December 29 — Royals, Resolutions & the Reality of Zuccarello

Yesterday’s NHL Scores

Last Night’s News 📰

COSTLY LEAFS: On Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs were fined twice by the NHL for different violations. First, Toronto got fined $100,000 because the team traveled to St. Louis on Dec 26, and the league forbade team activities from Dec. 24-26 during the holiday break. Then the NHL taxed head coach Sheldon Keefe $25,000 for “demeaning conduct directed at the officials” during the Leafs’ 5-4 win against the Blues.

BEDARD WITH A TOUCHDOWN: Team Canada recovered from its stunning 5-2 tournament-opening loss to Czechia with an 11-2 blowout victory over Germany. Leading the offensive explosion was phenom Connor Bedard, who tied the Canadian national record for points in a game at the tournament with seven (three goals, four assists).

EW. S. A.: Continuing the trend of upsets and shockers, Team USA dropped its second contest to Slovakia, 6-3. Bouncing back from a 5-2 opening-game loss to Finland on Tuesday and trailing by two at the first intermission, Slovakia netted three goals in 3:19 of the second period en route to its fifth win in 21 tries against the Americans.

DOUBLE DOSE OF DUCK FOR A DAY: Jackson Lewis-Rodriguez lived out every fan’s dream, joining his favorite team as an honorary player for two days. Partnering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Anaheim Ducks signed Jackson to a two-day contract before inviting him to join their Tuesday practice and an afternoon of fun. Wednesday saw Jackson join the Ducks in pregame warmups before Anaheim took on the Vegas Golden Knights.

DON’T SAY DEAD WINGS: After falling behind 4-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on their first 12 shots of the first period last night, the Detroit Red Wings scored five unanswered to win in overtime. Magnus Hellberg came in for Ville Husso to earn the victory with 19 saves, while Jake Walman hit the “Griddy” following his OT winner. It was just the second time in Pittsburgh’s history that the Pens gave up a four-goal lead and lost, and the first time the Wings won after trailing by four or more while on the road. 

Top Shelf Thursday – Top New Year’s Resolutions

With New Year’s Eve right around the corner, it is the perfect time to reflect and focus on goals for the new calendar year. While hockey players are always looking to improve their game, certain NHLers have more to prove than others. Let’s look at three players who need to show what they can do as the calendar turns to 2023.

Alexis Lafrenière: Prove He Was Worthy of the First Overall Pick

During the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the New York Rangers used the first pick to select Alexis Lafrenière. Since breaking into the league, the winger has recorded 69 points in 171 career games. This season he has struggled offensively, only scoring five goals in 36 games. Additionally, his inconsistencies have drawn criticism from his coach, who demoted him to the fourth line. Lafrenière is in his third season with the Rangers and has not played up to his draft selection. Is it only a matter of time until fans start calling him a bust? 

Mackenzie Blackwood: Prove He Is a Starter

It’s been a tough go for New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. Dealing with numerous injuries, he has been in and out of the lineup for the past few seasons. New Jersey had no choice but to bring in a capable starter this past summer to provide stability in the net, which meant Blackwood would have to fight to earn the No. 1 position. That push has led to a record of 5-3-0 with a 2.96 goals-against average and an .882 save percentage. He has been inconsistent in his past few starts, which leaves fans wondering if he will ever be a capable starter in the NHL. Blackwood is on an expiring contract and needs to prove to everyone that he can be relied upon as the go-to guy in the crease. 

Moritz Seider: Prove Calder Season Wasn’t a Fluke

Moritz Seider took the league by storm last season. The defenseman earned the Calder Trophy, awarded annually to the top rookie after earning 50 points in 82 games. This season the Detroit Red Wings blueliner has struggled. Seider has 12 points in 33 games and is a minus-14. Whether paired with Ben Chiarot or learning a new system under head coach Derek Lalonde, he can’t seem to replicate his success. There have been players who suffered through the dreaded sophomore slump, so there is no need to hit the panic button yet, but Seider needs to rediscover his game to show his rookie year wasn’t a fluke.

Royal Ties

The Netflix documentary, “Harry & Meghan” has taken over the entertainment world. It is one of the top shows on the streaming service, as it chronicles the love story of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle—the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. With the show being such a hit, we thought we would look at some NHL ties to the Royal Family.

A Royal Puck Drop

In 2002, Queen Elizabeth II attended a Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks game, where she dropped the ceremonial puck. The Royals were in Vancouver as part of a 12-day Canadian tour to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee (the 50th anniversary of her reign). During the game, she sat with Wayne Gretzky, and according to him, they had some fun conversations. He said, “She was curious about why penalties were being called. She also talked about the goaltenders and how quick they were.” Although the Queen ended up leaving after the first period, the experience left a positive mark on the players and the city itself. Also, the Canucks won the game 3-2. 

A Royal Romance?

Before Meghan met Prince Harry, rumors were swirling that she had dated defenseman Michael Del Zotto. At the time, in 2013, he was playing with the New York Rangers, and she had posted pictures with him on Twitter after going to some games. However, both sides firmly denied they were ever in a relationship and that they were just friends. Del Zotto is now with the Anaheim Ducks organization and playing with the San Diego Gulls of the AHL. 

A Royal Halloween

NHL players come up with elaborate Halloween costumes, and the Colorado Avalanche channeled the Royal Family back in 2013 with a group ensemble. Jamie McGinn was Prince Harry, Jean-Sébastien Giguère was Prince William, and Nathan MacKinnon was the royal baby, as Prince George was born three months prior. And, of course, Princess Kate was also included and likely portrayed by Giguere’s wife, Kristen. 

Real or Fake: Mats Zuccarello

This weekly segment looks at a notable, eye-opening trend in the league, be it an individual or team performance, and examines whether it’s real or if it’s more likely an aberration that should correct itself over time.

While our last “Real or Fake” segment came seven days, a Christmas, and probably a food coma or two ago, you may recall that we touted the virtues of the red-hot Minnesota Wild. But while we offered praise to star forward Kirill Kaprizov and unlikely goaltending standout Filip Gustavsson, we neglected to mention Mats Zuccarello’s remarkable season.

Players listed at a generous 5-foot-8 aren’t supposed to thrive as they age. Instead, their skills typically decline. Yet, the criminally underrated Norwegian winger is playing some of the best hockey of his career despite turning 35 just before the 2022-23 season got underway. So, is Zuccarello’s play real or fake?

Real: The Renaissance Began Last Year

You can call Zuccarello’s performance this season surprising, but don’t say it came out of nowhere. Statistically, the best season of the 13-year veteran’s career was last year, when he delivered 79 points in 70 games. With 39 points in 34 games, he is almost on the same scoring pace this season. The fact that these two impressive campaigns followed five straight years of declining point totals doesn’t change the fact that this was no one-year wonder.

Fake: An Unsustainable December?

Zuccarello has been a force all year, but December has been something else. With two games still to go in the month, he has amassed nine goals and 19 points in 13 contests. That’s good for a point-per-game mark of 1.46, thanks to a shooting percentage of 22%. Unfortunately for Zuccarello, neither of those numbers is likely to hold up long-term since his career averages are 0.75 points per game and a 12% shooting percentage.

Real: The Tools to Succeed

File this one under real—or fake—if you wish, but riding shotgun with Kaprizov has been a difference-maker for Zuccarello. The 25-year-old Russian has overwhelmingly had a hand in most of the goals involving his elder linemate. Of course, this is only sustainable as long as they remain together, but head coach Dean Evason enjoys the chemistry they’ve found and how they seem to bring out the best in each other.

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