cale makar

Bolt from the blueline: Avs rookie Makar off to flying start

Leave a comment

DENVER — Cale Makar is on the move these days – into his own place and into hallowed hockey territory. He’s just getting settled in, too.

The Colorado Avalanche rookie became only the fourth defenseman in NHL history to record 18 points through his first 18 career regular-season games. His teammates maintain that’s due to his ability to see the ice with a veteran’s vision and rarely making the same mistake twice.

His own appraisal is much more subdued.

”I still feel like a rookie,” said Makar, who moved out of teammate Matt Calvert‘s house this year to achieve another level of independence. ”I still have lots to learn.”

Those are precisely the words fellow defenseman Ian Cole wants to hear from the 21-year-old who was drafted with the fourth overall pick in 2017 and received his first taste of NHL action last spring in the playoffs.

”But what’s he going to say? ‘Man, am I good!”’ Cole cracked.

The numbers and early accolades do tend to suggest that, though. Makar was named the third star by the league for the week ending Nov. 10.

On Tuesday night, he scored his fifth goal of the season in a 4-0 win at Winnipeg. It was a game in which goaltender Adam Werner stepped in after starter Pavel Francouz was hurt after 31 seconds. All Werner did was turn in a 40-save shutout in his unexpected NHL debut.

It could be another injury for the Avalanche to weather in what’s already been a banged-up season. They’re currently without captain Gabriel Landeskog, forward Mikko Rantanen, goaltender Philipp Grubauer, forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and defenseman Nikita Zadorov.

”It’s tough,” said Makar, who has 13 assists this season. ”At the end of the day, we have so much depth.”

Makar has given Colorado a big scoring boost.

A notable stat: The last rookie defenseman with more points than Makar through their first 18 regular-season games was Hall of Famer Larry Murphy, who had 19 for Los Angeles in 1980-81. The two other NHL blueliners with more points through 18 games were Hall of Famers Hap Day (21 points with the Toronto St. Patricks in 1924-25) and Harry Cameron (20 with the Toronto Arenas in 1917-18), according to research from NHL Stats.

Another noteworthy stat: Makar’s nine assists in October set an Avalanche record for a rookie defenseman in a month.

And another: His five straight games with at least a point to kick off the season matched the Avalanche record (since 1995-96) for the longest stretch to begin a career.

”He’s a guy that’s just so naturally talented,” Cole said. ”His maturity level is well beyond his years. He’s very analytical in the sense that when he sees something, we can talk through something and you can almost see him learning. He can catalog that.

”If I’m right in that assessment, he’s going to be very, very good very quickly and for a very long time.”

Last April, Makar signed an entry contract with Colorado after his Frozen Four run with UMass came to an end (he won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top NCAA hockey player).

His first contest in an Avs sweater was Game 3 against the Western Conference’s top seed, Calgary. He made an immediate impact by becoming the first defenseman in league history to score a goal while making his NHL debut in the playoffs. Makar ended up with one goal and five assists in the postseason.

That jumpstarted his career. But it doesn’t lessen his learning curve, he maintained, through his first regular season.

”It’s just adjusting – whether it’s to the lifestyle or just the game schedule. Everything is different here,” said Makar, whose new place is within walking distance of most of his teammates. ”You have a lot more free time. It’s filling those times with useful stuff that’s going to help you. … It’s your job to worry about this.”

A little bit ago, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar sat down with his young defenseman after not seeing quite the same version of Makar he saw in the playoffs. They went over a few things – using his skating to work his way out of tough situations inside the ”D” zone and taking off if he sees openings in the neutral zone.

No need to tell him twice.

”He’s really implemented it in his game, and really bounced back in a hurry,” Bednar said. ”I feel really comfortable with where his game’s at.”

The Buzzer: Bruins blow big lead; Troubling Crosby report

Getty Images
4 Comments

Uh oh

The Athletic’s Rob Rossi reports (sub required) that Sidney Crosby is considering undergoing surgery for a sports hernia, among other treatment options.

Rossi reports that Crosby recently aggravated the injury, but it was something that had been bothering throughout 2019-20. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ host of injuries explained why Crosby didn’t undergo a procedure sooner.

If Crosby undergoes such a surgery, Rossi explains that the typical recovery window is four-to-six weeks, although Crosby’s been told it may only sideline him for a month. There are other possibilities to try to avoid surgery, as Rossi outlines, although delaying the inevitable could lead to aggravating the issue again.

Personally, I’d bite the bullet and have Crosby go under the knife now, rather than risking losing him during an even more important time of the year. We’ll see how it goes, whether Crosby opts for surgery or tries alternate options. It doesn’t seem like the rosiest update overall, though.

Three Stars

1. Andrew Werner, Colorado Avalanche

This post goes into greater detail, but in short, Werner made his NHL debut after Pavel Francouz was injured seconds into Tuesday’s game against the Jets. Not only did the 22-year-old Werner win for Colorado, he also stopped all 40 of Winnipeg’s shots on goal.

Technically, Werner won’t get a shutout, as Francouz started the contest and played for about one minute. It was a functional shutout in every other way, though — Werner even stopped all eight of Patrik Laine‘s shots on goal — so he nabs the top star of Tuesday.

2. Nathan MacKinnonalso of the Colorado Avalanche

… Unless you think his teammate is more deserving.

With Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog still on the shelf, MacKinnon showed that he can still generate high-level offense, as he factored into all four Avalanche goals (2G, 2A).

It’s been a little all-or-nothing for MacKinnon lately. Along with Tuesday’s four points, he also generated a four-point game (1G, 3A) on Nov. 7. Yet, in three of his five most recent games, MacKinnon was held pointless. Eight points in five games still rocks, mind you, but maybe that feast-or-famine pattern shows where MacKinnon might miss his partners in crime.

Either way, it’s been a superstar-status-affirming start to 2019-20, as MacKinnon has 11 goals and 26 points in 18 games.

3. Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers

The Panthers missed out on a Mike Hoffman power-play opportunity when the lights went out temporarily in Boston, and to make matters worse, were behind 4-0 during the third period. Instead of folding, Florida scored four goals during that third period, then beat the Bruins 5-4 via a shootout.

Yandle played a big role in that rally (1G, 2A). The high-scoring defenseman collected primary assists on two Panthers goals, and also scored the goal that sent the game to overtime.

There were other players who generated three points on Tuesday, including Yandle’s teammate, Jonathan Huberdeau. The importance of Yandle’s goal, or primary nature of Yandle’s assists, made his night stand out, though. (Huberdeau’s assists were secondary, and Tanner Pearson‘s goal was an empty-netter, as two examples. Oh, and Huberdeau is now tied for first in Panthers history with 249 assists, alongside Stephen Weiss.)

Highlight of the Night

Brendan Lemieux‘s tremendous pass + Kaapo Kakko‘s great move to finish things off for a goal already received plenty of attention, but sorry, it’s the clip of the night.

Factoids

  • Tuesday marked just the third time in Bruins history where an opponent tied the game after Boston carried a four-goal lead into the third period, via Mike Biergard of the NHL. The Bruins lost 7-6 in OT to the Maple Leafs in 1989, and won 5-4 against the Kings in 1981.
  • From the Panthers’ perspective:

  • Erik Karlsson was another player who authored a three-point game, generating three assists as San Jose beat Edmonton. That’s his 37th three-point game, the most of any defenseman since Karlsson entered the league in 2019-20, via NHL PR.
  • One more from NHL PR: Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar joins Larry Murphy (Kings, 1980-81) as the only two rookie defensemen to generate at least one point in 14 of their first 18 regular season games.

Scores

FLA 5 – BOS 4 (SO)
MTL 3 – CBJ 2 (SO)
NYR 3 – PIT 2 (OT)
ARI 3 – STL 2 (SO)
COL 4 – WPG 0
VAN 5 – NSH 3
DET 4 – ANA 3 (OT)
LAK 3 – MIN 1
SJS 6 – EDM 3

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

The Buzzer: Capitals lead the NHL; Slim to Nilsson

Getty Images
1 Comment

Three Stars

1. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

There were a handful of strong goaltending performances again on Saturday, and you can even gripe about the placement of stars here, as Greiss didn’t have the most saves in stopping 37 out of 38 shots on goal.

Greiss might have been asked to do the most of any winning goalie, though.

Not only was there no margin of error, as the Islanders beat the Panthers 2-1, but Greiss faced a mixture of quality and quantity against the Cats. According to Natural Stat Trick, Greiss faced 20 high-danger scoring chances, and the Panthers’ expected goals were at 4.41. To hold the Panthers to one goal – and only on the power play – is another great night of work for a goalie who probably deserves more hype at this point.

2. Anders Nilsson, Ottawa Senators

If you look at the bare stats alone, Nilsson had a “better” night than Greiss, allowing one goal on 39 SOG (38 to 37 saves).

We can debate Nilsson’s Saturday vs. Greiss’ Saturday, yet it’s getting tougher to reasonably argue which goalie should be starting for Ottawa — at least if the Senators don’t want to merely tank. Nilsson is now on a three-game winning streak, and his save percentage is up to a splendid .930. He’s shown some signs of being a well-above-average backup goalie for a little while now, especially since joining the Senators.

All due respect to Craig Anderson‘s tremendous accomplishments, particularly helping them come within an OT goal of advancing to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, but times haven’t been great for the veteran goalie. Anderson’s save percentage is a rough .897 this season, and he’s been putting up replacement-level numbers since 2017-18.

Frankly, tanking might be the best option for Ottawa, so theoretically they could merely split starts for at least a while. If this continues, they won’t be able to get away with even a platoon for a whole lot longer, though.

3. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals, or pick your favorite two-point night

Pointing to Kuznetsov’s goal and assist is a way of moving up the Capitals’ winning streak in the “batting order,” if you will.

The funny thing about the Islanders’ remarkable 10-game winning streak (and their still-active point streak of 12 games) is that, if you were looking at the standings, you might have thought “Huh, but the Capitals are still ahead.” That’s because Washington’s been almost as hot, and with a win on Saturday, the Caps are now at 29 standings points. Which means they’re leading the NHL.

Death, taxes, Capitals winning their division.

Nicklas Backstrom also had two goals in that win, but his was an empty-netter, so Kuznetsov feels like the safer choice. There are plenty of other options for star three, even if you limit your choices to skaters, including Cale Makar and Patrick Maroon, who both scored two goals.

Highlight of the Night

I didn’t mention Shea Weber yet, because one of his two goals earns highlight of the night consideration. If you want more on his night, there’s a fancy post for it and everything. Weber finished the night with two PPG to reach 101 for his career, the 11th most among defensemen in league history (or at least since the stat began being recorded).

Notable injuries

Factoids

Some might argue this package is the highlight of the night, then.

Scores

NYI 2 – FLA 1
TBL 5 – BUF 3
PHI 3 – TOR 2 (SO)
MTL 3 – LAK 2
OTT 4 – CAR 1
PIT 3 – CHI 2 (SO)
WSH 5 – VGK 2
MIN 4 – ARI 3
COL 4 – CBJ 2
STL 3 – CGY 2 (OT)
SJS 2 – NSH 1 (SO)

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

The Buzzer: Avalanche of goals; Vintage Lundqvist

Getty Images
2 Comments

Three Stars

1. The Avalanche offense, in general

It feels weird to hand this one to Nathan MacKinnon alone, as he did have the biggest night of any Av (one goal, three assists [two primary] for four points, a whopping 10 shots on goal), but MacKinnon also left the game with an upper-body injury that Colorado has to hope is minor.

Also, it’s difficult to choose between MacKinnon’s four-point game, heavy on assists, and Joonas Donskoi collecting his first career hat trick. As you’d expect with nine goals, including six goals in the span of eight minutes, plenty of Colorado players chipped in. Both Andre Burakovsky and Cale Makar enjoyed one-goal, two-assists performances, for instance.

So let’s just give that entire group the kudos.

The third of Donskoi’s goals was especially pretty:

2. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Couture matched MacKinnon, actually, with one goal and three assists (also two primary) for four points.

You might want to give Couture the nod over any single Avalanche player, as while Colorado’s onslaught eventually felt like stuffing yourself full at a buffet, the Sharks needed every bite.

San Jose finished the first period up 4-0, and ended the second with a 6-2 edge, yet the Wild managed to make it 6-5 with a three-goal final frame. Minnesota even did so while the Sharks had a strange set of power-play opportunities in the third, with a major slashing penalty to Ryan Hartman mixed with some others to … well, let’s just say San Jose had a great chance to kill any drama.

Couture’s four points ended up being crucial as the Sharks just barely won 6-5. Hey, if you have to work your way out of a sluggish start, sometimes you have to win ugly.

3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

There is a slew of strong three-point nights, even beyond the game mentioned above.

But let’s go with a vintage Lundqvist performance instead, shall we? Yes, the Hurricanes eventually scored two goals, but Thursday presented a classic night where Hank was King again.

Lundqvist made 45 saves, and if you click over to all situations on Natural Stat Trick’s breakdown of the game, you’ll see that the Hurricanes generated a whopping 22 high-danger chances. The Hurricanes peppered Hank, yet he left Carolina salty with a loss.

Highlight of the Night

Chicago Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat shows that sometimes you can get the job done while falling down on the job:

The NHL’s YouTube page collected a bunch of OT goals from Thursday, too, if you need some more highlights:

Factoids

  • The Penguins halted the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, and did the same to the franchise’s record 15-game run in 1981-82. They’re the fourth team in NHL history to end two 10+ game winning streaks by the same franchise, via NHL PR. This post has more on the Penguins’ rally from behind 3-0 to beat the Isles in OT.
  • If you got to your seats (at an arena, or your couch) too late and missed the beginning of games, you were gambling on Thursday. Five different games began with a goal within the first 60 seconds, which ties a single-day league record, according to NHL PR.
  • Via Sportsnet: that J.T. Miller has scored at least one goal against all 31 NHL teams. Not bad for someone who’s still only 26.
  • Mike Babcock reached 700 wins, and Sportsnet notes that he’s the third-quickest to get to 700 W’s, doing so in 1,295 games. Ahead of Babcock: Joel Quenneville (1,281) and Scotty Bowman (1,192).

Scores

TOR 2 – VGK 1 (OT)
WSH 5 – FLA 4 (OT)
PIT 4 – NYI 3 (OT)
PHI 3 – MTL 2 (OT)
NYR 4 – CAR 2
OTT 3 – LAK 2 (OT)
CHI 5 – VAN 2
COL 9 – NSH 4
CGY 5 – NJD 4
CBJ 3 – ARI 2
SJS 6 – MIN 5

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Avs hold breath about MacKinnon after blowing out Predators

Getty Images

The Colorado Avalanche boast one of the best lines in the NHL, but right now, all three of those forwards are banged up.

Nathan MacKinnon‘s injury tarnished the Avs’ 9-4 blowout of the Nashville Predators on Thursday, and adds to a troubling trio of injuries, as the team was already dealing without Mikko Rantanen (week-to-week) and Gabriel Landeskog (out indefinitely).

While the Avalanche figure to be without Rantanen and Landeskog for some time, the hope is that MacKinnon’s upper-body injury won’t be major. The Athletic’s Ryan S. Clark reports that Colorado head coach Jared Bednar said MacKinnon was held out from the remainder of Thursday’s lopsided game for precautionary reasons. Could that mean that this won’t be major for MacKinnon? The Avs certainly have to hope so.

Clark also reports that defenseman Nikita Zadorov‘s status is unknown after suffering an upper-body injury of his own.

The Avalanche made big, bold investments in surrounding that super-line with other talent, and many of those players shined bright against the Predators.

MacKinnon actually had a tremendous game even though it was truncated, as the speedy center scored one goal and three assists for four points. He fired 10 SOG on Thursday, and seemed driven to score against the defending Central Division champs:

Key offseason addition Joonas Donskoi managed a hat trick, while both Andre Burakovsky and Cale Makar enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights.

Remarkably, the Predators were actually up 3-2 at the 4:55 mark of the second period, and then Colorado erupted with a ludicrous six goals in eight minutes:

As important as Landeskog and especially Rantanen is to that top line, MacKinnon is the biggest star on the Avs, and one of the NHL’s brightest overall. Colorado is better positioned to withstand another loss in 2019-20 than the Avs were in 2018-19, but the prospect of missing all three first-liners is daunting.

The Avalanche have to be crossing their fingers that further MacKinnon updates end up being as prominent as that “precautionary” word was.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.