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NHL best and worst: Kraken make history, McDavid raises the bar

This past week in the NHL saw Connor McDavid score one of the nicest goals of the season and the Kraken surge to an NHL record.

Martin Jones has been one of the NHL's top goaltenders in the month of January. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Martin Jones has been one of the NHL's top goaltenders in the month of January. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Welcome back to the NHL’s Best and Worst. We’ve got another full slate of great NHL moments from this past week, including some celebrity cameos, John Tortorella staying on brand and more Connor McDavid magic.

Goal of the week

Connor McDavid’s ascension this season into the league’s top goalscorer has been mind-bending to watch. The Oilers captain has never been more aggressive, never been more high-flying, and never been this impossible to stop.

Need proof? Just ask Trevor Zegras, who just got put on the hockey equivalent of a poster by McDavid on arguably the nicest goal of this season. Another McDavid masterclass that is no doubt going to be tough to top.

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Save of the week

Jack Campbell’s season certainly hasn’t played out the way he or the Edmonton Oilers envisioned it would after he signed a significant free-agent contract this past July. With a lousy .883 save percentage to date, his spot as the Oilers starter has been firmly supplanted by Stuart Skinner, while the Oilers look as though they'll have to dance around his hefty cap hit for some time to come.

Perhaps, however, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. Since the turn of the calendar, Campbell has strung together a solid run, and his .915 save percentage in January to date is his highest single-month total since last April with the Maple Leafs. If this save is any indication, the fans at Rogers Arena could be chanting “SOOOOUP” in due time as well.

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Player of the week: Nikolaj Ehlers

After playing the first two games of the season, Nik Ehlers proceeded to miss the following 36 games with a sports hernia, leaving Winnipeg down one of its most consistent and talented forwards. Last week, however, Ehlers finally made his triumphant return to the Jets lineup and has delivered in a big way since returning to the ice.

After going scoreless in his first game back, Ehlers picked up a league-leading eight points in four games this week, including this gorgeous no-look dish to Pierre-Luc Dubois against the Vancouver Canucks last Sunday. The high-flying Jets came into 2023 skidding, but with several players finally coming off the shelf, they’ve bounced back in a big way and are back atop the Central Division standings, thanks in large part to the play of their Danish star.

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Hands of the week

It bears repeating, folks: The Buffalo Sabres are #ActuallyGood. Lost in the insanity that has been Tage Thompson’s Hart candidacy year, another Sabres skater has found the fountain of youth and is producing at a career rate.

Jeff Skinner, whose contract was maligned as one of the league’s worst as recently as 2021, has exploded back into relevancy. The former 40-goal scorer is scoring over a point per game as part of an electric Sabres first line alongside Thompson and Alex Tuch. That lethal trio connected on Saturday night for a doozy, as Skinner dekes Juuse Saros out of his pants to cash this nifty breakaway beauty.

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Stat of the week

Did we mention that McDavid is going crazy right now? Well, in case you needed any further proof, check out the names he’s in lockstep with for his historic scoring pace. It has been a magical season for McDavid, and while the Oilers continue to lag behind expectations — the club continues to hang onto the final wild-card spot in the West for dear life — there’s no denying the out-of-this-world season he has put together so far.

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Quote of the week

It may not be the NHL, but some hockey players truly are the definition of "Head Empty, Just Vibes." In this adorable clip, the Kelowna Rockets sent a few players, including defenceman Jackson Desouza, to chat with some elementary school students and play an active role in their community.

Things go sideways, however, when a teacher asks the hockey heroes what their favourite book is. To put it lightly, it seems like Desouza and his teammates might have other priorities in their life, as a hilarious sidebar between the group ensues.

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Worst of the week

The Connor Bedard tanking experience knows no bounds, and Blackhawks fans were treated to that and then some on Saturday night. The roaring hot Seattle Kraken (more on them later), had themselves a dandy of a first period, scoring a goal on six of their first seven shots of the hockey game.

After Petr Mrazek got the yank by allowing four goals on five shots, Alex Stalock came in and proceeded to allow a goal on the first two shots he faced as well. Finally, after Stalock made a lunging glove save for his first of the night, the Chicago fans gave him the business, loudly applauding their netminder following a first period that would make even the most ardent members of Tank Nation question their ethics.

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Most wholesome moment

Last week, Kris Letang stepped away from the Pittsburgh Penguins to return home to Montreal after his father died unexpectedly. Penguins players shared their condolences while in the midst of an extended road trip, then, after their win over the Arizona Coyotes last Sunday, the club took things a step further.

Instead of flying back to Pittsburgh, the entire team flew out to Montreal as well to be with Letang and his family to console the longtime Penguins star. An unbelievably classy act from Crosby and the Pens, who showed just how strong the brotherhood of the National Hockey League is, no matter the circumstances.

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Superstar status

It looks like future Hall of Fame netminder Henrik Lundqvist has been cultivating some friends in high places since his retirement. The Rangers legend brought The Northman star Alexander Skarsgård, as well as future Ottawa Senators owner Ryan Reynolds out to Madison Square Garden as the Rangers took on the Minnesota Wild last week.

If that wasn’t enough, however, the stars took things a step further once the MSG crowd caught them on the big screen. First, it was Skarsgård making a show while snuggling up to his fellow Swede, before Reynolds plants a sloppy smooch on King Henrik’s cheek for the piece de resistance.

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Comeback season

The Hollywood stars may have been in town on Tuesday, but it was the Dallas Stars that made their way to MSG later in the week for one of the most exciting conclusions to a game this season. With one second left, K’Andre Miller played hero for the Blueshirts, tying the game at 1-1 to send it to overtime for a doozy of a buzzer-beater.

Then, in OT, it was fellow defenceman Adam Fox, in the hunt to add a second Norris Trophy to his collection, coming up clutch and scoring the winner for New York in dramatic broadway fashion.

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Have Merc(er)y

The Devils' trio of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischer and Jesper Bratt may be getting all the headlines, but the Devils have plenty of sneaky great depth that can do damage as well. Take Devils 2020 first-round pick Dawson Mercer, now in his second NHL season and looking like a certified steal of a pick by GM Tom Fitzgerald.

On pace for 50 points while playing all over New Jersey’s lineup as a 21-year-old, the Newfoundland product scored one of the nicest goals of the season against the Carolina Hurricanes this week in a huge divisional game between Metro foes. Mercer’s ability to get to the net on this one, all while flying through the air like Bobby Orr in the process, makes this a must-see beauty.

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Yankees Suck!

With the Boston Bruins thrashing the Anaheim Ducks 7-1 in their own barn, things looked extremely over on the ice. In the stands, however, the two sides were able to come to an agreement on one conclusion in bit of cross-sport harmony.

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Burns does it all

It isn’t entirely clear why Brent Burns of all people was lining up in the dot for the Carolina Hurricanes here. Maybe it’s some market inefficiency that only the Canes are wise enough to act upon. Maybe Burns was just messing around, as he’s been known to do from time to time.

Even more remarkable, regardless, was the fact that Burns cleaned out Sidney Crosby, of all people, in that dot on this one, beating the career 52.7 percent centerman with ease on this bizarre sequence.

Fun fact: Brett Burns, who briefly played the wing with the San Jose Sharks before his eventual Norris Trophy campaign, has actually taken nearly 150 draws in his career. His record on those faceoffs is, notably, pretty terrible. He’s a miserable 44.9 percent on his career, though that does put him ahead noted two-way pivots Elias Pettersson (43 career FOW%) and Jack Eichel (44.3 career FOW%).

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Blunder of the week

This one had shades of Vesa Toskala written all over it, as Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward Max Willman buried a goal from 185-odd feet away from the opposing net in AHL action last week. The victim of this unbelievable blunder, Bridgeport Islanders netminder Ken Appleby, can’t believe what he’s just done, laying face down on the ice in shame. Even worse, that goal would prove especially costly, standing as the game-winner in a 3-1 victory for the Phantoms.

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Think of the children!

The offside challenge has very few fans nowadays, with its disruptive presence to the flow of the game and oftentimes perplexing calls. As such, one woman at the Colorado Avalanche game against the Florida Panthers last week had seen enough. After the review wiped out a potential game-tying goal, the fan was over it, giving the refs a pair of one-finger salutes in disgust.

While that’s nothing out of the ordinary for a normal hockey game, there was one problem. The nationally ESPN televised game caught her in the act and broadcasted her flipping the double bird for the entire world to see. At least the play-by-play voice on the call had some fun with it.

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Torts (still) being Torts

In case you were wondering if John Tortorella had made his way to the 21st century with his coaching techniques, we got our answer last week. The prickly bench boss banned the use of iPads on the benches for Flyers players, arguing that it was taking the players out of the moment and preventing them from staying engaged in the game’s momentum.

Whether or not that’s the case, the Flyers seemed to be doing alright without them, as they’ve found some rhythm of late winning three straight and seven of 10. Maybe Torts is onto something here. Or maybe the players were just too busy playing Clash of Clans between shifts.

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Montreal legends

Finally returning to Montreal following his retirement, former Canadiens superstar P.K. Subban got the royal treatment as the Habs rolled out the red carpet for the franchise icon. While Subban will likely never have his number hanging from the Bell Centre rafters, the longtime fan favorite was still shown plenty of love upon his return to the town that he called home for his most productive seasons.

During the ceremony, however, fans were treated to one last heartwarming moment of a now-bygone era of Canadiens hockey, as Carey Price made his way out for the duo to put together one final triple low-five for the crowd to see. There’s a certain delicious irony to the fact the pair got to celebrate the moment while the regime that banned it is now long in the club’s rearview mirror.

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Trending Up: Seattle Kraken

As winners of eight in a row, including the first sweep of a seven-game road trip in NHL history, the Kraken once again look like a big-time player in the NHL’s Western Conference. Their well-timed winning streak has vaulted them just two points back of the Vegas Golden Knights for the top spot in the Pacific Division, and with games in hand, has them leading all Western Conference teams by points percentage.

As has been the case throughout their brief history, the underlying numbers have rarely wavered for Seattle, as they remain a top-10 team league-wide by most analytical measures. The primary catalyst for this streak has been the goaltending, which has been a weakness across the Kraken’s first two NHL seasons. Martin Jones has been the hero in the Emerald City, as his .926 save percentage through January is the highest single-month save percentage by any Kraken netminder with a minimum of six games played in franchise history.

Trending Down: Colorado Avalanche

The reigning Stanley Cup Champions have been one of the league’s most unlucky teams injury-wise this season, having lost the second most point-shares of any club to injury this year. While Mikko Rantanen has done his best to singlehandedly keep Colorado afloat, quietly putting together a career year and on pace for 58 goals at the halfway mark, it simply hasn’t been enough.

The Avalanche are losers of seven of their last 10 and are continuing to sputter along while sitting outside of playoff position. It’s still too early to count out the Avalanche, especially given how dominant they were en route to last year’s Stanley Cup victory, but this team is hurting in a big way and will need to find their footing if they want any shot at making the dance, much less defend their title.

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