February 16 — Taking a Year Off & Crosby Nets 500

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SID POTS NO. 500: On Tuesday night, Sidney Crosby scored the 500th goal of his decorated career, notching a power-play marker in the first period of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-4 overtime victory over rival Philadelphia Flyers. The circumstances around goal No. 500 were fitting, as it came at the expense of the club against whom Crosby has scored more than any other team and occurred in Pittsburgh, the only NHL home the future Hall of Famer has ever known.

LAVIO-LET’S GET ANOTHER WIN: With a 4-1 victory for the Washington Capitals over the Nashville Predators, Peter Laviolette became the 10th coach in NHL history to reach the 700-win mark. Alex Ovechkin notched his 30th and 31st goals on the season, eclipsing the 30-goal plateau for the 15th time in his career.

BRO TO BRO: In the Detroit Red Wings’ 7-4 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Monday, Givani and Gemel Smith became the fourth set of brothers to play together this season in the NHL, joining Caleb and Seth Jones of the Chicago Blackhawks, Darren and Taylor Raddysh of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Haydn and Cale Fleury of the Seattle Kraken.

DREAMS DASHED: After finishing the preliminary round in first place with three regulation wins, the USA men’s hockey team fell to Slovakia in a shootout in the first of the Quarterfinal matches on the day. Slovakia tied the game in the final minute of the third period to force overtime, and ex-Boston Bruins forward Peter Cehlárik scored the only goal in the five-round shootout to send the Slovaks to the Semifinals.

Returning From a Year Off

Jack Eichel will make his season debut tonight for the Vegas Golden Knights. After the 25-year-old center was traded to Vegas by the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 4, he spent the next three months recovering from surgery to repair a spinal disk herniation. He last played in a game on March 7, 2021.

While Eichel is a talented playmaker and will be an impactful addition to the Golden Knights as a top-line center, it’s fair to question how he might perform after almost a full year off the ice. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three other NHL stars who returned after missing that much time.

Nikita Kucherov

Kucherov returned from a nearly eight-month absence to lead the Lightning to the Stanley Cup (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Following his 34 points en route to winning the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Lightning star underwent hip surgery in Dec. 2020, weeks before the COVID-delayed 2020-21 season started. He missed the entire regular season but returned for the playoffs and helped lead the Lightning to a second straight Cup title, pacing the league in postseason points with 32 (eight goals, 24 assists) in 23 games. The 28-year-old, who missed 32 games earlier this season due to a lower-body injury, has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 13 games for Tampa so far in 2021-22.

Alexei Yashin

An 18-month absence didn’t slow Yashin, who posted his second-best statistical season in his return (Rick Stewart /Allsport)

The former Ottawa Senators star missed the 1999-00 season due to a contract holdout, not an injury. He returned for the 2000-01 season and didn’t miss a beat, posting 88 points (40 goals, 48 assists) in 82 games for the Senators. Yashin left Ottawa after that year, playing five seasons for the New York Islanders before returning to his native Russia to finish his career, retiring in 2012 after 21 seasons of professional hockey.

Mario Lemieux

Lemieux came back from an 18-month absence and resumed being one of the top players in NHL history (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Lemieux took the 1994-95 season off due to fatigue from battling Hodgkins Lymphoma. After playing 22 games the prior two years combined, the legendary Pittsburgh Penguins forward returned and played 70 games during the 1995-96 season, tallying 161 points (69 goals, 92 assists). He retired in 1997 but returned in 2000, playing 170 combined games in five more seasons.

Who’s Next to 500?

Congratulations, Sidney Crosby! On Tuesday night, Sid the Kid became the 46th NHL player to reach the 500-goal mark, achieving the milestone in the first period of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-4 overtime victory over the rival Philadelphia Flyers in front of a home crowd at PPG Paints Arena.

Of the 42 Hall of Fame-eligible players who have surpassed the 500-goal mark, all but five (Keith Tkachuk, Pat Verbeek, Pierre Turgeon, Jeremy Roenick, and Peter Bondra) are in Toronto. In other words, it stands as a plateau that genuinely highlights the game’s all-time greats, which raises the question of who’s next?

Who among the NHL’s current crop of star scorers is on track to follow Crosby and join some pretty elite company?

Steven Stamkos

After seeing his production dip a bit in recent seasons, Steven Stamkos has put to rest all talk of age-related decline with a standout 2021-22 campaign. Stamkos’ 23 goals on the year have given him 461 for his career, 39 tallies shy of the mark in nearly 200 fewer games than Crosby. The recently-turned 32-year-old still has two more years remaining on his contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning and looks like a lock to hit 500.

Evgeni Malkin

When Evgeni Malkin posted 50 goals during a Hart Trophy-winning campaign in 2011-12 as a 25-year-old, it seemed unthinkable that he wouldn’t cruise to 500. Then, injuries hit. Still, it’s a testament to the ability of the Russian 35-year-old that he’s weathered seasons of just 43, 31, 55, and 33 games and remains in contention to get to 500. Getting an ironic 71 more goals won’t be easy, but Geno is no stranger to adversity.

Patrick Kane

In his 14th NHL season, Patrick Kane failed to record 20 goals for the first time. The shortened 56-game slate likely had something to do with it, but the long-time struggles of the Chicago Blackhawks raised questions about how he will fare as he ventures further into his mid-30s. Now 33 and with 416 goals, Kane will get there in four or five years if he can resume his 20-goal pace but will fall just short if he can’t.

Auston Matthews

We couldn’t resist one future bet here! Auston Matthews has been on a scoring tear since his 40-goal rookie campaign and already has a Richard Trophy to his name. As the 24-year-old looks poised for his first 50-goal season, it’s worth noting that he’s averaged just under 40 goals a year and continues to improve as a sniper. At a 40-goal pace, Matthews would hit 500 sometime after his 32nd birthday. Any more than that will be gravy.

Wild Card Watch

Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals: The Capitals are three points behind the New York Rangers for third in the Metropolitan Divison. Washington has gone 5-5-0 in its last 10 games, struggling to put a winning streak together, although Alex Ovechkin has 62 points, currently the fifth-best in the league. Like the Bruins, the Caps don’t have an immediate threat trying to knock them out of a playoff spot as they have a 16-point advantage over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Boston Bruins: To the surprise of no one, the Bruins are still holding steady in the second Wild Card spot. Boston has 58 points, is seven points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are third in the Atlantic, and has an eight-point lead over the Detroit Red Wings. Meanwhile, the recent play of Jeremy Swayman has had helped fans get over the sudden retirement of Tuukka Rask.

Team to Watch: New York Rangers

Western Conference

Nashville Predators: The Predators have been a pleasant surprise this year and have been near the top of the Central Division most of the season. However, they are currently on a three-game losing streak and are 4-5-1 in their last 10. With the playoff race tight between the St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, and Dallas Stars, Nashville will need to snap its current skid and get back in the win column.

Los Angeles Kings: Ahead of the season, there was speculation that the Kings would be a dark horse this year, and so far, that has been proven true. However, they are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games, and before the Oilers beat them last night, they were third in the Pacific Division, dropping into the second Wild Card spot. Anže Kopitar leads the team with 42 points, and the acquisition of Viktor Arvidsson has been playing out as the organization expected, with 30 points in 41 games.

Team to Watch: Anaheim Ducks

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