It’s the last Saturday night before the holidays, and the NHL gifted us some great hockey.
Here are five things we learned:
Big night for Bernier
With injuries to James Reimer and Garret Sparks, Mike Babcock didn’t really have a choice when it came to giving Jonathan Bernier the start for Saturday night’s matchup against the Los Angeles Kings. But it’s safe to assume he’s glad he did.
All the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender wanted for Christmas was a win, and he finally got that — his first since Apr. 5. And it came on a shutout against the Kings, no less. The 27-year-old was perfect in his 26-save performance to shut down his old team — something he had never done prior to Saturday’s victory.
He really earned it, too, making saves like this one against Marian Gaborik late in the third to spark a play for Michael Grabner, who notched his second of the night right after. (See the video at the top of this post.)
With Reimer and Sparks both still sidelined — as is probably the case through Christmas, too — Bernier will likely get a shot to string together two wins in a row when the Leafs take on the Colorado Avalanche on Monday.
So… we have to ask… is he back?
“We’ll see,” he said with a smile after the game. Here’s what Babcock had to say about his goalie following the win:
A smiling Bernier wasn’t the only player to stand out Saturday for the Maple Leafs. The Grabner – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov line had nine points between them, with Grabner registering his first four-point game (2G, 2A) and Komarov (2G, 1A) padding his team lead in goals (13) and points (21) this season.
Also, rookie Byron Froese scored his first NHL goal.
The Canadiens really miss Carey Price
With the way the month of December is going for the Montreal Canadiens, we’re guessing they can’t wait to turn the page on the calender and get a fresh start with a new month and a new year.
The injury-riddled team has definitely not looked like the powerhouse Habs we saw to start the season, and it certainly didn’t help their cause that defenceman Jeff Petry left Saturday’s game with an upper-body injury. (The seriousness of the injury hasn’t been determined yet, but Petry didn’t return.)
The Canadiens have gone 2-8-1 in the 11 games since Price re-aggravated his lower-body injury on Nov. 25, including an absolutely dismal stretch perpetuated by the Dallas Stars in a 6-2 drubbing Saturday night that saw Mike Condon chased out of the net.
Needless to say, the Habs are fed up. Perhaps captain Max Pacioretty sums it up best.
Consider this: According to Sportsnet Stats, the Canadiens have lost more games in regulation in December (7) than they had in October and November combined (4). Wow.
If you’re looking for the main culprit(s) in Saturday’s Habs loss…
Benn and Seguin are at it again
Vladimir Tarasenko grabbed hold of the top-spot in the NHL’s goal race with his efforts to cap the Flames’s win streak at seven earlier in the day… only to have Jamie Benn snatch it right back later.
Indeed, Benn and linemate Tyler Seguin are pretty much unstoppable, with 44 points apiece this year. When one strikes, the other isn’t far behind. Similarly, if one is having a quiet night, the other usually speaks up. In fact, there are only six games all season in which both players have been held off the scoresheet.
Saturday night against the Habs, both stars made an impact. Benn had two goals and an assist while Seguin had a goal and an assist.
Benn has been outstanding in front of the home crowd all season, and especially of late. Dallas’ captain now has 10 goals in his last 10 home games. As for his good friend Tyler, he’s riding a five-game multi-point game streak when facing Montreal.
And it’s pretty clear the two are having a lot of fun with all the success.
Penguins still winless under Sullivan
What is wrong with the Pittsburgh Penguins? It’s one of the league’s biggest mysteries, and the conundrum continued Saturday with another loss under new head coach Mike Sullivan. The Penguins are now 0-4 under their new bench boss, and have been outscored 15-4 in that time.
Despite all the negatives, Sullivan is seeing plenty of positives in his Penguins’ play.
“For me, there’s a lot of positive things to take out of this game and that’s what I told our players,” Sullivan said after the game. “When you continue to try and improve your game and play the right way, it starts to turn.
“You may not get the result right away, but it does turn.”
Dissect it all you want, but Evgeni Malkin is chalking it up to plain old bad luck.
“We had great chances to score, but it’s still bad luck,” Malkin said. “I don’t know what’s going on. We play better, we’re tight. It’s a tough loss again, but (we’re keeping our) heads up.”
Iginla gets closer to history
The Edmonton Oilers suffered their third straight loss after going on a six-game win streak to start December, and part of that loss came at the hands of longtime Battle of Alberta opponent Jarome Iginla.
Iginla’s third-period goal was his first in the month of December and his 38th all-time against the Oilers.
The Edmonton native has now scored more goals against the Oilers (38 — tied with the Wild and Coyotes) than any other team.
The goal also brings the Avalanche forward to within two of reaching a significant milestone, as he is in line to become the 19th player in NHL history to score 600 or more career goals.
The 38-year-old will look to make history on Monday against the Maple Leafs when the Avalanche attempt to increase their win streak to six straight games. (They’ve sneakily won eight of their 10 games in December.)
Fun fact: It was 20 years ago today that Iginla was dealt to the Flames by the Stars in exchange for Joe Nieuwendyk.