NHL Rink Wrap: Kadri’s new career-high; 4 games on Super Bowl Sunday

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Top players from Sunday in the NHL

Jeff Skinner, Sabres

To reiterate: it’s nice to see Jeff Skinner just get to play hockey again. The Sabres still stink, but it sure beats being locked in Ralph Krueger’s doghouse.

Skinner reached 20 goals this season with a whopping four in Buffalo’s rally against Montreal. By also adding an assist for five total points, Skinner reached 20 goals and 34 points in 45 games. That’s the equivalent to a 62-points season over 82 contests.

During his first Sabres season, Skinner scored a career-high 40 goals, and tied his career-high with 63 points. (Curiously, he’s reached 63 points in 2018-19, 2016-17, and 2010-11.)

In 2019-20, Skinner fell to 14 goals and 23 points in 59 contests. Last season was even worse, with seven goals and 14 points in 53 games. Some of that was clearly on Skinner, but it didn’t help that he was buried in the lineup. There were even healthy scratches.

Sure, it’s true that the Skinner sticker price is too high at $9M. But sometimes that happens in the NHL, and sports in general. If he can contribute and keep things positive, that sure beats the $9M price tag being the only talking point.

Sunday NHL highlights

With a mere four NHL games on Super Bowl Sunday, let’s soak in highlights from each contest.

The Canadiens and Sabres are both suffering this season. With Buffalo winning, the Canadiens saw their losing streak grow to a dismal 10 straight games. Watch Skinner score those four goals in Buffalo’s rally:

The Devils kept Sidney Crosby at 499 career goals, but the Penguins ended up winning. Seemed to be plenty of Penguins fans in Newark for this one:

After scoring two goals by the 12-minute mark, the Avalanche largely went into cruise control. Not the best sign for a Stars team in need of wins, particularly a squad that’s been much stronger at home.

Things have been a little bit bumpy for the Capitals lately. The most recent bump: dropping a 4-1 clunker to the Senators.

Sunday NHL Takeaways

Sidney Crosby remains at 499 goals, but Penguins stay hot on road

Sidney Crosby must wait some more to reach milestone goal 500, as the Devils kept him at 499. Aside from just getting that over with, that’s about the extent of the “bad” news for Crosby and the Penguins.

After all, Crosby still collected two assists, and he generated his chances. Crosby finished with four shots on goal, with three of them happening in the first period.

It speaks well to the Penguins’ resiliency that they won their sixth road game in a row, the longest active away winning streak in the NHL. That improves Pittsburgh’s road record to an impressive 17-5-3.

Technically, the Penguins rank atop the Metro Division after this win with 68 points in 49 games. Realistically, the Hurricanes hold the larger advantage, managing 67 points in 46 GP.

Still, it’s promising for the Penguins that they can take their show on the road so effectively. If that continues, it could come in handy during the playoffs.

Nazem Kadri sets new career-high with 62+ points

By scoring his 20th goal of the season, Nazem Kadri also reached 62 points in his 43rd game of 2021-22. Those 62 points represent a new career-high for Kadri.

Kadri set his previous career-high of 61 points in 2016-17 with the Maple Leafs. During that campaign, Kadri scored 32 goals and 29 assists for 61 points in 82 games. (The testy forward also picked up 95 penalty minutes that season.)

It’ll be fascinating to see how teams — the Avalanche, or otherwise — react to Kadri enjoying far and away his best season in a contract year. At age 31.

That Kadri set a new career-high so early in the season is both a testament to how he’s been playing, and also a quick way of summarizing how there are red flags about expecting repeat performances.

That Zaitsev trade might have been worth it for Maple Leafs

As much as the Maple Leafs struggle to manage their salary cap situation, it would be that much tougher if Nikita Zaitsev‘s contract was still on the books.

That thought came to mind during the NHL action on Sunday. Nikita Zaitsev collected just his second assist and third point in his 27th game of the season. Whether you look at traditional stats or go deeper, Zaitsev’s clearly not likely to help the Senators very much. (Aside from improving chances of tanking?)

Consider where Zaitsev ranks on this Evolving Hockey xGAR chart, even among flawed Senators teammates:

NHL Rink Wrap: Kadri's new career-high; 4 games on Super Bowl Sunday xGAR Zaitsev
via Evolving Hockey

Of course, the Maple Leafs miss Connor Brown, who was part of that trade package. He’s the sort of player who could help a playoff team with hard work and supplementary scoring.

But getting out of Zaitsev’s contract was still likely worth that price. The 30-year-old’s $4.5M cap hit won’t expire until after the 2023-24 season.

Some additional fun details, with help from Cap Friendly:

  • Zaitsev’s deal includes a modified no-trade clause, which kicked in starting in 2019-20. The Maple Leafs traded Zaitsev in July 2019. Pierre Dorion sure did Kyle Dubas a “favor.”
  • It might be relevant to Eugene Melnyk that Zaitsev is also set to be paid $4.5M each of the last two seasons of the deal. May also be relevant that $2M of the $4.5M each season is in signing bonuses. Another rebuilding team might get some traction offering to take that cost off of Ottawa’s hands.

As another Senators note, Auston Watson was suspended two games for a late hit on Jack Ahcan of the Bruins.

Monday’s big story

Oilers, Sharks jockey for position

After winning the first game of the Jay Woodcroft era, the Oilers hope to improve their playoff chances by making the Sharks’ odds slimmer.

The Oilers also hope to start a road-heavy stretch in a sharp way. Starting with Monday at the Sharks, the Oilers play eight of their next 10 games on the road. Not exactly an ideal way to ease Woodcroft into the already-challenging role of getting the most out of the Oilers, but it likely beats bleeding out with Dave Tippett.

If the Sharks hope to keep their unlikely playoff drive alive, they’ll need to win games like these against the Oilers. In general, it’s a key month. San Jose’s situation is basically the opposite of Edmonton’s run of road games. The Sharks play their next three games and seven of their next nine at home.

Maybe the Sharks will even want to put James Reimer on display against the Oilers? Trade deadline’s approaching, after all.

NHL scores from Sunday

Sabres 5, Canadiens 3
Senators 4, Capitals 1
Penguins 4, Devils 2
Avalanche 4, Stars 0

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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