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Last Night’s News 📰
SOUP ON THE SHELF: Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell is out two weeks with a rib injury. Although struggling, Campbell’s absence adds another layer to the club’s recent goaltending woes, which only looked worse on Thursday night. Petr Mrázek allowed four goals on 12 shots before being pulled for rookie call-up Erik Källgren in a wild 5-4 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes.
RISTOLAINEN RETAINED: Despite a forgettable season in Philadelphia, the Flyers have decided they want to keep Rasmus Ristolainen around, signing the blueliner to a five-year, $25.5 million extension. While some will question the move given Ristolainen’s performance this season, the former Buffalo Sabres defenseman ranks third on the team in ice time while being a consistent staple of their second pairing.
BUFFALO WAS JACK’D: Speaking of former Sabres, Jack Eichel returned to Buffalo for the first time on Thursday night as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, but it was the home side that got the last laugh. In front of a season-high crowd providing Eichel with a chilly reception, the Sabres pulled out a 3-1 victory on the strength of goals from Peyton Krebs and Alex Tuch, who came over in the Eichel blockbuster.
STAAL IN THE FAMILY: Marc Staal will play in his 1,000th game on Saturday, making him, Eric, and Jordan the first trio of brothers to each play 1,000 NHL games. A defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings the past two seasons after spending 13 with the New York Rangers, Marc appeared in his 999th game last night, a Wings shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild. Eric played in 1,293 games before unofficially retiring, while Jordan will appear in his 1,070th game tomorrow when the Carolina Hurricanes take on the Flyers.
Let’s look back at our favorite moments of the week.
Hooting & Howling in the Desert
Arizona Coyotes fans have not had much to celebrate this season. The team has struggled on the ice, and their drama off the ice rivals what one would see on The Real Housewives. This week the team celebrated two road wins against the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. In their first victory, they scored a whopping nine goals, which were the most Arizona scored in a game since relocating from Winnipeg in 1996-97. Their second victory came in overtime after allowing the Maple Leafs to notch three goals in the third period.
Zajac Gets His Moment
The New Jersey Devils and their fans finally recognized Travis Zajac’s 1,000th game and NHL career. The newly retired forward played 15 seasons in New Jersey until a trade sent him to the New York Islanders to give him one last chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. He played 13 games with the Islanders and signed a one-day contract to retire as a Devil. Last night, Zajac and his family participated in a ceremonial puck drop as he put on his Devils’ uniform one last time.
You Get a Hat Trick & You Get a Hat Trick
This week, multiple players celebrated a hat trick, including Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Reinhart, Auston Matthews, and Anders Lee. Jason Robertson enjoyed it so much that he did it twice. The Dallas Stars forward scored three against the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild, becoming the first NHL player to record back-to-back hat tricks since Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin achieved the feat in Jan. 2020.
2022 Heritage Classic Preview
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres will square off Sunday afternoon in the 2022 Heritage Classic, the third and final outdoor hockey game of the 2021-22 NHL season at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton, Ontario. Puck drop is 4:00 PM Eastern Time on Sunday, and the game will be on TNT, SportsNet, TVA Sports, and NHL Live.
To prepare you for the event, let’s take a look at the history of the Heritage Classic, the festivities that will take place this weekend surrounding the game, and how the two participating teams have fared this season and in previous outdoor games.
Of the three outdoor games the NHL puts on, the Heritage Classic is the oldest but has happened the least. The inaugural Heritage Classic took place on Nov. 22, 2003, between the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers (at Commonwealth Field in Edmonton), the first outdoor regular-season game in NHL history.
Unlike the annual Winter Classic and Stadium Series, the Heritage Classic was held five times in 16 years, with all five games featuring only Canadian teams. Following the 2003 event, the Canadiens and Calgary Flames played at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium in 2011, Ottawa faced the Canucks at Vancouver’s BC Place in 2014, the Oilers and Winnipeg Jets clashed at Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field in 2016, and the Flames took on the Jets at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium in 2019.
Overall, the Canadiens, Oilers, Flames, and Jets are 1-1 in the event, while the Senators are 1-0 and the Canucks are 0-1. This year’s sixth iteration of the event features Toronto, the only Canadian team that has yet to participate, and Buffalo, the first American team to be involved.
Not surprisingly, the theme of the 2022 Heritage Classic will be Canada vs. the U.S., playing off the teams’ proximity. Half the stadium will be decorated with red, white, and blue stars and stripes, while the other half will be red and white with a maple leaf. Hamilton, Ontario, is about halfway between Toronto and Buffalo, so it’s a fitting host city for this contest.
Like most of the NHL’s outdoor events, there will be a fan festival before the game, which will feature all sorts of activities and events. The gold medal-winning Canadian women’s hockey team will be honored pregame as Lindsay Ell, a country music singer and host of Canada’s Got Talent, will perform both the Canadian and U.S. National Anthems. There will also be musical performances by Alessia Ciara and Willow.
Although this is the first Heritage Classic appearance for the Leafs and Sabres, they have previously participated in other NHL outdoor games. Buffalo hosted the inaugural Winter Classic in 2008, losing 2-1 in a shootout to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Sabres played in the Winter Classic again in 2018, losing 2-1 in overtime to the New York Rangers.
Toronto played in the 2014 Winter Classic, beating the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout. The Leafs outlasted the Red Wings again in the 2017 Centennial Classic (a one-time event in Toronto), winning 5-4 in overtime. They then played in a Stadium Series game in 2018, losing 5-2 to the Washington Capitals.
So far this season, the Maple Leafs are 37-16-4, good for third place in the Atlantic Division, while the Sabres sit next-to-last in the Eastern Conference with an 18-32-8 record. The two teams have met twice this year, with Toronto winning 5-4 on Nov. 13 and the Sabres winning 5-1 last Wednesday.
Trade Deadline Primer: Central Division Wild Cards
Recent swings amidst the middle class of the Central Division could make for a fascinating lead-up to the March 21 trade deadline. Even though the nearly 50-point disparity between the division-leading Colorado Avalanche and the basement-dwelling Arizona Coyotes represents the most significant gap in the league, the bloated middle features four teams separated by just six points.
Suffice to say, these wild cards are fittingly “Wild” (bad pun intended).
How do you distinguish between a “buyer” category and a “wild card” category when the standings are so tight? In a word, trends. The Minnesota Wild are trying to climb out of a recent rut that saw them drop six of seven games, denting their “team on the rise” status and raising questions over their current playoff ceiling. Given the sudden onset of uncertainty, there may be some trepidation on the part of GM Bill Guerin to surrender future assets to help a team that may not be ready to win now.
Speaking of streaky play, it’s hard to know which version of the Dallas Stars you’re going to get on a night-to-night basis: the team with four separate win streaks of four games or better or the group that has dropped at least three straight on three occasions. A 9-3-1 mark in the past 13 games has the Stars looking like buyers, but even that’s shrouded in uncertainty in light of questions surrounding the future of long-time defensive anchor John Klingberg.
Two straight wins and victories in four of their past six have the Winnipeg Jets still at least within shouting distance of playoff contention, but the writing is most likely on the wall that the Jets will be waving the white flag on this season. While players on expiring contracts like Andrew Copp and Paul Stastny would make the most sense to move in hopes of recouping assets rather than losing them for nothing, some Jets writers are pushing for more drastic changes and floating names like Mark Scheifele.
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- Today’s newsletter was edited by Kyle Knopp, with contributions by Ben Fisher, Kristy Flannery, and Grant Tingley.
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