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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    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.