Zdeno Chara

Wild’s Spurgeon 10 seasons into size-defying career

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The defining moment of Jared Spurgeon‘s hockey career came when he was just 13: His peewee coach in Edmonton moved him from forward to defenseman.

There was no going back for Spurgeon, even though he hasn’t grown much bigger since then. Minnesota’s 5-foot-9, 167-pound stalwart on the blue line has been defying size stereotypes ever since.

”I just fell in love with the position,” Spurgeon said.

The Wild have felt the same way about him over the last 10 seasons. The 30-year-old Spurgeon, who set career highs in games (82), goals (14), assists (29), shots (152) and hits (91) during the 2019-19 season, signed a seven-year, $53 million contract extension at the beginning of training camp.

Not bad for a sixth-round pick the New York Islanders ultimately declined to sign, paving the way for a tryout with the Wild two years after he was drafted.

”Probably the best in the NHL at breaking the puck out. Unbelievable on his edges. One of the smartest players in the game,” said Buffalo defenseman Marco Scandella, who played with Spurgeon in Minnesota for seven seasons. ”He’s got a lot of things in his toolbox, and he doesn’t even need the size.”

Spurgeon, who is halfway through an expected two-week absence for a hand injury sustained while blocking a shot, has ranked over the last four years in the top 20 among NHL defensemen in goals, power play goals, blocked shots and time on ice.

”That’s one of those players that you’re just like, ‘How?’ ” Scandella said. ”You just have to watch him over a season. Play with him, and you understand how good he is.”

The ability to skate – and pass – quickly will always be critical for a player with Spurgeon’s frame. Part of that is being fast enough to elude opponents, but it also means maximizing his power by maintaining leverage and balance for the moments when he does initiate or absorb contact.

”You don’t need to be huge and massive to be strong on your skates,” said St. Louis center Ryan O'Reilly, who faces Spurgeon frequently as a Central Division rival. ”You go in and forecheck, and he is so strong. It’s like going against a big guy.”

Awareness is just as important as fearlessness to succeed as a 5-foot-9 player, of course.

Spurgeon simply doesn’t get pushed around much because he’s rarely caught off guard by a big hit. The advantage of vision from the blue line, being able to see the plays develop in front of him, was one of the benefits that immediately drew Spurgeon to defense. He tried to emulate players who came before him like Brian Rafalski and Dan Boyle, sub-6-foot defensemen who were offensive threats but never a liability in their own zone.

”The emphasis of moving the puck and getting up ice and being able to contribute offensively as well is a whole lot different than it used to be, where maybe you had one of those guys before and a bunch of a big, mean guys,” Spurgeon said. ”But I think now the game is so fast that I think it gives the ability for smaller guys to play.”

According to Sportradar data, there are 41 defensemen who have appeared in at least one NHL game this season and are listed at 5-foot-11 or shorter. That number drops to 18 at 5-foot-10 or less and to six at 5-foot-9 and under.

In the 2005-06 season after the lockout, which brought rule changes to encourage more free-flowing action in the neutral zone and increase goal scoring, there were only 29 defensemen at 5-foot-11 or shorter, 11 at 5-foot-10 or less, and three at 5-foot-9 and under. Twenty years ago, there were fewer still: 22 players at 5-foot-11 or shorter, eight at 5-foot-10 or less, and just one at 5-foot-9 and under.

The Wild have two 5-foot-9 blue-liners with Spurgeon and Brad Hunt. Boston’s Torey Krug is another standout in the club. Those lanky veterans around the league like St. Louis’ Colton Parayko (6-foot-6), Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton (6-foot-6) and Boston’s Zdeno Chara (6-foot-9) have obvious advantages with reach and strength, but there’s plenty more to sound defense than being able to poke a stick at a puck.

”We have the quickness and the first two or three strides in order to close plays so that they don’t get the possession of the puck and move on. I think it’s just using our skating abilities,” Krug said. ”I think it’s been a long time coming, especially with the real changes in the way the game is trending. It’s funny, years ago to have one of those guys on your team, people kind of scoffed at that. Now we’ve got two and sometimes three in the lineup at once, and it creates really mobile back end.”

STREAKING

Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry had a franchise-record scoreless run of 177:15 that ended during a 4-1 loss to Montreal on Tuesday, just the second defeat in eight starts for the backup to Matt Murray. Jarry stopped 82 consecutive shots during the streak, the longest in the league this season.

SLUMPING

The Detroit Red Wings are sliding toward a four-year absence from the playoffs after the end of their famous 25-season streak of making it. The Red Wings are on a 12-game winless streak, going 0-10-2 since Nov. 12, and have the worst record in the NHL at 7-22-3. They’ve dropped 10 straight games in regulation by a 47-16 margin.

The Buzzer: Bruins end slump; Blackwood baffles Penguins

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Three Stars

1. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils

If the Devils are going to dig themselves out of the big hole they made to start 2019-20, it’s highly likely that Blackwood will be the goalie who helps them do it.

Lately, the 22-year-old has been rotating nice wins (.968 save percentage or higher in three victories) with tough losses (.889 or lower in three defeats). Friday represented one of the nicest wins yet, as he stopped 38 out of 39 of the Penguins’ shots to help the Devils steal a 2-1 decision.

Natural Stat Trick places the Penguins’ expected goals at 3.55, and their high-danger chances at 14 at all strengths, so Blackwood was the clear difference-maker in that narrow triumph.

2. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens

The Habs got revenge on the scoreboard after Alex Ovechkin landed that devastating hit on Jonathan Drouin, and Tatar was a big catalyst for that rally.

Yes, his goal was an empty-netter, but Tatar already had a top-three-worthy night when he piled up three assists. If you’d prefer his linemate Phillip Danault (1G, 2A, nothing on that ENG), that’s fine, too. Being boiling up some righteous indignation, the plus side of Drouin getting shaken up might be that Claude Julien went back to Tatar, Danault, and Brendan Gallagher as a line ever so briefly. Via Natural Stat Trick, they generated two five-on-five goals for in just 42 seconds of TOI together. Piping-hot take: maybe keep them with each other a little bit longer?

Overall, Tatar was an absurd possession beast on Friday, generating a ridiculous 80% Fenwick Four. By any measure, he was spectacular, and there’s a compelling case for Tatar being placed above Blackwood as the top star of the night.

3. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Attempting to defense the Bruins’ top line must be agonizing, as Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak just bring so many strengths to the table. It might be especially frustrating to try to contain Marchand, though.

Not only will he trash talk you (and back it up), but he’s also very smart and elusive, finding openings even when there’s just a bit of space to work with. Marchand played a big role in Boston ending its winning streak, and also extending Toronto’s torment, by scoring two goals, including the game-winner.

But, yeah, that troll game is also there.

Highlight of the Night

Zach Werenski had been off to a bit of a slow start scoring-wise for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, but the 22-year-old is gaining some serious steam lately. Werenski scored the overtime game-winner for Columbus on Friday, extending his goal streak to three games (three goals, one assist).

(Some might vote for the Ovechkin hit as the clip of the night, though.)

Factoids

  • Via NHL PR: Zdeno Chara became the fourth defenseman in NHL history aged 42 or older to generate a three-game point streak. Chris Chelios has done it twice, and holds the best run with a four-game tear. The other two (Doug Harvey, Tim Horton) make it quite the list.
  • Another aging defenseman stat from NHL PR: Shea Weber became the third active NHL defenseman to generate at least a five-game point streak at age 34 or older. Chara did it in 2011-12, while Mark Giordano has two streaks of seven games. Weber also scored his 209th goal, placing him 18th all-time among NHL defensemen, via Sportsnet.
  • Saucy one from Sportsnet: the Maple Leafs and Oilers have the same point percentage (.531) in 64 games since Jan. 1, and Edmonton actually has one more win (30 to 29).

Scores

BOS 4 – TOR 2
NJD 2 – PIT 1
MTL 5 – WSH 2
CBJ 3 – STL 2 (OT)
OTT 2 – PHI 1

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: Stars to retire Zubov’s number; NHL hydration techniques

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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.

• No Dallas Star will ever wear No. 56 again as the team announced they will retire Sergei Zubov’s number sometime next season. [Stars]

• The Blues have signed Jamie McGinn and Troy Brouwer to tryout contracts to see if they can wait on calling up prospects. [Post-Dispatch]

Connor Hellebuyck is carrying a large load for the Jets this season. [TSN]

Patrick Kane is scoring and that’s a much-needed boost for the Blackhawks. [NBC Sports Chicago]

• Looking for reasons why the Lightning offense is off to a slow start? Start with their stars. [Raw Charge]

• How Sidney Crosby reshaped the NHL in his image. [Sportsnet]

• If the Sabres are looking to add a forward, they should start with Tyler Toffoli of the Kings. [Die by the Blade]

• Interesting look at the various hydration techniques of NHL players. [Boston Herald]

• It doesn’t look promising for the Blue Jackets’ chances of turning around their slow start. [Yahoo]

• What Zdeno Chara, Jay Bouwmeester and 1,500 games tells us about longevity and the Hockey Hall of Fame. [The Hockey News]

• Rico Phillips’ life has changed since he was named winner of the 2019 Willie O’Ree Award. [NHL.com]

• Barry Trotz is ready to see what’s next with Oliver Wahlstrom. [Islanders Insight]

• Finally, there were a trio of beautiful goals over the last few days outside of the NHL. First up, Jayden Davis of the SJHL’s Estevan Bruins with some magic:

Next, Adrian College’s Dean Balsamo spins and spins and scores:

Finally, Mike Sgarbossa of the Hershey Bears gets elected as Mayor of Dangle City:

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

A Duck x 1000: Ryan Getzlaf reaches career games milestone

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — If Ryan Getzlaf had spent his career in a cold-weather hockey hotbed instead of sunny Southern California, the profile of the Anaheim Ducks’ longtime captain might loom much larger over his era in the game.

Getzlaf is perfectly happy to make his mark by the beach, and it gets bigger every year.

Getzlaf played in the 1,000th game of a career spent entirely in Anaheim on Sunday, becoming the first player in the history of this 26-year-old club to hit the mark.

The playmaking center celebrated his latest milestone in front of the family and fans who understand what he means to the city and its team. The Ducks’ game against the Chicago Blackhawks also was the 2,000th in franchise history, meaning Getzlaf had been their man in the middle for exactly half of all the games they’ve played since 1993.

”I’ve been here a long time, and it was a very warm welcome,” Getzlaf said afterward. ”I was a little emotional during the game. It was a little bit embarrassing. I’m not very good at those things, but it was great to see the family and have everybody here.”

The 34-year-old Getzlaf has spent his whole adult life in Orange County, growing from a rambunctious Canadian prairie kid into a married father who doesn’t party quite so much anymore. His four children surprised him with a tribute video before his landmark game, and the Ducks played it again when they held a pregame ceremony to honor the achievement before his 1,001st game Tuesday against Minnesota.

His parents also came into town from Saskatchewan to celebrate a milestone in a career that doesn’t appear to be slowing, even as it hits four digits.

”I think it has been a great privilege for everyone around here watching that young man grow up,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. ”He has been given much by the organization, and he has given everything that he has back.”

Getzlaf has been with the Ducks since they were still Mighty: He cracked the lineup in 2005 as a 20-year-old with a full head of luxurious hair alongside Corey Perry, his fellow member of the ’03 draft class and his perennial linemate.

Perry played in 988 games with Anaheim, but injuries and declining performance led to his departure for Dallas during the summer. Getzlaf is still in town and going strong.

Getzlaf has been a productive offensive player from his rookie season, emerging as one of hockey’s best passers while leading a series of elite playoff teams. He won the Stanley Cup in 2007, and the Ducks have been a consistent contender ever since, making the playoffs 11 times in his 14 seasons. He led Anaheim to two Western Conference finals during a string of five straight Pacific Division titles from 2013-17.

He even became the essential face of the franchise after the retirement of beloved forward Teemu Selanne in 2014. Getzlaf has handled it all with a growing maturity, but few concessions to age in his game.

Getzlaf is the 53rd player in NHL history to appear in his first 1,000 games with one team, and the eighth active player on that list.

Getzlaf scored his 934th career point with an assist against Chicago. Selanne is the Ducks’ career scoring leader with 988 points, but Getzlaf seems likely to add that record to his Anaheim trophy cabinet as well.

”Being able to play a game for a living is a pretty big honor and a responsibility,” Getzlaf said. ”I owe to it to myself and to my family to play as well as I can for as long as I can.”

CHARA’S MILESTONE

Getzlaf wasn’t the only NHL veteran rolling over zeros on his career odometer recently: Zdeno Chara, the Boston Bruins’ 42-year-old captain, played in his 1,500th career game in Montreal on Tuesday night.

Canadiens fans honored the moment with a significant ovation – which is about as good as it will ever get for one of their home team’s longest-running antagonists.

Chara is the 21st player and sixth defenseman – including former Bruins captain Ray Bourque – in NHL history to reach 1,500 games. The 6-foot-9 Slovak joins Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton as the only active players to hit the mark.

”It’s a lot of games, (but) obviously I’m feeling very humble about it,” he told reporters in Montreal. ”I’ve been very lucky, and I’m very grateful I’ve been able to be in the right place at the right time, and get to know some very special people along the way.”

Chara made his NHL debut with the Islanders in November 1997 – a month before the birth of his current blue line partner, Charlie McAvoy. Chara has been Boston’s captain since 2006, and he won the Norris Trophy in 2009 and the Stanley Cup in 2011.

Chara has no interest in retiring anytime soon, and he is still in Boston’s top defensive pairing. He is likely to hit 1,000 career games with the Bruins near the midway point of this season.

”I love this game,” he said. ”The game gave me so much. I just enjoy every day, being along with my teammates and go out there and perform. I just love competing, and I have extreme passion for the sport.”

PEKKA PERSEVERES

Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (8-0-2) became the first goalie in NHL history to post a season-opening point streak of 10 or more games at age 36 or older. Rinne turned 37 years old last Sunday, and he continues to put up superb numbers in his 12th full season in the league.

A good chunk of Rinne’s success should go toward defensemen Roman Josi (5-11-16) and Ryan Ellis (2-13-15), who have become the sixth pair of teammate defensemen since 1991-92 to produce a point-per-game pace through their first 15 contests. Josi, who just got a $72.8 million contract extension to stay in Nashville, has put up five goals and 11 assists, while Ellis has two goals and 13 assists.

The Buzzer: Tkachuk leads another Flames comeback; Faksa keeps Stars rolling

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Three Stars

1. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames. A little less than a week ago Tkachuk helped the Flames complete a pretty improbable comeback in Nashville by scoring the game-tying goal late in the third period and then winning it in overtime. He had a similar night on Tuesday, helping the Flames erase a two-goal deficit late in the third period against Arizona. He scored his eighth goal of the season to bring the Flames to within one, a goal that was followed by Mark Giordano‘s game-tying goal less than a minute later. That set the stage for Tkachuk to score another overtime winner. Opponents may hate him, but he is turning into a star.

2. Radek Faksa, Dallas Stars. Don’t look now, but the Stars are starting to put things together. After winning just one of their first nine games — and looking ugly in the process — the Stars have now won seven of their past eight games and are back to .500 on the season. They continued that surge on Tuesday with a 4-1 win over a banged up Colorado Avalanche team. Faksa was the offensive star of the night with a pair of goals.

3. Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights. Smith provided all the offense for the Golden Knights in a 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring both goals to give him nine on the season. It helped the Golden Knights snap out of a mini funk that had seem them lose four of their previous six games.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • Victor Mete scored two goals for the Montreal Canadiens in their win over the Boston Bruins. He scored one goal in his career entering the night. Read more about it here.
  • Carter Hart needed a big performance and he gave the Philadelphia Flyers one on Tuesday, stopping 33 out of 34 shots in a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
  • Patrick Marleau has scored three goals since re-joining the San Jose Sharks. All three of them have come against the Chicago Blackhawks. He scored another one on Tuesday in their dominant 4-2 win. Read all about it here.
  • Nico Hischier scored his second goal of the season and Nikita Gusev tallied a goal in the shootout to help the New Jersey Devils get a much-needed win against the Winnipeg Jets.

Highlights of the Night

The Islanders won their 10th game in a row on Tuesday and the highlight of the night had to be Cole Bardreau scoring his first career goal on a penalty shot. Read all about the Islanders’ win here.

This could qualify as a both a blooper and a highlight, but we are going to focus on the highlight here as the Blues continue their great play by finishing a 3-on-0 rush in overtime, made possible by two Canucks players colliding at the other end of the ice.

One of the best plays in hockey is the perfectly time breakaway out of the penalty box. Mats Zuccarello is the lucky recipient of it here in the Minnesota Wild’s 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

Blooper of the Night

Fortunately for John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs they were able to beat the Los Angeles Kings, but this shot in his first game back was not what he wanted.

Factoids

  • San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau became the sixth player in NHL history to skate in 800 consecutive games in their 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. [NHL PR]
  • Bardreau is just the seventh player in NHL history to score their first career goal on a penalty shot. [NHL PR]
  • Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara skated in his 1,500th NHL game. [NHL PR]

Scores

New York Islanders 4, Ottawa Senators 1
Philadelphia Flyers 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1
Vegas Golden Knights 2, Columbus Blue Jackets 1
Montreal Canadiens 5, Boston Bruins 4
Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Los Angeles Kings 1
New Jersey Devils 2, Winnipeg Jets 1
Dallas Stars 4, Colorado Avalanche 1
Calgary Flames 4, Arizona Coyotes 3 (OT)
St. Louis Blues 2, Vancouver Canucks 1 (OT)
Minnesota Wild 4, Anaheim Ducks 2
San Jose Sharks 4, Chicago Blackhawks 2

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.