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More feuds, more personality means more fun for NHL

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For all we know, it might take decades for hockey players to totally shake off their generic “aw shucks” mentalities. Maybe it will never fully happen.

That said, it sure seems like we’re seeing a rise in trash talks, brutally honest conversations, and examples of bigger personalities during this goal-happy start to the new NHL season. The latest incident involves Lars Eller, Nazem Kadri, “bulletin board material,” the Leafs, Capitals, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. So, yes, it’s pretty entertaining.

To catch you up to speed, Eller half-dismissed the rising Maple Leafs after they beat his Capitals 4-2 on Saturday, as NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti reported:

“We’re used to playing against Crosby and Malkin,” Eller said. “Everything kind of drops from there, so it’s not that special.”

While Eller added that the Maple Leafs are “a good team” and that he thinks Toronto would make the playoffs, Nazem Kadri didn’t take those comments kindly.

“Bulletin board material,” Kadri said on Monday, via NHL.com’s Dave McCarthy. “I don’t know how he can be serious with that comment. I understand they’re coming off hanging a banner, but you’ve got to give teams respect that have earned it, and I certainly think we’ve earned it.”

Juicy stuff, right?

Here’s a request: teams and players shouldn’t be so stuffy. Instead of getting tense in the shoulders about “respect,” it would be a lot more fun for fans if there were more comments like those of Ellers, and if personalities continue to surface.

Now, don’t get this totally twisted. NHL players aren’t going to rival the NBA when it comes to gloriously flamboyant behavior, at least not yet. It’s fitting that Eller was already walking back his comments on the Maple Leafs, as Gulitti notes today:

Sure, it’s possible that people got a little carried away with Eller’s comments … but who does it really hurt?

OK, so maybe Eller himself was recently bloodied by Brad Marchand for showing some personality following a goal, so you can understand why he might want to pump the brakes a bit here:

Let’s not forget that, while there’s a lot on the line in the NHL, this is still about entertainment.

Thankfully, this latest crop of hockey players – particularly stars – are opening up in ways that are keeping us laughing and sometimes egging on a fight like a crowd watching high schoolers slap each other. And it’s great.

Consider the recent flourishes we’ve enjoyed:

Matthews’ fashion sense generates memes that are almost as fun as watching him score ridiculous goals.

  • Do the Hurricanes have a name for this celebration yet? “The Carolina Climb” doesn’t have the same ring to it (or the same accuracy) as “The Lambeau Leap.” Either way, it’s a fun celebration; it also shows that elder statesmen can get it on the fun, as apparently this is the masterwork of Justin Williams:

(And you thought the team undergoing “Team Grit” and “Team Grind” practices couldn’t have fun.)

  • The Ryan JohansenRyan Kesler feud hasn’t resulted in a parking lot brawl … yet. The real highlight is Johansen’s adorably weak smack talk, to be frank.
  • Patrik Laine is just about as quick with quips as he is releasing shots. The highlight might be the jab he sent Vancouver’s way regarding “Fortnite” habits, as PHT’s own Scott Billeck reported on Oct. 3:

Good stuff, and this list is really just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve already seen Connor McDavid embrace his funny side with commercials and that meme-generating awkward airport photo. Matthews isn’t the only Maple Leafs youngster who can take and/or dish out jokes, as we saw from those cheesy Mitch Marner as a child barbs.

Maybe this all boils down to a more social media-savvy, meta generation of hockey players. On the other hand, we all might need to step up our games to even briefly wrestle the attention away from Gritty.

Whatever the case may be, let’s hope these moments of personality become a consistent part of hockey fandom, and – if we’re really lucky – crop up even more often.

If this is just a brief wave before we land back into blandness, at least it’s been a good run.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Pastrnak’s rise to superstardom; Gritty now in costume form

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

William Nylander hasn’t asked for a trade nor have the Maple Leafs been shopping him. (Sportsnet)

• An inside look at the Calgary Flames’ decision between Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm at the 2013 NHL Draft. (Calgary Sun)

• Minnesota Vikings receiver Adam Thielen sported Anaheim Ducks-inspired cleats this weekend. (NHL.com)

• Can you guess who leads the NHL at 24 minutes a night? (Edmonton Journal)

David Pastrnak coming into his own as a superstar in the NHL. (Metro US)

• Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brett Connolly’s failed fist bump is the NHL’s GIF of the year. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

Tyler Seguin talks misconceptions about some of the NHL’s most controversial players. (SportsDay)

• Gritty is now a Halloween costume because of course he is. (NHL.com)

• NHL players come from all ends of the earth. Here’s a breakdown. (The Hockey News)

Austin Watson and his curious case. (Toronto Star)

• Ottawa Senators veterans opening their homes to the team’s future. (Ottawa Sun)

Lars Eller doesn’t believe in the Maple Leafs. (TSN.ca)

Frederik Andersen is doing something he doesn’t normally do: get off to a good start. (Toronto Star)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Capitals, Golden Knights on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues as the Washington Capitals host the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday Night Hockey at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

The Golden Knights continue their five-game road trip Wednesday without the services of Paul Stastny. The center suffered a lower-body injury Monday in Buffalo and will miss at least the next three games. He’ll be re-evaluated after that, said head coach Gerard Gallant.

Cody Eakin, who’s yet to play this season, will enter the lineup vs. the Capitals.

While the hype around this game will be that it’s a Stanley Cup Final rematch, the Golden Knights aren’t looking into the past.

“One thing is that we have to stop talking about last year,” said forward Jonathan Marchessault. “It’s a new year now. Last year is over. It’s a new team.”

The Capitals, meanwhile, have had an interesting start to their Cup defense, winning their opener 7-0 over the Boston Bruins and then dropping a 7-6 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins the following night. Washington’s franchise record for goals through the first three games of a season is 17, set in 1988-89. The NHL record for most goals through the first three games of a season is 27, set by the Toronto Arenas in the League’s inaugural season of 1917-18; the modern-era record (since 1943-44) is 25, set by the Montreal Canadiens in 1975-76.

As Eakin returns for Vegas, Michal Kempny is expected to make his season debut for the Capitals after suffering a concussion during the preseason. Dmitrij Jaskin is also expected in for Washington after being claimed on waivers from the St. Louis Blues.

What: Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.
When: Wednesday, October 10th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Golden Knights-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Jonathan Marchessault – William KarlssonReilly Smith
Max PaciorettyErik HaulaTomas Nosek
Ryan Carpenter – Cody Eakin – Oscar Lindberg
William CarrierPierre-Edouard BellemareRyan Reaves

Shea TheodoreDeryk Engelland
Brayden McNabbColin Miller
Jon MerrillNick Holden

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

CAPITALS
Alex OvechkinEvgeny KuznetsovBrett Connolly
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Andre BurakovskyLars EllerChandler Stephenson
Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic DowdDevante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Wednesday Night Hockey: Golden Knights, Capitals meet in Stanley Cup rematch

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 regular season continues as the Washington Capitals host the Vegas Golden Knights at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday Night Hockey. You can watch the game online by clicking here

We don’t have to wait very long to get a Stanley Cup rematch. Last year, the Capitals were able to put an end to the Golden Knights’ Cinderella-like run by eliminating them in just five games. Vegas managed to rattle off a big win in Game 1, but they eventually lost four straight. And that was it. The run was over. Winning tonight would probably be sweet, but it won’t make up for the fact that they didn’t get the job done last spring. So, yeah, this might be a “revenge” game for Vegas in a sense, but not really.

“I’m still not over it,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said, per NHL.com. “When you watch tapes of them celebrating and stuff, it still [stinks]. But it’s a new season, right? You start from scratch. Different year.”

Sure, the Golden Knights lost James Neal and David Perron in free agency, but in an attempt to be even better this season, they made an effort to improve their roster over the summer. They added Paul Stastny via free agency and they made a huge splash when they acquired Max Pacioretty from the Montreal Canadiens last month.

So far, all the changes have led to a 1-2 record through three games. It’s early. Pacioretty has scored once, while Stastny has been held pointless. You’d have to imagine that it’s only a matter of time before both newcomers start producing. We’ll see what kind of difference they’ll make on Wednesday.

As for the Capitals, this rematch is special for them too, apparently.

“I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s a little bit more special than playing some other team that you don’t have history with,” said Caps center Lars Eller, per NHL.com. “You do feel you have some kind of history with that team, especially because most of both teams are intact and looking very much the same. And it’s not that long ago.”

The Capitals, who are 1-0-1 this season, will be without forward Tom Wilson for this one. He’s serving the third game of a 20-game suspension. Wilson will be able to sit down with commissioner Gary Bettman for an appeal next week, but that won’t make him eligible to play in the rematch. Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt will also miss the game because of a suspension. He was suspended for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing substances policy.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Power Rankings: Wildest goal celebrations

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As we mentioned last week we are going to do something a little different with our Power Rankings during the 2018-19 season by mixing in a more fun and offbeat ranking every other week in between the true Power Rankings of all 31 teams.

This is the first week for a fun ranking and we are going to use the first week of the season as a bit of a jumping off point for them. What exactly happened over the first week of the season? Celebrations! Fun! Personality!

Professional sports are a business (a huge business, yes), but they are also at their core still very much a game whose sole purpose is to entertain us. Athletes are entertainers, and the games are more fun when they are doing things to … well … entertain us.

Just one week into the season we’ve already seen more of that than we usually see in an entire season, with Sunday being an especially big day for it with the Carolina Hurricanes introducing their new victory celebration and Auston Matthews taunting the United Center crowd after a late goal (only to have it answered by Patrick Kane mimicking the celebration).

More of this! More I say!

[Related: Hurricanes’ new victory celebration is pretty awesome]

With all of this in mind, let’s take a look back at some of the wildest NHL goal celebrations.

Some of these made people angry; all of them were fun … unless you happened to be a part of the team that allowed the goal.

1. Teemu Selanne goes skeet shooting with his glove

Teemu Selanne, one of the most prolific goal-scorers in NHL history, started his career with an all-time great performance in 1992-93 with a record-setting rookie season that saw him score 76 goals and record 132 total points for the Winnipeg Jets.

On March 3 of that season he broke Mike Bossy’s rookie goal record with a two-goal effort in a 7-4 loss to the Quebec Nordiques and his record-setting goal was capped off with one of the all-time great celebrations as he flung his glove in the air and pretended to use his hockey stick to … go skeet shooting?

Is it over the top? Sure. But is it also amazing? Hell yes it is.

2. Artem Anisimov starts a brawl

This one was just totally wild.

In December of the 2011-12 season the New York Rangers dropped an otherwise forgettable 3-2 shootout decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden. What made the game noteworthy wasn’t the result, but what happened in the second period when Rangers forward Artem Anisimov scored a shorthanded goal and then celebrated by pretending to shoot Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon, igniting a brawl on the ice that resulted in 36 combined penalty minutes, including 16 to Anisimov.

The great thing about this entire sequence is the Rangers were playing in the Winter Classic less than a month later against the Philadelphia Flyers, and because of that were being followed around by HBO’s cameras for the 24/7 documentary. This allowed us to get an up-close and uncensored look at what was said between the players, officials, and, of course, then-Rangers coach John Tortorella (watch all of that here but be warned there is some very not safe for work language in there)

3. Ilya Kovalchuk points at Sidney Crosby

This one might have been forgotten because it happened in Atlanta in a game featuring two teams that were, at the time, not very good, but it involved two of the biggest names in the modern era in Ilya Kovalchuk and Sidney Crosby.

The date: January 7, 2006.

At the time, Kovalchuk was the NHL’s most dominant goal-scorer and just entering his peak years as an offensive force. Crosby was the much hyped “next one” and in the middle of a dominant rookie season.

Kovalchuk was unhappy with the way Crosby was playing and a “stupid” penalty he had taken against Kovalchuk, and celebrated a power play goal by turning to the penalty box where Crosby was sitting and savagely pointing at him.

Kovalchuk did not stop delivering blows after the game, either, when he said of Crosby:

“He takes those stupid penalties all the time. He’s an 18 year old kid, and he can’t play like this. He starts yapping about his teammates in the newspapers … I don’t know, he should play really hard on the ice and keep it at that.”

The celebration itself is pretty understated, but it’s a level of taunting and “calling out” that you almost never see in hockey. And that’s what gets it in the top-three.

This incident was also mentioned by Penguins coach Michel Therrien after the Penguins’ following game when he went on his famous “I’ve never seen a team so soft” rant and lamented the fact that there wasn’t one guy (“not one guy…”) that did anything about it, except for “Maybe Max Talbot at the end … with about one second left … he’s about 5-foot-8.”

Just a remarkable sequence of events.

4. Sean Avery works out

Sean Avery was one of the NHL’s most notorious pests and trolls. His style was at times so outrageous that his actions actually forced the league to make a rule change during the playoffs (the Sean Avery rule).

Here he is in his early days with the Los Angeles Kings celebrating a bank-shot goal by dropping down to the ice and getting in a quick workout.

5. Alex Ovechkin‘s hot stick

It was the 2008-09 season and Alex Ovechkin, coming off of a 65-goal season the year before, hit the 50-goal mark for the third time in the first four years of his career.

Then he did this.

The Hot Stick.

Naturally, all of the usual suspects were angry about it, from the opponents to Don Cherry.

6. Tie Domi/Tiger Williams go for a ride

Former Vancouver Canucks forward Tiger Williams used to have some over the top celebrations during his playing days, with this one probably being the most noteworthy.

Tie Domi, during his days as a New York Ranger, brought it back.

7. Nail Yakupov goes wild

Nail Yakupov may not have panned out as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, but he did give Oilers fans some brief excitement in his rookie season when he scored a game-tying goal in the final seconds against the Los Angeles Kings and went sliding across the ice.

It was all very reminiscent of the next one on the list…

8. Theo Fleury’s slide

You are probably asking, Adam, you stupid idiot, why don’t you have the original version ahead of the cover version? 

My answer to that is simple: I feel like Yakupov’s was even more outrageous because it was a game-tying goal in some early regular season game that you have already forgotten about, while Fleury’s was an overtime winning goal in the playoffs. I feel like going that wild for a regular season game is just taking it to an entirely different level. It is natural to go wild when you score an overtime winner in the playoffs. But the regular season? In the first month of the season? No one does that.

9. Milan Hejduk goes for a swim

The Colorado Avalanche were one of the NHL’s powerhouse teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and Milan Hejduk was one of the cornerstone pieces of that team. On March 26 of that season he scored an overtime winner against the Dallas Stars and decided to celebrate by going for a swim across the ice.

This game was part of a season-ending eight-game winning streak for the Avalanche. They continued rolling through the first two rounds of the playoffs (winning eight out of 10 games against Arizona and long-time arch-rival Detroit) before running into the Stars in the Western Conference Final. The Stars would end up getting their revenge, eliminating the Avalanche in six games on their way to their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance.

The Avalanche would come back the next season to win their second Stanley Cup.

10. Marek Malk’s understated greatness

There is nothing really wild or outrageous about this celebration, and that is kind of what makes it great.

Marek Malik played more than 750 games in the NHL (regular season and playoffs) and managed to score just 35 goals during that time.

That is why it was so stunning that he ended up scoring one of the best shootout goals we have seen in the shootout era and he celebrated by … acting like it was no big thing and he had done it 1,000 times before that.

Honorable mention: Brad Marchand‘s fake Stanley Cup lift

This is not a goal celebration but I still wanted to include it because … just look at this.

That is Brad Marchand skating in front of the Vancouver Canucks bench and pretending to lift the Stanley Cup in front of them because, well, Marchand and the Bruins defeated the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in a pretty intense series.

It is also noteworthy because during the NHL’s opening night this season Marchand took exception to Capitals forward Lars Eller skating in front of the Bruins bench and celebrating a little too much and then proceeded to pummel him later in the game.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.