Five things we learned in the NHL: Johnny be good

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock talks about the annual outdoor game and the play of the young Maple Leafs call ups.

A snapped skid, a division battle, some Johnny Hockey magic and more.

Here are five things we learned in the NHL on Wednesday night.

Young Leafs snap a skid
The Toronto Maple Leafs were on the winning side of a one-goal game Wednesday night — how’s that for a change of scenery?

Going into the matchup against the New York Islanders, the Maple Leafs had lost five straight games by just a single goal. One more one-goal loss and they would’ve made some not-so-good franchise history.

In the end, the squad’s young guns came through for the victory, with William Nylander tying it up late with his second career goal and Nikita Soshnikov scoring the lone goal in the shootout for the 4-3 victory at home.

Though the youngsters played hero near the end, it was the Leafs’ birthday boy, Morgan Rielly, who was the real force throughout the matchup. Rielly, who turned the ripe old age of 22 Wednesday, scored a beautiful power-play goal in the second period (thanks to a gift-wrapped pass from Nazem Kadri) and led the team in ice time with a whopping 28:32. Happy birthday, indeed.

The Leafs’ “grizzled veteran” spoke to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman following the game about celebrating his birthday with a goal and a skid-ending win, and what it’s like to see the progress of some of his new teammates.

Following the game, head coach Mike Babcock spoke extremely highly of the team’s young stars-in-the-making, saying this was Nylander’s “best game by a mile” and that Soshnikov and Zach Hyman (who scored the Leafs’ first goal) are “here to stay.” Listen to his full comments at the top of this post.

Blackhawks + Blues = Division rivalry at its best
Wednesday’s Central Division showdown between 2017 Winter Classic adversaries Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues was a battle of goaltenders, a battle of special teams, and just an all-out battle, as evidenced by Ryan Reavesejection for a hit on Christian Ehrhoff and Jaden Schwartz‘s hit on Jonathan Toews that sent the Blackhawks’ captain awkwardly into the bench door. (Both Ehrhoff and Toews would be OK.)

Corey Crawford came within just 11 minutes of earning his second straight shutout against the Blues. (By the time David Backes found the back of the Blackhawks’ net, Crawford had gone 140 minutes without letting in a St. Louis goal.)

Jake Allen, meanwhile, stole what was a sure goal when he stumped Patrick Kane with an incredible paddle save in the final minute of the first period.

As for the combined four regulation goals that did get through the netminders, three of them came with the man advantage.

In the end, this rivalry matchup needed to be settled in a shootout, with Allen’s Blues coming out on top 3-2 after six rounds.

Johnny’s right at home
A lesson to all Calgary Flames fans: Don’t blink, or you might miss a Johnny Gaudreau highlight. Or two, actually.

Johnny Hockey was up to his usual home-ice antics against the Nashville Predators, scoring two goals just 10 seconds apart. (The first was subject to a lengthy review, but did eventually count.)

Those two goals officially bumped him up to a new personal best, surpassing last season’s total of 64 points.

So, how good is Gaudreau on home ice, exactly? The numbers show a huge divide in his production when at home (23 goals in 33 games) vs. on the road (just three goals in 33 games) this year. No doubt, a huge factor in the Flames’ troubled road record.

Though the Predators tied it up late in the game, the Flames came away with the 3-2 overtime victory thanks to Mikael Backlund (and a helper from Johnny, of course).

Now, for the bad news. Forward Sam Bennett and T.J. Brodie both left Wednesday’s game with injury, and didn’t return.

The Flames have not yet provided any further updates.

Landeskog in hot water?
Gabriel Landeskog could be getting a phonecall from the NHL Department of Player Safety. The Colorado Avalanche captain caught Anaheim Ducks defenceman Simon Despres with a high hit. Despres was slow to get up, but would return to the game.

Landeskog was not penalized on the play. Strangely, the Ducks were the ones who received a penalty for another infraction that occurred at the same time.

Careful with those Capitals
Through most of this season, Braden Holtby and the league-leading Washington Capitals have looked pretty invincible. Through 20 minutes of Wednesday’s game against the surging Los Angeles Kings, however… they did not.

But if there’s a lesson to be learned about the Capitals, it’s to never get too comfortable with a lead.

Case in point: the third period. The Capitals climbed back to tie it up late and force overtime, with all the momentum in hand. Lucky for L.A., Jeff Carter scored in overtime to give the Kings the 4-3 win after a wild final period. Whew. Now that was a hockey game.

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