Ten teams hit the ice for Wednesday’s slate of NHL action, punctuated by a trio of games that stretched into extra time.
On a night that saw some flashy displays of offensive depth and a young netminder making history, here are a few things we learned in the NHL:
Seguin, Benn still among the game’s most lethal duos
There’s no true debate regarding the NHL’s best scoring duo in 2017-18 — Tampa Bay’s absurdly potent top pair claimed that throne early on in the season and, with 173 combined points to their names so far, still reside there.
But Wednesday night in Toronto, a few other veterans proved they’re in the running for that title. Though their production wasn’t enough to squeak by Toronto in the clubs’ nail-biting 6-5 affair, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn managed to clean up on the scoresheet and grind out a point in the shootout loss.
Both elite scorers and Art Ross Trophy contenders in the past (Benn managed to actually climb the scoring-title mountain back in 2015), neither forward ranked among the league’s top 24 overall point-getters in the heading into their tilt against the Leafs.
However, through 65 minutes of end-to-end action, the two phenoms did work, combining for five points and 11 shots while nearly connecting on a number of other dangerously slick plays throughout the night.
Seguin paced his club with a goal, two assists, and six shots, potting his 37th of the season to move into a tie for fourth in the “Rocket” Richard Trophy race. Captain Benn added a goal, an assist, and five chances on net.
The Stars are just barely in a playoff race, currently sitting in a Western Conference wild-card spot. They’ve been up against a string of disappointing plot twists, with those road blocks beginning to get inside the team’s head.
But with offensive outbursts like the one Dallas put forth Wednesday, and with the prospect of getting some key names back from the injury report (starting netminder Ben Bishop recently skated in full gear as he inches closer), the Stars still seem to have life, and perhaps even some underdog potential in the ever-close Western race.
McDavid’s magic rubbing off on the rest of the Oilers’ forwards
Zack Kassian has proven to be a talented player during his nearly 400 games in the NHL, and a few dominant seasons of junior hockey give more credence to that reputation (he potted 26 goals and 77 points through 56 games in his final OHL season).
But you have to think Kassian’s magnificent performance on Wednesday night had at least a little bit to do with all the time spent watching Connor McDavid skate circles around the rest of the hockey world at practice and on game days.
The big-bodied winger did his best McDavid impression minutes into the Oilers’ meeting with San Jose, eluding a pair of Sharks behind the opposing net before dishing an unreal, no-look pass to Drake Caggiula for the goal.
He might not be contending with the ghosts of Oilers past for best plays in that area of the rink, but Kassian proved Wednesday that Edmonton still knows how to dust off the furniture in Gretzky’s office from time to time.
These (still) aren’t your father’s New Jersey Devils
The once defensively sound, inescapably dull Devils have established an entirely new on-ice identity in recent years, and there might not have been a more apt microcosm of the 2017-18 season than the night’s Devils-Golden Knights tilt.
If you had asked fans prior to the season opener which games might bring the most up-tempo excitement and offensive brilliance, there’s not a chance a Wednesday-night affair between the lowly Devils and the league’s expansion franchise would be on that list.
And yet, here we are.
Taylor Hall’s Devils put up an eight-spot on the Pacific Division-leading Golden Knights, leading to a high-flying 8-3 finish that moved New Jersey just a bit closer to cementing a wild-card spot.
As astounding as the offensive performances were — Hall, Nico Hischier, Blake Coleman, Brian Gibbons, and Michael Grabner each finished with two points as the forward corps spread the wealth — the most impressive performance came in the cage.
New Jersey dominated in the goals department, but the opposite was true in terms of shots, as Vegas outshot the Eastern club 42-28, only getting three pucks by Keith Kinkaid. The 28-year-old now has one more win on the year than starter Cory Schneider, and in eight fewer appearances.
Pittsburgh’s third-line revival beginning to take shape
Since acquiring Derick Brassard at the 2018 trade deadline, all eyes have been on the Penguins to take off offensively, returning to the three-scoring-lines setup that helped them twice lift the Stanley Cup.
So far, it hasn’t happened. While Pittsburgh’s big dogs have kept rolling, the team has averaged 3.29 goals per game since Brassard’s debut, only slightly higher than their season average of 3.24. Brassard himself entered Wednesday night with just two points through seven games, not yet thriving as the Nick Bonino-esque pivot Pittsburgh has been craving.
But the Penguins started to see their third line show some game-changing potential on Wednesday night, as the return of Bryan Rust allowed head coach Mike Sullivan to send out a depth trio of Rust, Brassard, and Phil Kessel behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin‘s top-six trios.
The young winger meshed well with the veterans, connecting with a top-shelf snipe early in the second period following a well-placed pass from Brassard.
Rust slotting into the third-line wing role allowed Riley Sheahan to move back down to centre the fourth. The pivot earned a goal as well, tipping in a point shot from Kris Letang less than a minute after Rust’s tally.
Pittsburgh’s depth scoring wasn’t enough to take down the resurgent New York Rangers, who largely kept the Penguins’ top dogs quiet, but served as a dangerous sign of what’s to come for the rest of the eastern contenders.
Young Georgiev holds down the fort in New York
Imagine being a fresh-faced 22-year-old goaltender on a club that recently sold off its top talent, lining up against a team that features offensive juggernauts like Malkin, Crosby, Kessel and Letang. That was Wednesday night’s nightmare for Rangers rookie Alexander Georgiev, but judging by the young netminder’s performance, he wasn’t sweating the star power.
While Pittsburgh might have gotten their third line rolling in the tilt, Georgiev was the most impressive player on the ice all night long, turning aside quality chance after quality chance as he continued to stymie the Penguins stars.
Georgiev got his biggest test of the night in the waning seconds of the third period, when he was thrust into what can only be described as a worst-case scenario for a young netminder.
Penalty shot. Ten seconds left in a 3-3 game. Malkin waiting at centre ice with the puck. Oh, and with the blame squarely on his own shoulders, after getting called for intentionally pushing the net off its moorings.
And then this:
All in a day’s work for the young ‘tender, who posted 37 saves and held on for the overtime win, making a bit of history in the process.