NHL Rink Wrap: No stopping Gaudreau, Kadri, Kreider

NHL Rink Wrap: No stopping Gaudreau, Kadri, Kreider
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Friday’s top NHL players

Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers

Chris Kreider (2G, 1A) and Mika Zibanejad (3A) generated three points apiece during the NHL action on Friday. Both Rangers scorers stood out, and their numbers keep climbing.

With two goals on Friday, Chris Kreider reached 44 goals, tying him with Leon Draisaitl for second in the NHL. Kreider has a reasonable chance to catch Auston Matthews, who’s on top with 46. Remarkably, with those 44 goals, Chris Kreider matched his goal totals from the previous two seasons (20 last season, 24 in 2019-20).

For years, Kreider’s been a player whose overall play sometimes slipped under the radar because of iffy puck luck. Now he’s just rolling and rolling, to the point that we may just need to realize that Kreider’s found a new ceiling. (Overall, Kreider’s scored 61 points in 65 games, his first season at 60+ points.)

It’s one of the most surprising developments for what’s been a surprising Rangers team.

In the case of Zibanejad, he crossed the 500-point barrier in this one. The 28-year-old finished the night at 502 points in 669 career regular-season games. As far as this season goes, Zibanejad’s at 68 points in 65 contests.

Johnny Gaudreau, Flames

If this isn’t the best season of Johnny Gaudreau’s already-impressive career, it’s close.

With a goal against Arizona, Gaudreau reached 30 goals for the third time in his career, and first since he registered a career-high 36 in 2018-19. By collecting two assists in a three-point game, Gaudreau’s at 85 points in 64 games this season.

Currently, Gaudreau’s on pace for about 108 points over an 82-game campaign. He’s never reached 100 in his career, falling just short with 99 points in 2018-19.

Gaudreau combining with Matthew Tkachuk won’t make either of them cheap to keep around, but it’s been a delight to watch them light up opponents just about every night.

Nazem Kadri, Avalanche

Now, this is a Nazem Kadri stat line, 2021-22 edition. He scored three points (1G, 2A) while racking up seven penalty minutes and unloading seven shots on goal. Kadri now has 25 goals and 79 points in just 62 games this season. Yep, pretty ridiculous.

Kadri’s 79 points tie him for seventh in the NHL with another already-strong player reaching another level: Roman Josi.

On Friday, PHT’s Adam Gretz broke down stunning numbers from both Josi and Cale Makar. With two goals, Makar’s now all the way to 24 on the season.

Plenty of special seasons to go around, it seems.

Friday NHL highlights

The Rangers scored three (pretty) goals in the opening five minutes of their game against the Penguins.

Ilya Samsonov went to Scramblesville, and lived to tell the tale without allowing a goal:

Kyle Connor scored his 41st goal of the season on an impressive shorthanded tally. Stealing a bit of Patrik Laine‘s thunder there.

Just 21 seconds into OT, Connor also assisted on Nikolaj Ehlers‘ overtime game-winner:

Friday NHL Takeaways

Golden Knights’ Howden released from hospital

After a scary collision on Thursday that left him hospitalized, Golden Knights forward Brett Howden was eventually released from hospital. Via The Athletic’s Jesse Granger, Peter DeBoer said Howden feels sore, but nothing was broken.

Not too surprisingly, Howden is out indefinitely.

Rangers rout Penguins in possible playoff preview; Kreider still on fire

As you can see above, the Rangers went up three goals just five minutes into their eventual win against the Penguins. Thanks to steady overall play, the game was basically over by then.

Special teams was one of the factors in this game. While Jeff Carter scored Pittsburgh’s lone goal on the power play, Kreider found the net shorthanded. The Penguins received a four-minute power-play after a high-sticking infraction drew blood when they were down 3-0. They accomplished little on that extended advantage, and didn’t really muster much of a comeback bid vs. the Rangers.

Andrew Copp got on the board for his first goal with the Rangers, and the 14th of this season.

Laine returns to Winnipeg with Blue Jackets

In a “circle the date,” game, Patrik Laine returned to Winnipeg as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Reporters indicate that Laine received a mix of boos and cheers when he touched the puck, but the Winnipeg crowd was loud during a welcome back video that also included Jack Roslovic.

The Jets ended up beating Laine’s Blue Jackets in overtime, which you can see evidence of in the highlights section. Laine fired four shots on goal and took a penalty, but couldn’t generate a goal or an assist.

Despite going pointless against his former team, Laine remains above a point-per-game (48 points in 46 games) during his second season with Columbus. What kind of money might Laine be worth next season? That’s still hard to tell, but either way, it’s still slightly surprising to think about how much things changed for both Laine and the Jets over the years. There was a time when Laine seemed like he’d battle with Auston Matthews to take the sniping torch from Alex Ovechkin. The Jets appeared poised to ascend to an elite level as a team for years to come.

As heartening as it is to see Laine produce offensively, it’s not clear if he’s as much of a “net positive” as many think. Actually, by all-around impact, Pierre-Luc Dubois may remain an upgrade over Laine. Consider their RAPM comparison charts from Evolving Hockey:

Dubois went pointless against Columbus, leaving him with 25 goals and 25 assists for 50 points in 65 games this season. (He’s been rambunctious, too, with 90 penalty minutes blowing away his previous career-high of 64 PIM.)

Roslovic ended up being the former Jets/current Blue Jackets player who factored into the scoring, collecting a goal and an assist.

Flames make Monahan a healthy scratch for first time in his career

Flames coach Darryl Sutter said all the right things about the decision to make Sean Monahan a healthy scratch. Sutter makes a point that perhaps Monahan needed more time to work his way back from hip surgery.

Even so, Monahan being a Flames healthy scratch for the first time for performance reasons remains a resounding sign of his struggles. The still-young forward isn’t that far from being lumped in with Johnny Gaudreau as an integral part of this Flames team. Now, he’s a scratch after 14 consecutive pointless games.

Maybe this rest will do Monahan some good. Perhaps he needed a reality check, along with a breather. The Flames would certainly be a better team if Monahan could provide at least some offense, so we’ll see if he can turn things around.

Saturday’s big story

The most relevant “Battle of Alberta” in some time

When’s the last time both the Flames and Oilers were this good heading into a “Battle of Alberta?” At least with any level of season-long consistency? These two franchises likely delight in the two teams’ intermittent lows, but isn’t it more fun when you can spite your regional rivals in games that actually matter?

With the Oilers steadying and teams like the Golden Knights fading, it looks like Edmonton should (most likely) head to the playoffs. If both the Flames and Oilers can win a round, there’s a solid chance hockey fans could get a second-round “Battle of Alberta.”

Being that the Flames flattened the Coyotes on Friday, the Oilers get the rest advantage, so we’ll see if they can leverage that against Calgary. We’ll also see if Monahan can draw back into the Flames lineup (no guarantee, especially after an efficient win).

Friday NHL scores

Capitals 4, Sabres 3 (SO)
Rangers 5, Penguins 1
Jets 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT)
Avalanche 6, Flyers 3
Flames 4, Coyotes 2

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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