BUFFALO, N.Y. – Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft likes to compare watching Connor McDavid play to living at the foot of Mount Everest, and being almost numbed by taking in the spectacular scene on a daily basis.
That view turned breathtaking for Woodcroft and the Oilers on Monday night, in witnessing McDavid score twice to push his NHL-leading goal total to 54, and set a career high with 124 points in a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
“The finish was all-world,” Woodcroft said of McDavid scoring the go-ahead goal on the fly by beating Craig Anderson through the legs 3:23 into the third period, and less than two minutes after the Sabres tied the game at 2.
“I saw someone that was competitive right from the puck right from the puck drop,” he added. “Connor’s at a different evolutionary stage in his game right now, and I think everyone saw that here tonight.”
McDavid continued making a case to win his third Hart MVP Trophy in eight seasons with his 12th multi-goal game of the year. His 124 points in 65 games are one more than the career-best he set in 80 games last year, and McDavid extended his points streak to 11 games, in which the Oilers’ captain has 12 goals and 15 assists.
“Who’s more likely to make a big play than him?” asked teammate Zach Hyman in wonder. “He’s the best player in the world, and he’s pushing his own boundaries. He’s been driving the bus for a long time and continues to get better.”
Derek Ryan also scored and Stuart Skinner stopped 37 shots for the Oilers, who improved to 5-4-3 in their past 12, and bounced back from a 7-5 loss at Winnipeg on Saturday.
In dropping to 6-4 in its past 10, Buffalo continued its season-long struggles at home in losing five of its past seven.
Buffalo (32-26-4), in the midst of an NHL-worst 11-season playoff drought, failed to gain ground in a tight Eastern Conference race. The day began with four points separating the seventh-place New York Islanders, and ninth-place Buffalo, which was locked in a four-way tie with teams with 68 points.
Earlier in the day, Sabres coach Don Granato, declined to say whether he considered McDavid to be a step above everyone else in the league out of deference to his young stars. Afterward, Granato had no choice but to praise the Oilers’ captain, who scored twice on three shots on net.
“He’s got 50-plus for a reason, he doesn’t need many (shots),” Granato said. “He’s done that to lots of teams and goaltenders, and he was ready for his opportunities. That’s what makes him special.”
The Oilers (35-22-8) moved into a tie with Seattle for third in the Pacific Division.
After opening the scoring in the first period, McDavid scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period, shortly after Cozens tied the game.
Warren Foegele drove up the left wing to gain the Sabres zone and then spun to hit McDavid in stride cutting up the middle. McDavid veered to his left to get by defender Jacob Bryson, and snapped a shot in though Anderson’s legs.
It was McDavid’s ninth game-winning goal of the season, after he began the day in a four-way tie for second and one behind teammate Leon Draisaitl.
CHICAGO — Soaked with beer and still wearing his No. 8 jersey, Alex Ovechkin held three pucks in his right hand as he posed for a picture with the rest of the jubilant Washington Capitals in the visiting locker room at the United Center.
Three pucks that added up to 800.
Ovechkin became the third NHL player to reach 800 career goals when he scored three times, touching off a wild celebration for his team and an appreciative Chicago crowd.
“Soon as it happened, kind of relief,” Ovechkin said after Washington’s 7-3 win over the Blackhawks. “Kind of happiness in general.”
Ovechkin scored on his first two shots, beating Blackhawks goaltender Petr Mrazek 24 seconds into the game before stuffing one home on a power play with 11:46 left in the first period. The 37-year-old winger then completed his 29th career hat trick when he knocked Anthony Mantha‘s pass over a sprawled Mrazek 6:34 into the third.
“When he got the first goal today, I was like, `This is the night,”‘ teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov said.
The rest of the Capitals jumped off the bench to celebrate after the milestone goal, and hats rained down on the ice from the crowd of 16,181. Fans in Chicago then chanted “Ovi! Ovi!” – drawing a wave from Ovechkin.
The star forward moved within one goal of Gordie Howe for second all-time. Wayne Gretzky holds the record with 894 goals.
“It’s a big number,” Ovechkin said. “It’s the best company (you can) ever imagine since you started playing hockey.”
Ovechkin also praised the crowd for its response.
“Even in the warmup, I was feeling that energy right away,” he said. “The fans watch me and the fans want to see that historical moment.”
When it was over, Ovechkin jumped onto the ice one last time to salute the cheering fans. He then gave his stick to a boy wearing a Capitals jersey above the tunnel to the visiting locker room.
Shortly after he got to the back, he was showered with beer by his chanting teammates. Goaded into making a speech, Ovechkin said it was special to accomplish the feat with the team.
“It was awesome,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said. “It was just awesome to be on the bench and be a part of it, a part of history.”
Ovechkin has seven goals in his last four games and a team-high 20 on the season. His previous four goals were all empty-netters.
The Capitals play seven of their next nine at home.
“I think once he’s going to be No. 1 he can have a sense of relief,” Mantha said. “Until then, I think he’s on the hunt, and that’s what we love about him.”
Ovechkin has been one of the NHL’s most dangerous scorers practically since he got two goals in his debut with Washington on Oct. 5, 2005, against Columbus.
The 12-time All-Star has nine seasons with at least 50 goals, including a career-high 65 during the 2007-08 season. The three-time MVP, who won the Stanley Cup in 2018, had 50 goals and 40 assists in 77 games last season.
“It’s mind blowing,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. “How many guys can score goals at his rate in the season, let alone year after year after year? He’s one of a kind, for sure.”
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres signed coach Don Granato to a two-year contract extension, rewarding him for the team’s improvement in his first full season.
Granato had two years left on his existing contract and is now locked up through the 2025-26 season. He will make just under $2 million in each season of the extension, not including bonuses, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Sabres did not reveal the terms of the contract.
Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams praised the coach for developing a young core of players, including center Tage Thompson, who scored a career-best 38 goals last season.
“Don’s mentality of `earning it’ resonates throughout the team. It is more than just a mindset, it is a driving force for our players and staff,” Adams said in a statement. “He is someone who the players have a tremendous amount of respect for, and he dedicates himself to bettering each individual on the team.”
The 55-year-old Granato has a 41-55-14 record since taking over as Buffalo’s interim coach in March 2021 after Ralph Krueger was fired while the Sabres were in the midst of a franchise-worst 18-game skid. Granato became the full-time coach the following summer and guided the Sabres to a 32-39-11 record last season.
Though Buffalo missed the playoffs for an NHL-record 11th consecutive year, the team showed promise by closing with a 12-6-3 record to finish fifth in the Atlantic Division – matching the team’s best placing since finishing third in 2011-12.
Granato introduced an up-tempo attack and calmed his young players by insisting they play without fear of making mistakes.
Aside from Thompson’s jump in production, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin finished with career bests of 13 goals and 53 points. Veteran forward Jeff Skinner also enjoyed a resurgence. He finished with 33 goals and 63 points last season after struggling to find a niche under Krueger.
“He makes sure that you are confident,” Dahlin said in May. “He pushes you. He wants every single guy to succeed in there. You really feel that he has your back.”
The Sabres are rebuilding through youth after a year in which they traded away numerous veterans, including captain Jack Eichel, who was dealt to Vegas last November.
Buffalo, which opens the season at home against Ottawa on Thursday, also extended Adams’ contract last month.
Granato had extensive coaching and scouting experience, dating to 1993-94 with the USHL Wisconsin Capitols, before landing his first NHL head-coaching job with Buffalo. From Illinois, he is part of a well-known hockey family.
His sister Cammie is an assistant GM with the Vancouver Canucks and was among the first women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame after she captained the U.S. women’s team, which won a gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. His brother Tony played and coached in the NHL and is currently coaching at the University of Wisconsin.
Burns, Pacioretty trades give Hurricanes what they badly needed
The Carolina Hurricanes are no strangers to pulling off smart moves during the offseason — in free agency, and at the NHL Draft. So, to an extent, maybe this is business as usual. Yet, when you consider how aggressively — and brilliantly — they addressed goal-scoring issues by trading for Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty, this is one of the Hurricanes’ most exciting offseasons.
From a big-picture perspective, though, those losses don’t necessarily change the team’s trajectory. While the Hurricanes take on certain risks with both Burns and Pacioretty, those trades could be breakthrough moments for a team constantly knocking on the door to contention.
After falling to the Rangers in a tight series, Rod Brind’Amour acknowledged the possibility that the Hurricanes needed that extra bit of finish.
“Do we have elite goal scorers? Maybe not,” Brind’Amour said, via the Associated Press. “But we have great players. We’re built a little differently than some other teams. That’s OK. You’ve got to play to your strength.”
For years, the Hurricanes have consistently scored less goals than expected. They’ve often been doomed by a double-whammy: bad shooting luck mixed with goalies who gave up more than they seemingly should have.
Like diligent craftsmen, the Hurricanes have added layers of polish and nuance each offseason. In some cases, that meant addressing glaring issues, such as goaltending. But it often still felt like a band getting heavier and louder, rather than exploring different sounds and genres.
In adding Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty, the Hurricanes could hit both notes: playing to their strengths to a better degree, but maybe adding a new wrinkle. Maybe it ends with a “Ballad of Stanley Cup?”
A team in love with point shots adds a point shot machine
If you follow the Hurricanes, you likely know that they play a very straight-line, sometimes “smash mouth” game. Where other contenders prize control — of the puck, and when they risk losing the puck to gain scoring chances — the Hurricanes overwhelm. Maybe they should be called the Blizzard, as they try to bury opponents under flurries of chances and pressure.
Hockey Viz’s heat map for the Hurricanes captures that attack in detail:
Normally, such an abundance of point shots would be a concern. Those shot attempts often qualify as hockey’s version of “empty calories.”
Yet, as you can see from all of that heat in front of the net, the Hurricanes still create a lot of “high-danger” chances. They just do so in their own, unusual way.
At various times, I’ve opined that the Sharks could’ve used Brent Burns’ dangerous shot to better success if he was shooting from more dangerous places. To an extent, I’d love to see the analytics-leaning Hurricanes also encourage him to occasionally wonder to Alex Ovechkin‘s “office.”
(Even if it’s just temp work, so to speak.)
But the delight with Brent Burns’ penchant for point shots is that it mixes so well with the Hurricanes’ style. Maybe his point shots could be the Reese’s peanut butter cups to that already-tasty blizzard?
Pacioretty may actually be the most enticing Hurricanes addition
Considering his array of exotic beasts and trophy case including a Norris, it’s not surprising that Brent Burns is the biggest name of the Hurricanes’ big additions.
Personally, though? Max Pacioretty actually seems like the most important addition.
Of course, goals are what the Hurricanes sought most of all, and few score quite like “Patches.” During the past three seasons, Pacioretty ties Aho and others for 18th-place with 47 goals at 5-on-5.
Correct for time missed, and he’s even more impressive. Since 2019-20, Pacioretty averaged a 1.26 goals per 60 minutes, a top-10 rate. He’s not just a player who scores goals or does nothing else, either, as his underlying stats are promising.
Here are Pacioretty's microstats. Great chance creation both off the cycle/forecheck and the rush. Fun! pic.twitter.com/wVJ2fhX5OK
Honestly, I believe that Mark Stone‘s ascent to more mainstream recognition might have kept Pacioretty’s outstanding work in the shadows a bit. Maybe sprinkle in numbers that were diluted by injuries and COVID-shortened seasons, and you get to a fuller explanation.
In free agency, teams might find snipers. However, those players often skew toward the one-dimensional. You’re unlikely to find a truly elite option. By going the trade route, the Hurricanes landed a more likely upgrade — and potentially a big one.
Low-risk, potentially high rewards … but there are SOME risks
Even the contracts aren’t as scary as you’d see in free agency.
Work through the name recognition, and Brent Burns at $8M is a bit steep. Yet, with salary retention, his cap hit’s now a more digestible $5.28M per season through 2024-25 (the same year Jaccob Slavin needs a new contract).
Pacioretty’s $7M cap hit only runs through the 2022-23 season.
On paper, you’re not going to make much better bets at about $12.3M in salary cap space. Particularly without massive term.
But there are risks here. As much as one praises Pacioretty for producing when healthy, he carries risks of additional injuries. You could argue he’s an “old 33” considering all he’s been through.
For those who don’t delve into Cap Friendly on the reg, it might be shocking to realize that Brent Burns is already 37.
Ideally, someone like Slavin can be the stay-at-home defenseman while Burns roves like one of his exotic beasts. But there’s the risk that Burns roams to such a degree that he gets lost — to the point that even Slavin could get compromised.
As time goes on, the risk:reward ratio with Burns’ game has become less of a net-positive. It doesn’t mean that Burns isn’t worth it — especially at a reduced price — but it’s something to watch. After all, the Hurricanes are hoping to contend, so high-profile mistakes could sour a situation.
Most of all, Burns is a big beast of a man, and he’s put a lot of miles on his body. Injuries and general decline both loom as credible threats.
Hit all the right buttons, and this could be the best Hurricanes team yet
So, yes, there’s some fine print here and there. But the larger point remains: the Hurricanes addressed some of their biggest (few remaining) concerns with trades for Burns and Pacioretty.
Really, even if this all translates to fairly similar results, this should be exciting to watch.
Other teams could learn from this mixture of patience (keeping some salary cap space available) and aggression (jumping on an opportunity when a team needs to shake a contract loose). For all we know, they may be taking notes trying to chase what the Hurricanes become in 2022-23.
• Capitals GM Brian MacLellan on moving on from Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov and going with Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren in goal: “I guess it’s a little frustrating that I wish one of them would have taken over the No. 1 spot. And it seemed like one or the other were going to, but then they never quite did it and I think we ran out of time to wait for it. I still think they both have good futures in the NHL. They’re still young, they’re still improving. It was just a situation where we tried it, and we don’t have more time to stick with them both.” [NHL.com]
NHL GMs- I am also free agent, once again. 6,3 265 … 50 years old ,slow, but strong and good hands. Can bring experience and like to play only home games. Call me anytime. 😉Also as the owner of hockey club In czech liga -I am looking to sign a Defenseman No jokes
• On Steve Yzerman’s free agent approach this offseason: “To me, it looks like Steve Yzerman is starting to position his team for the post-rebuild phase. It’s really not clear what an NHL team coached by Derek Lalonde will look like but it’s very clear they want to make the offense more potent and add some size to the defense. The terms of the contracts are what they are. The NHL is trending toward a major-shift in how important contract terms really are. The reality: The league has no problem when teams circumvent the cap. When you add that with the revolving-door that is rebuilding teams, you can usually find someone to help you with an ugly contract. That’s today’s NHL.” [Winging it in Motown]
• Hockey Canada “made a series of announcements in an open letter to Canadians published Thursday, including the reopening of a third-party investigation into an alleged sexual assault involving members of the country’s 2018 world junior team.” [CBC]
• On the Penguins’ offseason moves so far, highlighted by re-signing Bryan Rust, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin: “In the short term, this is still a playoff team, and a very good playoff team. No, the results have not been there once they have reached the playoffs, but replacing your good players with inferior players is not going to fix that problem. And that was always my problem with the ‘let them go and make changes’ suggestions that had been kicked around all offseason.” [Pensburgh]
• Juraj Slafkovský and Shane Wright have signed their entry-level NHL contracts. [TSN]
• In praise of Pierre Dorion’s aggressive summer to help the Senators win now. [Silver Seven Sens]