read about their season so far right here. Other important games on Thursday feature the Washington Capitals trying to play out of their slump against the Boston Bruins, while Edmonton Oilers need to find a way to win against one of the league’s best teams, the Florida Panthers. The Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings also play a big game in the Western Conference playoff race, while the San Jose Sharks look to get two important points against the Seattle Kraken in their quest to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Wednesday’s NHL Scores

Arizona Coyotes 4, New Jersey Devils 1
New York Rangers 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 3
Colorado Avalanche 2, Anaheim Ducks 0

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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
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    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

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    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

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    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.