A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. The spotlight is trained on the rookie scoring race, and justly so.
But only one freshman ranks top-10 league-wide in takeaways: Mitchell Marner.
As fun as it is to see him with the puck, it’s almost more entertaining to watch him without it—on a quick, deceptive hunt to get it back.
“Growing up, I always liked playing defence as well. When you track back to the puck, you get it in your hands usually. It’s just trying to help out the D and get the puck back, and when you do that, you get more chance on offence,” Marner explained.
Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander enjoy playing keepaway with each other in practice.
“We did it a lot on the summertime. We do it every once in a while just joking around with each other. It’s kinda fun doing that,” Marner said. “In London, I did it a lot with guys on our team there. It’s kinda a fun game you can do with each other and try to school with each other.”
With 0.89 steals per game, Marner leads all Leafs in the category.
2. Loved that GM Ron Francis — a realist, obviously — was able to stockpile even more picks at the trade deadline by dealing Ron Hainsey and Viktor Stalberg. (Thought penalty-killing centre Jay McClement might’ve attracted interest, too.)
Carolina now has an incredible 11 picks in the 2017 draft. Seven — seven! — of those arrive in the top three rounds.
Serious potential to package some of those picks with a defensive prospect and swing a major deal. Keep an eye on the Hurricanes.
3. It won’t always be like this.
Two super rookies, not only neck-and-neck for the Calder Trophy but threatening to sneak up and capture the Rocket as well.
How wonderful that, upon the Jets’ return from their bye week, Patrik Laine wastes zero time scoring his 31st of the season…
…and Auston Matthews notches his 31st a few hours later against a for-real Sharks team. Savour this time, hockey fans.
Had a chance to ask Teemu Selanne about the 18-year-old, and he lit up like goal lamps.
“Personally, I’ve been waiting a long time wondering when Finland is going to bring another superstar in the league. Fortunately, we have one of them,” the former Jet said.
“I’m so happy for how he’s playing. Very proud of him. We all knew how good he was going to be, but you never know how long it takes to be comfortable. The adjustment time. He’s been rock-solid the whole way. Obviously the one concussion [slowed] him down a little bit, but I’m so happy to see him back in action.
Watched the second and final Matthews-Laine head-to-head, at the Air Canada Centre, beside Sami Hoffrén, the NHL correspondent for Finland’s Sanomat.
That Leafs-Jets game started at 2:30 a.m. on a weeknight back in Finland. So what? Hoffrén showed me that Finnish hockey fans were awake and streaming it, gushing about Laine in online chat spaces.
“Everybody is so proud of him,” Selanne said. “He’s started a new boom, new interest in the NHL. We’re a small country proud of our stars.”
Laine is — simply put — the most buzz-worthy athlete of an entire nation, time zones be damned.
“Everybody is interested in what I’m doing here, and I understand that. Hockey is a big thing in Finland. My success has been a big thing in Finland, and everybody’s excited about that,” Laine says.
“I think that’s everybody’s goal: to be remembered. To play the game in a way that you’re remembered when you’re not playing anymore, that would be pretty cool.”
4. I asked Andrew Shaw if new Habs coach Claude Julien has met with him one-on-one.
“He has. It was about penalties,” Shaw said. “I know he had [Boston’s Brad] Marchand there for a while. He had to go through the same thing. I have a bad rep in this league with officials. I have to bite my tongue. Take them. Go straight to the box. Don’t say anything.”
In the seven games since Julien took over, Shaw has committed just two minors (and no majors).
“He’s a great motivator,” Shaw said.
“His systems allow us to use our speed. I think we’re all buying in, playing tight defensively. If we play tight in our own end, those offensive chances are going to come no matter what. He’s a good speaker. He says the right things to get guys going.”
5. The NHL unveiled its latest slick, heart-string-tugging Stanley Cup promotional spots.
Here they are:
Well done, as always, especially “If This Cup Could Talk,” but after the centennial season, maybe it’s time to try a different formula. I think this one peaked with “No Words.”
6. How hot was Filip Forsberg at the end of February?
Heading into the P.K. Subban homecoming, the Predator scored 10 goals and three assists in a five-game span. That explosion included two hat tricks and two game-winners, one in overtime.
“He’s the best player in the league right now, the way he’s playing,” Subban told reporters.
7. Favourite 30-second clip of the week? I’m torn.
It’s either Rick Ross explaining why he messes with hockey (some bad words, but click here if you’re OK with that) or Radek Faksa going full Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on this individual effort:
— Radek Faksa (@RadekFaksa) March 3, 2017
8. Surprised by the inactivity of lottery-bound Tim Murray and the Buffalo Sabres at the deadline. With Brian Gionta, Cody Franson and Dmitry Kulikov, the Sabres had three decent rental pieces that should’ve yielded draft picks.
Franson told the Buffalo News he was on pins and needles for most of the day.
“[Wednesday] was a little bit of a stressful day,” Franson told the outlet. “There’s no way around that, but I’m very happy with the turnout. I enjoy it here. I like it here. I’d like to remain here. When I didn’t get the call, I was happy.”
Kulikov said it’s “good to stay put” but also told the newspaper this: “I would have liked the opportunity [to compete for the Stanley Cup] somewhere else, too.”
Hmmm… have to wonder if the defenceman re-signs.
9. Among centremen who’ve played for the Canadiens this season, Alex Galchenyuk ranks sixth (i.e., last) in face-off winning percentage at 42.7 per cent. That number does not befit a No. 1 pivot, but new coach Claude Julien says it’s coming.
“There is an improvement. Sometimes it’s about bearing down. I had a chat with all our centres. We can go through the motions here in practice and not get better, or we can bear down in practice and get better,” Julien said.
“He’s worked really hard at it the past [few] games. That’s important. I want our team to start with the puck.”
During the Habs’ week off in February, a couple Montreal blogs had Galchenyuk partying in Miami, and the player faced criticism online from fans. What he does on his vacation is his business.
There is this, though.
“Over the break, the bye week, I contacted Olli Jokinen because he lives down there in Florida, and we went on the ice and did an hour and a half. We just took face-offs for that amount of time,” Galchenyuk said. “That helped me a lot, but I still gotta keep working on them.”
Oh, and he scored consecutive overtime winners this week.
Love the image of Jokinen just hanging out on the beach waiting for young stars to call his Batphone.
10. Anyone else find it a little eerie watching Sidney Crosby skating at Heinz Field again?
Another slate of outdoor games have wrapped, but Columbus Blue Jackets star Cam Atkinson has a good pitch for the Penguins’ next outside match.
“Hopefully we can get an outdoor game at The Shoe at Ohio State University against these guys,” Atkinson says. “That would be unique and special.”
The idea of hosting a Winter Classic or Stadium Series event at Ohio Stadium has been discussed internally by the NHL.
At a capacity of 104,944, it could approach the Big House’s record for the most-attended outdoor NHL game and boost the Jackets’ profile in a football-first town.
11. On Saturday, Montreal’s Carey Price surpassed Ken Dryden for third place in franchise wins (261) and got reflective about the legend. Wonderful little moment.
“He’s the first Hab I ever met, actually. I met him in Williams Lake [B.C.] when I must’ve been eight years old. I got his autograph on a piece of paper that I still have today,” Price said.
“I was going through a tough time [as a rookie] when I was 21. He called me and we had a good chat. I was young, trying to figure out my game and trying to figure out who I was as a person. Having somebody like that call you is big life-changer. I have a lot of respect for Ken, what he’s done in the NHL, and what he’s done after. He’s a very special human being.”
Patrick Roy (289 wins) is next on the list. Safe bet Price will pass him before Christmas.
12. This is your reward for
reading scrolling this far down.
On Nov. 12, 1981, Wayne Gretzky appeared on an episode of The Young and the Restless, and it is… something.
If the Internet is to be believed, the Great One was given just six words on the soap opera: “I’m Wayne from the Edmonton operation.” But there’s a creepy/incredible/hilarious director’s cut of the scene floating out there. Here it is. Wow.
— Greg Hobbs (@GPHobbs73) February 28, 2017