Pavel Datsyuk

Roundtable: PHT’s favorite Winter Classic memories

NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the 2020 Winter Classic between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET from Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas on New Year’s Day. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

JAMES: My favorite Winter Classic memory came from the first one between the Sabres and Penguins in 2008.

Being that I wasn’t covering Winter Classics yet, I was naturally hungover from New Year’s, making a lot of my memories of what was honestly a mostly unmemorable game quite blurry. Sidney Crosby winning the shootout in a snow globe atmosphere made it all work, though, and is a reminder that big moments can paint over otherwise bland affairs.

Watching that, likely while groaning on a couch, will always stick with me. It sure beats the times Crosby and others suffered possible concussions during outdoor games, too.

JOEY: The most memorable Winter Classic moment in my mind has to be in 2009. The Chicago Blackhawks took on the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field.

A lot of the details from that game are pretty fuzzy for me. I remember that the Red Wings won, 6-4, but the one detail I will never forget is the Pavel Datsyuk partial breakaway goal. Datsyuk split two Blackhawks defensemen before scoring an awesome goal on his backhand. It was perfect because it was smooth just like he was throughout his career. There aren’t many things in hockey that get me to leap off my couch anymore, but that was definitely one of them.

SEAN: We all remember Crosby’s goal, the dramatic ending of the 2012 game, but mine is a memory that didn’t take place on the ice. During intermission of that Flyers-Rangers Winter Classic the NHL managed to get Philly’s own The Roots to perform, which has since set the musical act bar very, very high. Sadly, it’s not come close to being matched:

ADAM: It has to be the 2012 game in Philadelphia between the Flyers and New York Rangers. This was the second Winter Classic I had an opportunity to cover in person, and everything about it was pretty outstanding. Good venue, intriguing matchup, and the game itself was great thanks to the way it ended. With the Rangers leading, 3-2, with less than 20 seconds to play, Ryan McDonagh was whistled for covering the puck in the crease resulting in a penalty shot for Philadelphia’s Danny Briere to try and tie the game. Henrik Lundqvist stopped him, secured the win for the Rangers, and John Tortorella, even in victory, was furious with the call after the game in his press conference. He said something along the lines of the everyone getting together and trying to get the game to overtime for TV ratings. It was classic Tortorella.

SCOTT: The 2014 Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs was an all-time classic between two Original Six teams. To see 105,491 fans pile into The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan was an unbelievable site. Additionally, the snow added to the mystique and brought back memories of skating on a pond in freezing temperatures for players from all over the world.

Jimmy Howard’s vintage brown pads coupled with Detroit’s red sweater was an awesome combination. The Winter Classic has felt a bit stale at times, but in 2014, the hype was justified.

Watch the 2020 NHL Winter Classic between the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars at the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday, January 1 at 1 p.m. ET only on NBC, NBC Sports and the NBC Sports app.

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Pierre McGuire and Brian Boucher will have the call from the Cotton Bowl. Mike Tirico will host the network’s on-site Winter Classic pre-game coverage alongside the NHL Live studio team of host Kathryn Tappen, and analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp. Tirico will interview members of 1999 Stanley Cup Champion Stars team on-site during intermission of coverage on NBC.

PREVIOUSLY:
The snow storm at The Big House
• Syvret’s first NHL goal comes at Fenway Park
Late winner has extra special meaning for Brouwer
Briere vs. Lundqvist

Surging Vrana might be capable of even bigger things for Capitals

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

From Alex Ovechkin for Washington to Artemi Panarin for New York, you’ll see plenty of firepower during Wednesday Night Hockey’s bout between the Capitals and Rangers. Even with Nicklas Backstrom sidelined for the game, I’m here to argue that you still might not see enough of one potential rising star: Jakub Vrana.

When you give Vrana’s 2019-20 stats a quick glance, they’re already impressive.

Not only does Vrana already have 10 goals scored in 23 games, but all 10 of them have come at even-strength, tying him for third in the NHL in that category alongside players like Auston Matthews, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vrana’s former Capitals teammate Andre Burakovsky. His eight assists rounds out his numbers to 18 points in 23 games; over an 82-game pace, Vrana would author a 37-goal, 66-point season.

While he’s been riding some hot puck luck since 2018-19 with a 15.1 shooting percentage, the overwhelming message one gets from diving deeper into Vrana’s stats is that the Capitals should strongly consider finding more ways to get him on the ice.

[COVERAGE OF RANGERS-CAPITALS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Despite Vrana’s 18 points in 23 games, he’s only averaging 14:15 TOI per game, which is a career-high and slight uptick from last season’s average of 14:02. Beyond getting some bounces, Vrana’s breakthrough in simple counting stats can probably be chalked up to an increasingly itchy trigger finger. After peaking with 1.96 shots on goal per game last season, Vrana’s getting almost one extra puck on net per evening, averaging 2.78 SOG per game (64 SOG in 23 GP).

It’s unclear if you can derive that from playing a more confident game, getting decent reps with a tremendous playmaker like Evgeny Kuznetsov, or if perhaps someone in the Capitals organization gave Vrana a directive to shoot more. Either way, it’s working out quite nicely, as he’s a significant part of the Capitals’ early work as the NHL’s most dangerous offense at even-strength.

Again, though, I must ask for more.

Just about every number seems to point a neon flashing arrow at “More Vrana.” His heat map at Micah Blake McCurdy’s Hockey Viz is, well, almost off the charts:

Wow.

Admittedly, it would be tough for Vrana to crack the Capitals’ top power play unit, and he’s getting some reps on the second unit (1:35 per game), but his all-around game makes me wonder if more PK work would be warranted.

It’s not as though Vrana is getting totally buried in the Capitals’ lineup, yet with Washington in a strong position (few teams enjoy the luxury of “Can we win the division again?” being one of their burning questions in November), I’d be tempted to see if Vrana would thrive in an even larger role.

And, hey, if all of that is boring … the skill is pretty obvious, too. Not everyone can pull off a Datsyukian shootout move, right?

Just saying.

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.

Pavel Datsyuk isn’t coming back to NHL after all

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A few weeks ago, there were rumblings about Pavel Datsyuk potentially coming back to the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings. On Wednesday, those rumors were officially put to bed.

After spending the last three years with the KHL’s St. Petersburg SKA, the 40-year-old has signed with his hometown team, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. Datsyuk’s new contract is for one year.

Although it would’ve been cool to see Datsyuk back in the NHL with the Red Wings, it’s easy to understand why he’d want to suit up for his hometown team, again, before the end of his professional career. And according to agent Dan Milstein, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg and the Red Wings were the only two teams he considered signing with this off-season.

The last time Datsyuk played in the NHL, he put up 16 goals and 49 points in 66 contests back in 2015-16. He’s coming off a season in which he scored 12 goals and 42 points in 54 KHL contests, so we know he’s still capable of playing at a high level.

But is this it for him in the NHL? Will we revisit a potential return to the Red Wings at this time next year?

We can always dream.

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.

Datsyuk leaves KHL team; Red Wings return possible?

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When Pavel Datsyuk left the NHL for the KHL after the 2015-16 season, it felt like he was putting an end to his playing career in North America.

Not so fast!

On Tuesday, Datsyuk announced via social media that his days with SKA St. Petersburg have come to an end.

“The St. Petersburg stage of my career has come to an end. These were the memorable years,” Datsyuk wrote (quotes have been translated from Russian to English). “I want to say thank you to the SKA club. In St. Petersburg, there are wonderful conditions for games and training, attentive staff – all this helps to concentrate exclusively on hockey.”

Earlier this year, Datsyuk’s agent, Dan Milstein, told a Russian media outlet that his client wasn’t ready to retire. And after Datsyuk made his announcement on Tuesday night, Sportsnet’s Ellliotte Friedman reported that Ken Holland had talked about the possibility of bringing the veteran back into the fold.

The Russian forward is expected to be back in Michigan in the next little while.

Holland, of course, is no longer the general manager in Detroit, but he remains in the organization. Steve Yzerman will now be the one to decide whether or not bringing Datsyuk back makes sense for this young Red Wings team.

Even though he doesn’t appear to be the most vocal guy in the locker room, the 40-year-old’s experience could help turn this Detroit franchise around. And let’s not forget that he showed he can still play. The veteran posted 12 goals and 42 points in 54 KHL games last season.

During his last NHL season, Datsyuk had a respectable 16 goals and 49 points in 66 games with the Red Wings. At this point of his career, the Wings don’t need him to be the go-to guy anyway. He just needs to help them with their transition from being a rebuilding team to a competitive one.

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.

Datsyuk: Olympic gold medal means more than Stanley Cup

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Seconds after the Russians won their first Olympic hockey gold medal since 1992, Pavel Datsyuk couldn’t contain his joy at what he considers the peak of his career.

Even though Datsyuk won the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002 and 2008, the 39-year-old said capturing gold at the Olympics in his fifth try was his greatest accomplishment, even in a tournament without NHL players and even when called “Team Olympic Athlete From Russia” because of sanctions over state-sponsored doping.

“When you play for your country and I win this medal, this special time, it’s more important,” Datsyuk said. “I have accomplished my dream. Now I have no dream.”

Datsyuk, who took home a bronze medal in Salt Lake City in 2002, had six assists to help the Russians capture Pyeongchang gold as captain and one of their best players.

“There are a lot of nice feelings now in my heart, but at the same time I can’t believe it yet.”

Datsyuk went home to Russia in the summer of 2016 citing family reasons after putting up 314 goals and 604 assists for 918 points in 953 regular-season games over 14 seasons with the Red Wings. Datsyuk, who was the oldest men’s hockey player in the Olympics, still hasn’t decided whether to retire after this season.

He accomplished his dream with the help of Ilya Kovalchuk, who went back to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League despite being just three seasons into a $100 million, 15-year contract with the New Jersey Devils. Kovalchuk had five goals and two assists and was voted tournament MVP.

Kovalchuk and Nikita Gusev, who led Russia and the tournament with 12 points including two goals in the gold-medal game, were great. Datsyuk was Russia’s captain and leader.

“Our hearts almost stopped beating,” Datsyuk said of the back-and-forth final, “but we recovered and the team showed character.”