Much to the Edmonton Oilers’ chagrin, Milan Lucic isn’t the all-encompassing threat he once was. To be more precise, he’s not exactly the type who will score enough to justify his $6 million cap hit very often these days.
Lucic is still an enormous human, however, and sometimes you get a taste of what made him such a menacing presence in the past. Sunday stood as one of those examples, as Lucic delivered a thunderous check on Calgary Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic, then went toe-to-toe with Anthony Peluso in what seemed like a pretty even fight.
(You can watch it all in the video above.)
If you’re around an old-school type, you’ll probably overhear something about how this fight somehow propels the Oilers to victory rather than Ken Hitchcock’s patented “Connor McDavid scores the only goal” formula. Lucic kindly obliged following his first scrap of 2018-19:
"It's what Hitch says, playing for each other rather than with each other & doing all the little things that matter." Lucic on the #Oilers building their identity over recent 7-2-1 stretch pic.twitter.com/17gj1PHAnm
Either way, the Oilers snagged a 1-0 win against the Flames, and Lucic looked like a beast, at least for that stretch. It hasn’t always been pretty, yet Edmonton will take it, especially when “it” qualifies as a win against their nearby rivals.
It would appear that injuries are pilling up on Pacific Division teams to start the season, and it’s a who’s who when it comes to names.
The latest is a lower-body injury for Los Angeles Kings starting goalie Jonathan Quick, who is listed as day-to-day with the ailment.
The injury reportedly happened at practice, and backup Jack Campbell has already been named the starter for Los Angeles’ game on Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Campbell has proven to be a capable replacement, going 2-0-2 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in four starts last season.
The Kings are already without Dustin Brown, who sustained a broken finger in the preseason and needed surgery to repair it.
Jumbo Joe, 39, is dealing with swelling in his right knee, which was surgically repaired after he tore his ACL and MCL last season. Thornton has had catastrophic injuries to both of his knees now in the past two years. Despite his age, he’s been averaging around 16 minutes a night with the talent-laden Sharks this season.
The Anaheim Ducks received more bad news on Sunday after it was revealed that Ryan Getzlaf is day-to-day lower-body injury after leaving Saturday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes. Getzlaf joins a growing list of walking wounded in Anaheim, with Corey Perry, Patrick Eaves, Ryan Kesler and Ondrej Kase all sidelined.
Despite what seems like some big holes in the Ducks’ lineup, Anaheim is 2-0 to start the season. John Gibson grabbed his first shutout of the campaign in a 1-0 win Saturday.
The Coyotes have been woeful to start the season, having yet to register a goal in their first two games.
Injuries have played a role in that, too, of course.
Dillon Dube didn’t see Erik Gudbranson coming, which resulted in the Calgary Flames rookie getting drilled by the Vancouver Canucks defenseman during Wednesday night’s opener. That led to a scrum, which later led to Travis Hamonic sticking up for his teammate later in the game.
The kid was certainly appreciative of Hamonic.
“It shows how big of a leader (Hamonic) is,” Dube said afterward. “I can’t thank him enough for what he did. When you do that for a teammate, it means a lot. That’s the presence he has. I was even nervous to go talk to him, because I didn’t know if he’d be mad at me for having to go fight. He was really happy about it. He was proud. I can’t say enough about that leadership.
“That really makes me feel welcome in the room when somebody will go and do that for me.”
The good news is that Dube was fine. Now the bad news.
As you see, Hamonic took an upper-cut that ended the fight. He would go get checked out and return to play the remainder of the game sporting protection around his mouth. The defenseman didn’t participate in Thursday’s practice and the Flames announced that he suffered a facial fracture and is considered “week-to-week.”
Rasmus Andersson has been recalled from AHL Stockton.
This will put a hold on the developing chemistry between Hamonic and Noah Hanifin and impact the team’s No. 1 penalty kill unit. It almost might reignite — in some corners — the fighting debate, and in an instance like this, with a clean, hard hit, was Hamonic’s defense of the rookie a smart move now considering the injury?
The decision certainly had an impact inside the Flames’ locker room given the comments of Dube and others. That culture still exists in hockey, and while fighting overall may be exiting the game slowly, instances like this won’t go away anytime soon.
1. Auston Matthews: With a booming shot to tie the game up 1-1, Matthews made a compelling argument that he probably deserved more reps on the Maple Leafs’ power play unit all along. In overtime, Matthews took a great feed from Patrick Marleau and scored the overtime game-winner.
Matthews certainly wants to be more than this, but if an Austin Powers nickname doesn’t work (Ron Howard: “It doesn’t), then “Mr. Opening Night” could at least be a good placeholder for the American forward.
With a contract year providing that extra bit of human nature motivation, and hopefully a clean bill of health this season, Matthews could put together a truly massive 2018-19 season.
He’s already shown that he has a knack for making great first impression, as tonight’s two-goal performance inspires inevitable comparison to Matthews making NHL history with four goals in his first game. Sure, he scored half as many goals, yet the Maple Leafs won this time around.
Also, if you’re into this sort of thing: Matthews: 2, John Tavares: 1.
2. John Gibson: Opening night featured quite a few similar performances for goalies. You could make a legitimate argument for any one of Frederik Andersen and Jacob Markstrom enjoyed very similar nights, propping up their teams during moments of duress.
Gibson justified his status as something of a critical darling with a night like this, largely stealing this game against a loaded Sharks team. He stopped 31 out of 33 shots, and both of San Jose’s goals were brilliant. It seemed like they needed to be.
Via Natural Stat Trick, the Sharks generated a 14-2 advantage in “high-danger” chances, but it didn’t matter. Gibson was that good.
Kuznetsov didn’t just stand out for scoring two goals (including a 2-0 tally that really started to dig the hole for Boston). The Russian center was a consistent nuisance for the Bruins, nearly netting a hat trick while firing five shots on goal.
As much as people wonder about Washington’s chances to repeat, consider that Kuznetsov generated 83 points last season, and might just be able to do that, well, back-to-back.
Highlight of the Night: Goodness gracious, Tomas Hertl scored a ridiculous shorthanded goal for the San Jose Sharks. It wasn’t enough to earn the Sharks a win or even a “charity point,” but it dropped jaws all the same.
It seems like the Canucks might be the Auston Matthews of NHL teams … at least when it comes to opening night. Elias Pettersson made quite the rookie first impression in his own right, collecting a goal and an assist.