A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. When I grow up, I want to be Marie-Philip Poulin.
1. With his Rocket Richard Trophy days in the rear view, but still in sight, sniper Steven Stamkos is the perfect guy to talk about the trill of the chase.
“I knew where I stood at all times,” Stamkos said. “Some guys may say they don't pay attention to that. That's probably a lie.”
Outliers and hot starts can cloud the goal race in the first half of the season, but by late February the usual suspects pop up.
Stamkos has, of course, noted the heater Toronto’s Auston Matthews has been on.
“His ability to just get the shots that he does. And his wrist shot is, I think, second to none. His release is amazing,” Stamkos said. “You see a lot of goals that he scores on that quick release. I kind of look back at my 50-goal and 60-goal seasons and some of those wrist shots… to have that release where goalies think that they’re ready for it — and they’re not — is pretty special. And he has that.
“I think he can be a guy that can score 60 goals pretty easily. So, it’s fun to watch.”
Health and heat permitting, the big 6-O is within grasp this season.
Stamkos is the most recent to hit the benchmark. That was a decade ago.
Looking back on his magical run, Stamkos says so many things had to fall into place.
Pegged as a power-play specialist, the Lightning captain is most proud that 48 of his tucks in 2011-12 came at even-strength. Like Matthews — who scores from distance, on dekes, off tips, in the cycle, off the rush — Stamkos was no one-trick pony.
“The hardest thing to do in hockey is score, right?” Stamkos said. “You’ve got to be healthy, you’ve got to play with some really good playmakers, you’ve got to be put in a good position. I think he’s kind of got all that with the lineup they have in Toronto.
"I just look at the guys around the league, and he’s a guy that kind of stands out in terms of consistently scoring goals. If there’s a guy, he’s at the top of the list for 50, 60 every year, you’d think.”
When we look at the current leaderboard, New York’s Chris Kreider resembles the outlier.
Stamkos sees reason.
“We've seen the speed and the strength and the ability to score goals for a long time now, and then I think you add in some pretty great playmakers in [Artemi] Panarin and [Mika] Zibanejad and [Ryan [Strome] who he’s been playing with. The power play is going really well. And that's where you can see the progression,” Stamkos explains.
“He's always had the ability, I thought, to put a season like he is together. When you're hot, you're hot — that's the saying. Things are going in, and you're feeling really confident about your game.
“He's got great sense around the net. You see a lot of his goals are scored in around the net. He’s got great speed, but he's so strong on the puck and tough to move in front of the net. We’ve played some playoff series against him. You always noticed that as well. And then you add some great playmakers, and he knows where to go, and he’s getting rewarded.”
2. The Tampa Bay Lightning have a whopping $850,000 in projected cap space to spend at the trade deadline, which is the exact amount of defenceman Zach Bogosian’s hit, and he’s riding LTIR.
In other words, there is no wiggle room for Julien BriseBois to stock up for a three-peat.
And yet? His captain isn’t ruling out an add.
“I mean, if we base it off the last two years and what he's been able to do, then we wouldn't be surprised. You know, it was pretty amazing what he's been able to pull off the last couple years, certainly with the lack of flexibility we had,” says Stamkos.
“The magic that he’s worked by adding third-party teams and things like that, as a player you really appreciate the effort — because you never know when it's going to be your year.”
BriseBois’s midseason acquisition of key role players David Savard, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman helped complement his championship cores.
Stamkos sees the other side of it, too. BriseBois has already spent his second-, third-, and fourth-round picks for 2022.
“It's easy for us to dismiss draft picks because we're probably not going to be around when they come through. We want to win right now, especially as one of the older guys. So for him to be willing to put the chips all in and get rewarded has been pretty amazing. We appreciate that as players,” Stamkos goes on.
“You always want depth. Things can change in the snap of the finger come playoff time, with injuries. I know we are stretched to the cap this year. But if anyone can do it, Julien can find a way.”
No pressure, BriseBois.
3. Matthews was asked a question this week about the epic 2010 Canada-U.S. Olympic final and Sidney Crosby’s golden goal.
He answered politely, then threw out a stray thought: “It’s been a little tougher watching this one. We had a chance to play there.”
Make no mistake, not flying to Beijing still stings NHLers.
As a viewer, I wanted to get into the men’s tournament anyway, and it’s been a struggle.
Between the best-on-best intensity of the women’s final and the NHL being active and newsy, I’m with Matthews. This hodgepodge men’s draw was low on my entertainment priority list.
If NHLers can’t go, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Winter Games switch to a pure amateur tournament and pit the world’s best under-agers against each other instead.
4. Tack on another chapter to The Legend of Wholesome Jason Spezza.
Spezza was seen handing one of his sticks to a fan during warm-ups in Vancouver last Saturday, something that rarely happens.
Turns out, he was making good on a promise made back in December, when the Maple Leafs practiced at the University of British Columbia before their tilt against the Canucks was postponed.
"Actually, it's a funny story," Spezza smiled. "When I was suspended, he stayed and watched me for like an hour after practice at UBC. He asked me for a stick. But because I was suspended, I didn't bring very many. We were scheduled to go back the next day to UBC to practice, so I said, ‘If you come back tomorrow, I'll give you a stick after practice.’ ”
Due to the Leafs’ COVID outbreak, practice was slashed and they bolted town.
Fast forward two months. When Spezza walked back into UBC last week for a pre-game skate, a thought popped into his head: Oh, man, I forgot to give that kid a stick.
"And then he showed up at the game,” said Spezza, remembering his face. “When I saw him and recognized him, it was a no-brainer to get him a stick.”
All the feels.
5. When Joe Pavelski first starting playing with super sophomore Jason Robertson, the veteran would find himself driving to a scoring area, then bail out after taking a look at his young winger, assuming he couldn’t see him.
Pavelski would dip somewhere else…
“And he's putting a puck right where I was. A few times was kicking myself. Like, I forget how good he is. He's just a smart player,” explains Pavelski, shaking his head. “Shows up every night. There are not many nights I’m wondering where Robo is or he’s not competing. I’ve got a lot of trust in him, and his teammates do as well.”
Robertson leads all Dallas Stars with a 1.18 points-per-game average. He and Pavelski rank one-two on the roster in points and even-strength points. (Neither has a contract for next season.)
“He loves hockey. He loves the game. He loves practising and looking at things. Look at his skills. He’s bigger than you think he is. He’s got some size to him. He's faster than you think he is. And he’s got a great shot.”
6. Quick: Who leads the Pittsburgh Penguins in points per game?
Sidney Crosby? Evgeni Malkin? Jake Guentzel?
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
It’s Bryan Rust, averaging 1.28 in the shadows.
“He gets a whole lot of credit inside our dressing room. Our players, our coaching staff, our management team, and our fans know how important Bryan Rust is to our team,” coach Mike Sullivan says of pending UFA. “He's a complete player.”
Rust entered the NHL as a bottom-six forward with a defensive conscience. A penalty-killer happy to block shots and pressure with his speed. Sullivan has watched him evolve into a big-game performer and consistent top-six producer alongside Malkin or Crosby.
“Of all the players I've coached over the years, I don't know that I've coached a player whose offensive game has evolved to the level that Rusty’s has. He deserves a lot of credit for that — how hard he works. He takes a lot of pride in this game,” Sullivan says. “I think Sid’s influence on him has had an impact on that as well.
“But I'm not sure he gets the credit he deserves for how good he is offensively.”
7. I’m fascinated by The Last Dance vibes around these Penguins, who have won multiple championships with the Crosby-Malkin-Letang core but have also been first-round casualties three years running.
The way Sullivan speaks about Rust, 29 and improving, you want to believe re-signing him will be the priority. But there’s an emotional tug with Malkin and Letang.
Appearing on Real Kyper & Bourne Thursday, club president Brian Burke agreed that Rust is “an important guy for us.” But he didn’t exactly pour cold water on the theory that centre Jeff Carter was extended, in part, as Malkin insurance.
Burke and GM Ron Hextall will continue negotiations with all three impending UFAs over the next month, but major decisions loom.
“If it doesn’t make sense, then we’ll have to see. OK, do we play it out? Do we look at moving guys at the deadline?” Burke said. “I think everybody knows I’m not afraid of tough decisions. If we can’t do something that makes sense, then we’ll move on to Plan B.
“The principles I run my team under, they haven’t changed. And I hate some poor grammar, but they ain’t gonna change. We’re gonna do stuff that makes sense — or we’re gonna move on.”
Those who listened to Burke the analyst will recall that he’s not a huge fan of “own rentals.”
Would the Pens dare roll the dice with three own rentals?
8. Drew Doughty never disappoints.
Loved how he took a moment from his 1,000th game ceremony to apologize to the visiting Oilers for holding up the action.
Hope we’re treated to 1,000 more from this beauty.
Drew Doughty thanks the Oilers bench during his 1000th game ceremony:
“I know it sucks watching it but we’ll get out there in a sec.”
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) February 16, 2022
9. Rasmus Sandin came to work Thursday morning and was no doubt surprised what he saw on the Maple Leafs whiteboard.
Against the Penguins, the young defenceman would be skating on the right side of Jake Muzzin — a position and a partner unfamiliar to him all season.
Assistant coach Dean Chynoweth approached Sandin and asked if he was comfortable with the assignment.
Having occasionally skated his off-side with the Soo Greyhounds and Marlies, Sandin agreed.
“If I’m on the left or on the right, to me it doesn't really matter. It's just a lot of fun out there,” Sandin says. “I think hockey is the best thing in the world, so just trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”
The experiment was hastened because, once Kyle Dubas scooped Adam Brooks off waivers (since lost to Winnipeg), the GM needed to send righty Timothy Liljegren down to the AHL.
Sheldon Keefe was weighing whether to plug Sandin or the more experienced Dermott, another lefty, in the hole.
Wanting to try splitting Muzzin and Justin Holl, the coach felt comfortable springing something new on the Swede because, as Keefe says, he’s “a pretty confident guy.”
The underlying and raw results of Muzzin-Sandin’s maiden voyage weren’t great; the duo was on the ice for Toronto’s only goal against.
But it’s a fresh option that, given actual practice time, could be worth a longer look.
The decision speaks to Sandin’s second-pair potential, the staff’s distrust in Dermott, and the organization’s lack of righties all at once.
10. Can’t say I can recall an eight-and-a-half-minute hockey feature airing on The Daily Show before.
Great to see Willie O’Ree and his wonderful story get some shine in front on a mainstream audience:
11. With the long-delayed world juniors getting a reboot in August, we’d be shocked to see as many NHLers participate.
This is a complete reset of rosters and results, which means the events of December’s false start will be lost in the vapour.
Connor Bedard’s remarkable four-goal game becomes a tree falling in an empty forest or Dr. Dre’s unreleased Detox album.
Did it even exist?
12. Caught the ridiculous Jackass Forever and was surprised to see P.K. Subban pop up to giddily blast slapshots in the excruciating “cup check” segment.
All good, cross-promoting fun by consenting adults.
But I did wonder if those old-school Montreal Canadiens would’ve been cool with such an appearance.
Jack Forever pic.twitter.com/SPcQOtGnQc
— P.K. Subban (@PKSubban1) February 11, 2022