Alex Kovalev

The Buzzer: Laine rubs elbows with Gretzky on five-goal night

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Patrik Laine, number one with a bullet

When you have a night a special as the one Laine experienced, you get your own section.

On a night of hat tricks, Laine refused to settle for a mere three goals, nearly managing a double-hatty. Ultimately, he finished with a ridiculous five goals on five shots. If anyone can do that, it’s Laine.

This isn’t just a one-night outburst for Laine, either. By the three-goal mark, he had reached at least a hat trick for the seventh time in his young career … and the third during the month of November.

In case you’re wondering, yes, it’s been a very long time since someone managed a hat trick of hat tricks during a single month.

Laine, 20, won’t turn 21 until April 19. That’s relevant to note because, while he’s unlikely to match this Wayne Gretzky mark, it’s also true that it was already unlikely that he’d generate three hat tricks in a single month.

Laine lands in Gretzky-rarified-air more than once. Sportsnet’s stats staff also notes that he’s the first 20-year-old to collect five goals since Gretzky managed that mark twice. Again, it would be asking a lot for the winger to match that mark by number 99, yet he also has the rest of the season to do so (Winnipeg’s last regular-season game comes on April 6, almost two weeks before his 21st birthday).

PHT’s Scott Billeck did a great job of recapping Laine’s red-hot ways:

Thanks to this ridiculous night, Laine now has 19 goals in 2018-19, giving him the NHL lead. Interestingly, Saturday left him at 99 career regular-season goals. It should be fascinating to see Laine try to climb this list, too.

Interesting to see Jimmy Carson right behind Gretzky, the name he’ll be linked with forever thanks to that famous trade, eh?

The other three stars

1. Kyle Connor and Bryan Little

Let’s give Laine’s partners-in-crime a little love, too.

Both Connor and Little collected four assists during Laine’s five-goal night. If you have to choose one of the two, Connor would probably get quite a bit more credit for driving play, as he finished the night with four shots on goal to go with his four assists (Little had one SOG).

Many joked about how Laine’s going to get paid on his next contract. The way things going, Connor might not be too cheap, either.

2. Andreas Johnsson

Heading into Saturday, this 24-year-old Leafs forward had two goals over his entire, young NHL career. Johnsson generated a hat trick in a single period on Saturday, and actually hit that mark with about seven minutes remaining in the opening frame.

Would Johnsson have generated even more offense if the Flyers ever got on the board in this one? Maybe, but he still enjoyed one of the night’s great performances.

(Garret Sparks‘ 34-save shutout likely kept Toronto from going too over the top.)

Read more about Toronto making life miserable for Philly’s goalies here.

3. Jake Guentzel

Guentzel didn’t need three periods to collect his hat trick. He took advantage of some splendid Sidney Crosby passing to gain three goals without about four minutes left in the second period.

This marks the first regular-season hat trick for Guentzel, who now has 18 points in 22 games during the 2018-19 campaign.

Fun fact unless you’re the one managing Pittsburgh’s salary cap: like Connor and Laine, Guentzel is headed toward RFA status. A big season would go really well with all of those playoff heroics, huh?

Highlights of the Night

Quite the no-look pass by Crosby

Matt Luff had the right stuff to make Jacob Markstrom take his bluff:

Non-Laine, non-Sabres-topping-the-league factoids

Laine isn’t the only youngster playing beyond his years.

Gotta love how specific this stat is:

Scores

WSH 5 – NYR 3
TOR 6 – PHI 0
BOS 3 – MTL 2
BUF 3 – DET 2 (SO)
CHI 5 – FLA 4 (OT)
NYI 4 – CAR 1
PIT 4 – CBJ 2
WPG 8 – STL 4
COL 3 – DAL 2
VGK 6 – SJS 0
VAN 4 – LAK 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Kovalev compares Subban to Leetch, says he isn’t worth the money

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By now we know P.K. Subban is a lightning rod for opinionated takes but it’s not often he’s compared to a Hall of Fame player and it’s in a negative light.

Such is the case for former Montreal Canadiens superstar Alex Kovalev.

Kovalev spoke with Phillipe Lehoux of RDS and was asked about the electrifying Habs star defenseman. SBN’s Habs Eyes On The Prize dutifully shared what the Russian had to say.

“I’m not saying he isn’t a good hockey player, but he’s not the guy,” Kovalev said. “He’s a risky defenseman, and he’s a wide open defenseman. What I’m saying is that he can give up five goals and score five goals, and the score’s still going to be zero-zero. So if for example he saves five goals and scores five goals, that’s a different style of hockey. So I always compare him with Brian Leetch, because he wants to play the same kind of style, and be more offensive. He’s not making the right decisions. He’s making the risky plays, he’s not making the right decisions sometimes. He just plays like we used to play on the street.

“Maybe because he won best defenseman of the year (Norris Trophy) that’s how they get paid these days. You know, you win best player of the year and you get a big contract right away. But for his game, I don’t know why he got so much money.”

Recall that Subban signed an eight-year, $72 million deal on Aug. 2. He also won the Norris Trophy in 2013. Also recall that Leetch was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1994 with the New York Rangers (a team Kovalev played on) and went into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.

Basically Kovalev is saying Subban is making too much money for what he does at his position. The problem with that is there’s not much debate about him being one of the best defensemen in the league.

It’s not like Kovalev was underpaid when he was a player (he wasn’t) and it’s not as if he didn’t face a lot of questions about his work ethic (he did). Heck, the term “enigmatic Russian” may have been born from watching him play.

But hey, taking shots at Subban isn’t anything new and leave it to a guy who faced a ton of questions himself when he was in Montreal to offer up his own flammable opinion.

Eric Lindros’ open-and-shut case for the Hockey Hall of Fame

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Peter Forsberg’s election to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday may have helped take care of something that should’ve happened already – make Eric Lindros’ case to be enshrined in Toronto.

The two giants of the ice are forever linked because of the June 30, 1992 trade that sent Lindros’ rights from the Quebec Nordiques to the Philadelphia Flyers. The blockbuster seven-player deal saw Lindros go to the Flyers in exchange for Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, and Philly’s 1993 first-round pick that turned into Jocelyn Thibault.

Both Lindros and Forsberg went on to have superstar careers.

Forsberg had greater team success winning the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche while Lindros made one Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1997 with the Flyers getting swept by the Detroit Red Wings. Forsberg won two Olympic gold medals in 1994 and 2006 with Sweden while Lindros won one in 2002 with Canada.

For Hockey Hall of Fame arguments, team titles are an easy way to distract from the point of the Hall of Fame. Getting elected to the Hall is based on individual success and, let’s face it, there are plenty of players who will never come close to making the Hall who have won multiple Stanley Cups.

When it came to individual accolades, their honors are similar. Both Forsberg (2003) and Lindros (1995) won Hart Trophies. Forsberg also won the Calder (1995) and Art Ross (2003). Both went to multiple All-Star Games and were season-end league all-stars as well.

When you look at the raw statistics and personal achievements between Lindros and Forsberg, suddenly things look a lot closer:

Forsberg:  (14 seasons – 708 GP)  249 G  636 A  885 PTS  690 PIM 1.250 PPG (points per-game)

Lindros:    (13 seasons – 760 GP)  372 G  493 A  865 PTS  1,398 PIM  1.138 PPG

Forsberg’s points per game total is eighth best all-time trailing Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Sidney Crosby, Bobby Orr, Marcel Dionne, and Peter Stastny. He was a no-brainer Hall of Famer whether you loved him or hated him or wanted to hold his history of foot injuries against him.

source: Getty ImagesWhile Lindros’ PPG total pales in comparison, put that into perspective of how great Forsberg’s play was. Lindros’ PPG total is 19th best all-time. The next 11 players behind Lindros on that list are all in the Hall of Fame. Of those between Forsberg and Lindros, Kent Nilsson is the only one who isn’t currently playing that’s not in the Hall (Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr are still going strong).

Forsberg was rightly considered a no-brainer to make the Hall of Fame yet this was Lindros’ fifth turn on the ballot. Next year’s vote won’t be any easier for Lindros to crack through.

Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, and Alex Kovalev will be eligible for the first time and join a growing group of worthy candidates to be enshrined. Lidstrom will be a unanimous selection with Fedorov being arguably close to that as well.

That means Lindros will be fighting for recognition amongst other guys with gaudy numbers like Phil Housley, Alexander Mogilny, and Dave Andreychuk or those with brilliant international careers like Sergei Makarov.

There shouldn’t be a way for others, aside from Lidstrom, to make as strong of a claim to make the Hall of Fame next year as Lindros. Now with Forsberg earning his own spot in history, it’s time for the Hall of Fame committee to open the doors for “Big E.”

Kovalev: Panthers pushed me to retirement

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Alex Kovalev used to be an elite player and he put together an NHL career that lasted for 1,316 games. He sought to extend his career with the Florida Panthers this season, but he only ended up playing in 14 contests with them.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon called it a “mutual agreement that we wanted to go in a different direction, that’s all.”

Not so, according to Kovalev, who finally made his retirement official last week after going a month without playing.

“I didn’t have a choice. That’s what has kind of been the frustrating part,” said Kovalev in a Montreal Gazette report. “Started the season good and everything was going well and, all of a sudden, they started pushing me away.

“And I just never understood the idea and what exactly happened. They never really explained to me — the things they’ve been telling me, just didn’t really make sense.

“You know what, what can I do? They’ve done their part. They gave me a chance to go back to the NHL. It’s just I feel bad I have to kind of decide to retire on somebody else’s terms, not mine.”

Everything went south for the Russian-born forward when he was called by the Panthers on Feb. 24, his 40th birthday, to be informed that they would no longer use him.

“They just said something about timing was bad and I’m not fitting in the first two lines and out of respect to me they can’t put me on the third, fourth line … which doesn’t really make sense,” he said.

Kovalev isn’t done playing hockey. He’ll go to Europe and look for a new job.

“I’ll just probably go to Switzerland,” Kovalev said, who isn’t too keen on returning to the KHL after his 2011-12 stint with the Moscow Oblast Atlant.

If this is truly the end of his NHL career though, he retires with 430 goals, 1,029 points, his name on the Stanley Cup, and three All-Star game selections. Still, Kovalev has some regrets.

“At this point, you can say I made a bad decision going to Ottawa instead of staying in Montreal (after the 2008-09 season),” he said. “Maybe I would still be playing here.”

Leaving Montreal marked the beginning of the end of his career as his production sharply declined in the years following his departure.

He participated in a Canadiens alumni game yesterday.

Kovalev and Lindros to play in Montreal alumni game

Alex Kovalev #27 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during their NHL game at the Air Canada Centre March 29, 2008 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (March 29, 2008 - Source: None/Getty Images North America)
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A pair of dubious figures in Montreal as well as Quebec hockey will be on the ice once again in “La belle province.”

Former Canadiens captain and recent retiree Alex Kovalev and former Quebec Nordiques No. 1 draft pick Eric Lindros will both be participating in an alumni all-star game at Bell Centre tomorrow, as The Montreal Gazette reports. Is it bad form to boo players in an alumni game? That could happen.

Kovalev, who retired from the NHL this week, didn’t leave Montreal under the greatest of circumstances and wound up being a focus of bad feelings and boos when he returned as a visiting Ottawa Senators forward.

Lindros, meanwhile, was persona non grata in Quebec thanks to his famous spurning of the Nordiques after the team drafted him first overall in 1991 only to demand a trade saying he’d never play for the then sorry Quebec franchise. Once the Nordiques moved to Denver, the bad feelings moved on to Montreal where he received similar bad feelings from Habs fans.

It might be worth it to actually get a ticket to this game just to see how warmly (or not) both guys are received by the fans.