Kyle Bukauskas Notebook: ‘Empty net specialist’ Hyman having his breakout

John Tavares makes a nice play to set up Zach Hyman from down on the ice, throwing a backhand pass from one knee that results in a goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs that ties the Arizona Coyotes.

Every other Monday, Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas will give you a peek behind the curtain and share stories about what he sees and hears in his job as a rink side reporter.

Based in Ottawa, Kyle’s notes will sometimes be about the Senators, but he’ll also include content from wherever Hockey Night in Canada takes him.

Here’s this week’s collection:

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1. Zach Hyman had long been affectionately known as “the empty net specialist” by his teammates. He still might, for all I know. He led the league with six goals while the opponent’s goalie was pulled last season.

When Toronto was in Vancouver in December, the Canucks had their net empty late in the third period and Hyman was on the ice with John Tavares who already had two goals that night. It was obvious Hyman was trying to find his captain to complete the hat trick, but wound up scoring himself to seal the win. When they got back to the bench you can see Tavares jokingly mouth the words, “Hyman specialty anyways!”

Wayne Gretzky holds the record for most career empty net goals with 56. Tavares said guys would give Hyman a hard time by telling him that’s the only one of 99’s records truly in jeopardy.

Hyman has become much more than that offensively this season. Scoring 18 goals despite missing the first 19 games of the season, he’s been putting up a point-per-game pace for nearly two months now.

As a former coach of the Maple Leafs once said, “Hyman’s good, eh?”

2. Mark Borowiecki is supposed to have an MRI done on his right ankle today (Monday) to get a better idea of how much damage was done after falling awkwardly on Thursday against Arizona.

He was in good spirits at the rink on Saturday morning, and the fact he was walking around without any kind of boot or cast can only be good news. It sounds like his recovery will be several weeks at best. With the trade deadline just seven days away, there’s a good chance this injury impacts where Borowiecki calls home for remainder of the season.

Borowiecki and his wife, Tara, became first-time parents last week. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise.

3. With the Toronto and Ottawa media gathered in the hallway between the dressing rooms at Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday morning, the smell of spray paint suddenly filled the air.

Down the hall stood former Senators captain and current Leaf, Jason Spezza, coating the lower half of his stick with white paint.

Sens fans will remember the old wooden sticks he used for years with the white-coloured shaft. To this day, he needs to use a stick that’s white. For whatever reason, from Spezza’s point of view when he’s playing, a stick that’s any other colour looks shorter to him.

Because his stick provider doesn’t offer custom looks anymore with the sticks being made over in China, he’s forced to take matters into his own hands. I remember before Spezza played his first game in Ottawa after he was traded, the Sens equipment staff gifted him a handful of his old wooden sticks that he didn’t take with him. “I’ve got a bunch of those still,” Spezza said with a smile on Saturday.

They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

4. Keeping the sticks theme going, I’m sure you’ve heard or seen the new Bauer Nexus ADV. You know, the one with the hole in the blade. It can be yours for a cool $400(!).

Jake DeBrusk of the Bruins was practically begging the Bauer reps last summer to get some to him. He’s been using them for about a month now and likes the “pop” his shot has with it. DeBrusk said a perfect example of why he likes that stick was the goal he scored against Vegas prior to the all-star break. Marc-Andre Fleury came out well beyond his crease to challenge the shot, and DeBrusk was still able to blow one by his left shoulder.

Surprisingly, given the unique design of the blade, when I spoke with DeBrusk last week he told me he had yet to break one of those sticks.

His teammate, David Pastrnak, is in the thick of a three-man race for the Rocket Richard Trophy. Though he hasn’t used the Nexus ADV in a game (given the season he’s had, why would he change anything) apparently, he’s tried it in practice.

I would love to see his three-strip tape job combined with a blade that has a hole running across it.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

5. I don’t know what Anthony Duclair ever did to the Hockey Gods, but whatever it was they clearly haven’t forgiven him yet. He scored 21 goals in his first 37 games this season, but now hasn’t scored at all in his past 21 games.

DJ Smith said, “he’s squeezing it right now.” It’s certainly not for lack of effort with 15 shots on goal in Duclair’s last six games. Smith says Duclair has kept a good attitude about it all, still putting in the same work ethic in practice and when going over video in meetings.

Artem Anisimov boldly predicted Duclair would end his goalless streak Tuesday against Buffalo. Stay tuned.

6. When I lived in Montreal, it didn’t take long to appreciate Brendan Gallagher’s relentless competitiveness and his absolute disdain for losing.

You could see all of that balled up into one last Monday as he took questions from reporters following a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Arizona that has snowballed into a four-game winless streak. Whatever hope there was for Montreal to make a heroic charge into a playoff spot feels like a distant memory now.

Gallagher said when he played for the Vancouver Giants in the WHL, Don Hay had a rule where you had 2-3 hours following a game to either enjoy a victory, or seethe over a defeat. After that, it was time to move on. Gallagher still abides by that rule nowadays.

You certainly can’t accuse the Canadiens of quitting, but this season has brought far more seething than joy to a white-hot market that hasn’t seen playoff hockey since 2017.

7. I didn’t have the pleasure of covering Chris Phillips as a player for very long. My first season on the Senators beat was his last after an 1,179-game career.

That season was also Curtis Lazar’s rookie year in Ottawa where he lived with the Phillips family. My favourite memory came when Lazar left the Sens to captain Team Canada at the world juniors over the holiday season. Before playing Team USA on New Years Eve, Phillips tweeted a photo of him on a 1980s-style cell phone attempting to call his tenant, Lazar, to wish him good luck. Brilliant.

Looking forward to watching Phillips’ No. 4 get raised to the rafters on Tuesday night. Fittingly, the Senators opponent that night is Lazar’s Buffalo Sabres.

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