A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Written at full speed between our legs with two seconds remaining in overtime.
1. Michael Hutchinson wants you to stand there and pretend to be Michael Hutchinson.
He’ll play Auston Matthews.
Then the Toronto Maple Leafs backup goalie scoops up a make-believe puck with a left-curved blade, rolls his wrists inside, raises his arms, reaches and flings the thing over your far-left shoulder.
That’s the move Matthews pulled on Hutchinson to score in practice the morning after the night Andrei Svechnikov broke the seal on lacrosse-style goal.
Whereas the Hurricanes phenom made history from behind the net, tucking near shoulder, Matthews reached across Hutchinson’s chest streaking from the side, and his victim couldn’t wait to ask his persecutor about his creativity afterward.
“That was pretty impressive. I’d never see that before,” Hutchinson said. “When it happens, it looks really easy and smooth — but it’s not. When I was in Winnipeg, [Nashville’s Filip] Forsberg would try that, like, once a game.
“That’s a tough play for a player to do, to have that composure and steady hands under pressure like that to be able to make that happen. It’s just like a player going through the legs or behind a leg.”
Svechnikov’s Wednesday wizardry was followed up by Matthew Tkachuk’s Thursday theatrics. The flashy goal, like the ‘tweener David Pastrnak slipped by Hutchinson last week, is ditching its stigma.
“Early in my career, yeah, it would bother me. I’d get a little pissed off about letting in a goal like that and be like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna have to see this on highlights all year long.’ As you get older, when a guy makes a play like that, you tip your cap to him,” says Hutchinson.
“You’re going to see more guys try it. With the higher-end skill guys, I’m sure the success rate of it’s going to go up a little bit more.”
Mitchell Marner says he’d love to attempt the “Michigan goal” if he had the room to set it up.
“Pretty amazing watching him,” Marner says of Svechnikov. “You have enough space behind the net, that’s the play. I don’t think goalies expect it. It’s a hard play to get it up and kind of around the neck area, and it’s a hard save for a goalie, so he performed it nicely.”
John Tavares, a lacrosse star in his youth, figures “you gotta have a pretty good skill set to pull it off.”
Both agree that Matthews could be next to follow Svechknikov’s lead. Heck, he nearly pulled it off against San Jose’s Martin Jones this month:
“He has the ability to do it, no question, and he’s got such a great mind too,” says Tavares, who wouldn’t be shocked if we see it soon.
“Yeah, he’s real excited to try and do it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets it off this year,” Marner agrees.
“He’s had a lot of chances. Once or twice it just slipped off his stick. So if you give him enough time, I’m sure he’s gonna try it.”
2. A great analogy for Ilya Mikheyev‘s challenge with English came this week from fellow Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has kindly made a point of chatting briefly with the Maple Leafs rookie this season and offering his encouragement.
“Right now, he’s like a dog,” Kuznetsov said (per Lance Hornby). “He understands, but he cannot speak.”
He’s trying. And by putting up 10 points in his first NHL month, it’s impossible for Toronto-based reporters not to chat with the guy, as challenging as it can be with language barrier.
This week I asked Mikheyev if he realized he was tied for the lead in freshmen scoring with NHL Rookie of the Month Victor Olofsson.
“No. I don’t read the news about hockey. I like soccer,” he replied.
Turns out he plays the beautiful game with friends in the summertime and is a big Chelsea supporter.
“I like system. Long time watching Chelsea,” Mikheyev said.
He was asked if he’d checked out Toronto FC, the MLSE-owned club heading to the MLS Cup.
“I went two times but very boring,” he replied. “Maybe this game’s not good. I watch Champions League.”
Big week for ESL honesty.
— Ilya Mikheyev (@Souperman65) October 24, 2019
Mikheyev also joined Twitter and hopes the social-media interactions will help with his English.
“Because in NHL you need be more open for people, because it is very important for you, for me, because we work together,” Mikheyev explained. “My friends help me with this, because I’ve never used it. I just have Instagram, and I use Instagram not many times.”
Mikheyev’s agent, Dan Milstein, has been pushing for a soup sponsor for his client. Campbell’s did send him a care package.
Is a soup deal something he’s actually hoping for?
“I don’t know. I just play hockey,” he replied. “My work play hockey.”
3. Alex Luey — Alex Ovechkin’s longstanding friend, inspiration and good-luck charm — got a welcome break from another night at McMaster Children’s Hospital watching hockey highlights to be the Capitals’ guest at Scotiabank Arena
Leuy, who suffers from incurable melanoma, was invited into the visitors’ room read out the starting lineup, which included his own fantasy-team weapon John Carlson and “the most underrated centre in the NHL… Nicklas Backstrom!” He took in one period from the Caps’ video coaches room, getting a sneak peek behind the scenes and was brought back into the room post-game to give a congratulatory speech:
“You skated hard, you shot the puck well, and we won,” said Luey, swaddled in a red Caps sweater and hat to match. “Two goals from Carlson, two goals for Ovechkin. Ovechkin with the game-winner… pretty good.”
The players erupted into applause, every one raising to their feet.
“You always bring luck, especially for me, and now you said John Carlson is your favourite player,” Ovechkin teased as he walked over to Luey’s weelchair. Big Alex replaced Little Alex’s cap with the club’s player-of-the-game token, a Washington Nationals batter’s helmet.
“We’re all with you. Just keep fighting, and we’re going to do our best to pray.”
Another standing ovation.
Coach Todd Reirden later got every player to sign the helmet and brought it back to Luey to keep for good. Incredible moment. The Maple Leafs’ game-operations crew also presented Luey with a WWE championship belt, an acknowledgement of his fighter’s spirit.
“It’s emotional moment for me, for this organization,” Ovechkin said. “We are going to give our emotion and our support to him and his family. He’s our lucky charm, you know? He’s always brings luck to this building. It doesn’t matter how we play – bad or good – we always going to get a point or two points.
“He knows. If I score here, it’s only for him.
“We’re going to pray for him and hope everything is going to be fine, but you never know.”
Had to give the MVP belt to Alex Luey tonight. You’re an absolute warrior! Such an inspiration to everyone. The hockey community has your back Keep fighting and stay #LUEYSTRONG pic.twitter.com/6F9BtTddR4
— Savannah Prokopetz (@savpro20) October 30, 2019
(Hearty stick tap to Christine Simpson, who’s followed the Lueys’ story closely, for sharing the photos and exclusive behind-the-scenes video.)
4. John “Norris” Carlson has been getting razzed about his best-defenceman candidacy for years now. The stud D-man’s 23-point October — and Ovechkin’s playful “John Norris” nickname (watch video below) — has amplified the friendly fire in Caps’ room.
When a trio of Toronto reporters cornered the hottest defenceman in hockey, a nearby Tom Wilson took a moment from piling up his post-practice lunch container to chirp Carlson’s sudden superstardom.
“Here we go,” Carlson smiled, shaking his head before snapping back. “You want to do another interview? You can do this one!”
“We’ve been giving Carly a hard time for a couple years here now with that type of thing, but for some reason and he got no love [for the Norris Trophy] last year,” Wilson says. “This year, obviously, he’s to tough to ignore. He’s hot right now and he’s been our horse for four years and our guy back there.”
“I’m not surprised by the guys and what they’re saying. We give each other crap all the time about anything that anybody does,” Carlson says.
— Here's Your Replay (@HeresYourReplay) October 24, 2019
There is some logic behind Carlson’s Hotober, which featured 16 even-strength(!) points in 14 games. Yes, he puts the puck into some talented hands and quarterbacks one of the NHL’s most lethal power plays, but Washington’s new mandate is to play more aggressive.
“We’re pinching down more than we ever have,” says Carlson, who considers the idea of a 100-point NHL defenceman. “It’s not out of the question.”
“I don’t know if he’s the guy that’s going to be like coast-to-coast like Erik Karlsson,” Wilson says. “He doesn’t maybe have that flash where he’s gonna wheel behind the net and walk through, but he’s a guy that makes the players he’s on the ice with a lot better. He makes plays that some guys don’t see.”
With dependable veterans Brooks Orpik (retired) and Matt Niskanen (traded) departing over the summer, the organization asked Carlson to increase his leadership.
“I’ve always tried to speak up and all that, but with those two voices [gone] and a little bit of a younger core now, I maybe get to be a little more of elder statesman and teaching and letting people know some things,” the 29-year-old says.
Reirden is wowed by Carlson’s offensive production but wants you to know there’s more going on.
“To me, it’s his overall game and what he’s doing behind the scenes right now with a really young group of defenceman,” Rierden says. “He was asked to take on a bigger leadership role and take on more responsibility of kind of being the real veteran back there, and he’s done a phenomenal job. That’s type stuff that isn’t on the score sheet but really has a big effect on our team.”
5. Sticking with the Washington bandwagon for a minute, T.J. Oshie dropped a wonderful tweet after the Nationals won Game 7 of the World Series:
Just as the Nationals hosted the Capitals following the hockey club’s 2018 championship, the Nationals will be honoured at Capital One Arena prior Sunday’s Caps game against the Calgary Flames.
And, in case you missed Ovechkin’s reaction to his favourite baseball team’s final out:
6. So if the Maple Leafs can’t win a back-to-back, they should have no trouble handling the Flyers Saturday night, right?
The home side will arrive in Philadelphia tired after Friday’s emotional, back-and-forth shootout win in New Jersey, dragging their weary legs into their fourth game this week Saturday, while Toronto will be playing just its second game of the week and is coming off three days’ rest.
7. Peter DeBoer, head coach of the 4-8-1 San Jose Sharks, had a candid response last Friday night in Toronto to a reporter who asked about the organizational patience in the face of a dismal start..
“Patience like, how come I didn’t get fired?” DeBoer said.
The heat would be cranked on any team with a minus-16 goal differential after a month, but DeBoer is a good coach who works for a patient organization.
His boss, Doug Wilson, is the second-longest-tenured GM in the sport.
“We were 0-4 four games into an 82-game schedule. I think I’m blessed by working for owners and GMs that are smart enough and been around long enough to know that there’s a lot of hockey left to be played. The two years we went to the finals [one with New Jersey] I think we were .500 in December,” DeBoer said.
He maintains that his most successful playoff runs were born out of rooms that were average until Christmas.
“Look at St. Louis last year,” DeBoer said. “There’s always other teams that go wire to wire, so would you rather be one of those teams? Sure, it makes your life a lot easier. You can get in such a big hole that you can’t recover.
“You know, you’re building your game and there’s some good nights and bad nights, and you’re winning some and losing some — I don’t think is a death sentence.”
The Sharks’ points percentage is .346, fourth-worst in the league, and the teams below them don’t have nearly the talent or expectations.
8. Context is critical.
Ovechkin’s comments this week about the Maple Leafs needing to “play differently” if they want to win the Stanley Cup was in response to a question about Toronto.
Taylor Hall’s comments about the Devils “battling our own fans right now,” however, was in response to a general question about the mindset of a struggling team moving forward.
I love Hall’s candour. Always have. His public acknowledgement of the negativity in the home rink shouldn’t make us automatically leap to the conclusion that he wants out. But it’s not a small thing, either.
Fans pay good money. The Devils have won twice, less than everybody else. It’s difficult to blame spectators for feeling frustrated.
It’s up to management to build a competitive team around the stars it wants to keep.
9. Very cool. The Legion of Doom will be reuniting next month in Philadelphia:
10. Wilson delivered a pair of borderline hits on Maple Leafs defenders Tuesday night. He was penalized for one on Tyson Barrie and got away with a charge on Jake Muzzin, who is now out of commission with a charley horse.
“Sometimes it’s definitely on the line. He plays hard. He’s one of those guys, he’s got a track record, meaning he kind of toes the line,” Barrie said.
In our opinion, anything Wilson does gets amplified because of that track record and because so few players go for the big hit. Should he have faced suspension for his hit on Muzzin? No. Should he have been penalized? Sure.
Muzzin has yet to speak on the hit. Wilson did.
“He tried to slide [past], there was twice there they tried to get out of the way and that kind of makes the hit a bit awkward. I’m trying to finish through the centre of the guy,” Wilson said. “When they slide out of it, that’s when you get tangled up.”
Wilson made a point of complimenting Muzzin’s style of play after putting him out of the game.
“He’s a great player,” Wilson said. “I admire his game a lot, and he’s a big player for them, so hopefully he can get back out there soon.”
We agree with critics who say Marner hasn’t looked quite as dominant at even-strength this season, but the guy deserves some respect for being able to produce even during his dry spells.
12. Almost as much as we love seeing Keith Kinkaid incorporate a Hangover reference to his post-game summary from Vegas, we love Nick Suzuki firing some emoji love right back at Montreal’s backup goalie.
— Nick Suzuki (@nsuzuki_37) November 1, 2019