NHL Rink Wrap: Senators hold off Stars in Sunday’s only game

Top player from Senators – Stars

Connor Brown, Senators

Just 4:34 into Sunday’s Stars – Senators game, Michael Raffl gave Dallas a 1-0 lead. That advantage only lasted 50 seconds, however, as Brown piled up one of his first three assists on a Nick Paul goal.

In the process, Brown reached 100+ assists on his NHL career.

Ottawa provided some other candidates. Chris Tierney scored two power-play goals, including the eventual game-winner. The Senators seemed mostly content to sit on their lead in the third period, leaning on Filip Gustavsson in the process. Gustavsson stopped 32 out of 34 shots for a strong effort in victory.

Stars – Senators highlights

Being that it was Sunday’s lone NHL game, might as well watch the full Senators – Stars highlights, right?

Jamie Benn demanded a fight, and Josh Brown obliged.

Takeaways from Stars – Senators

Coaches still love sending Suter out there

When the Stars signed Ryan Suter, people pictured them getting more from less. To clarify: what if Suter — whose decline might have been exaggerated by excessive ice time — might slide into a more appropriate role?

Well, about that ….

In Suter’s Oct. 14 debut, he logged 22:19 time on ice. The Stars bumped Suter up to 23:35 against the Bruins on Saturday. On a back-to-back set, Suter logged 9:24 TOI in the first period alone. While that total is heightened by some long shifts (including a cardio-challenging 1:58 maratahon), that’s still a lot.

Suter is 36, and turns 37 on Jan. 21.

It’s early, but so far, the Stars still seem to view Suter as that same workhorse. Looking at underlying stats, Suter might benefit the Stars most in more of an offensive, sheltered role.

Old habits die hard (and transfer from team to team?) though, it seems.

We may know more about Sens after this four-game homestand

Apply that “it’s early” caveat to all of this. Go ahead. (Waits.)

Ultimately, we need to at least try to gauge where a team is trending for now. That’s why road trips and homestands can come in handy.

In closing out a back-to-back set vs. the Stars on Sunday, the Senators also began a four-game homestand. This could give us an early taste of whether Ottawa’s building beyond its rebuild. Ponder that four-game homestand:

  • Sunday vs. Stars.
  • Thursday vs. Sharks.
  • Saturday vs. Rangers.
  • Monday (Oct. 25) vs. Capitals.

None of those teams are at the top of Stanley Cup favorites lists, yet the Capitals are a playoff regular, and the Stars can go either way. Meanwhile, the Sharks are trying to fight a rebuild, and the Rangers want to take the same steps Ottawa hopes to make. So it’s an interesting mix of opponents, and an opportunity for Ottawa to make a statement or two.

Should Dallas open things up?

No doubt, teams can ride stingy defensive systems to great success. That said, winning by small margins of error means that you can’t afford to make many mistakes. Such systems can be great for goalies. Even so, if your goalies aren’t on task, it exposes them (and your team) to a greater degree.

During their surprise run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the Stars found a way to strike the right balance. They were just aggressive enough offensively to make their defensive-minded approach work.

Credit the Stars for being a top-five team in expected goals against and high-danger chances against for the previous three seasons. You do that often enough, you’ll win more often than not.

But could the diminishing returns from last season be a sign of more slippage to come? From COVID to strange weather, enough stacked up against the 2020-21 Stars to see room for optimism. (After all, they got pretty close to snatching a playoff spot from the Predators.)

Games like Sunday’s against the Senators prompt some concern that the Stars can only win one way. Inevitably, you need to be able to fight back from leads, not just protect them.

Monday’s big story

Matthews debuts

So far, the Maple Leafs are 2-1-0 on this young season. They managed that mark without reigning Maurice Richard winner Auston Matthews, but he’s expected to play against the Rangers on Monday.

Even with the Rangers’ offseason fixated on toughness, there’s plenty of potential for fireworks in this one. Matthews, Mitch Marner, and a red-hot William Nylander give Toronto tons of scoring potential. Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and a bucket of young players make New York dangerous. It’s a bummer that Kaapo Kakko went on IR, but it could still be a challenging one for the goalies involved.

Sunday’s NHL score

Senators 3, Stars 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL injury/news updates: Eichel, Kucherov, MacKinnon, Matthews

During the first week of the 2021-22 NHL season, there are injuries, players trying to recover from injuries, and other bits of news. Let’s round up some of the most noteworthy updates on Jack Eichel, Nikita Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, and more.

Report: Sabres don’t want to retain salary in an Eichel trade

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek provided some interesting details about Jack Eichel, John Klingberg, and others.

Both Eichel and Marek noted the Golden Knights and Avalanche at points showing at least some interest in Jack Eichel. Yet, the parameters of a trade set up a wall: the Sabres reportedly don’t want to retain salary in an Eichel trade.

They might be amenable to taking back money in the form of other contracts to make the Eichel contract work, however. Some supplementary thoughts:

  • Most immediately, Vegas has injury worries that would make an-already-cap-challenging Eichel trade tough to even imagine. Could there be room for some creativity, particularly if they moved Eichel onto LTIR?

Two contracts stick out: Evgenii Dadonov ($5M cap hit for two more seasons) and Reilly Smith ($5M, expires after this season). Tough to imagine the Golden Knights pulling off an Eichel trade. That said … they’ve pulled off bold, cap-defying moves before.

[Rink Wrap: catch up on Saturday’s NHL action.]

  • Ultimately, the lack of salary retention might matter most to the Avalanche. That’s because Nathan MacKinnon’s hyper-steal $6.3M cap hit evaporates after 2022-23. Managing everything with Eichel at full freight ($10M through 2025-26) would be difficult with MacKinnon’s raise, alongside big deals for Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, and Mikko Rantanen.

That said, there are some deals that could be moved. Some expiring contracts stand out (Andre Burakovsky, $4.9M; Nazem Kadri, $4.5M), at least if you mix in some two-year commitments (Erik Johnson at $6M; J.T. Compher at $3.5M). But would the Avalanche risk that much future flexibility? Sounds like the answer is no, at least without salary retention.

  • To some, this provides added motivation to gripe about the way the Sabres do business. To an extent, that’s fair.

However, at least some people may not consider that, if the Sabres retained salary for Jack Eichel, it would be for the five remaining seasons of his deal. Eventually, they’re hoping to compete; if they’re paying Eichel $1-$2M to compete for someone else, that’s wasted.

Yes, it’s part of doing business. Teams feel the same sting with a costly buyout. But the Sabres balking at salary retention in an Eichel trade isn’t totally out of bounds. At minimum, it should drive the asking price up considerably.

Interesting Stars – Klingberg rumblings

In that same Sportsnet segment, Marek and Friedman also discussed the expiring contract of Stars defenseman John Klingberg.

After watching other defensemen cash in, Marek reports that Klingberg wants a deal that could fall in the eight-year, $62-$66M range. That hypothetical contract would carry a cap hit between $7.75M – $8.25M.

It’s an interesting situation, overall.

On one hand, Klingberg’s raise is a long time coming. He’s been underrated for years, and also underpaid — his current $4.25M cap hit has been in place for seven seasons. That said, Klingberg is 29, and will turn 30 before his next contract begins (Aug. 14).

By a variety of metrics, there are red flags that Klingberg could go from underrated and underpaid to overpaid. Consider his SPAR (standings points above replacement) chart from Evolving Hockey:

Klingberg SPAR EVO NHL injury news trade updates
via Evolving Hockey

No shame in going from great to good, but teams should be picky when handing out max term and big salaries.

Also, even if Klingberg returns to his previous borderline-Norris level, he might run into something Dougie Hamilton experienced. Sometimes, a team just isn’t convinced you’re an $8M-ish defenseman.

  • Last season, Klingberg averaged less time on ice (22:42) than Miro Heiskanen (24:58) and Esa Lindell (23:11).
  • That also happened in 2019-20, with Lindell (23:25) managing a slightly larger gap (Klingberg – 22:10). Klingberg last topped the Stars in ice time in 2018-19, Heiskanen’s rookie season.
  • If the Stars view Klingberg as their third defenseman, that price tag would already be a hurdle. There’s also the larger question of the direction of this team. In the event that they miss the playoffs in 2021-22, would they really want to pay top dollar for Klingberg? Was the Ryan Suter signing already a signal that they’re moving on?

No doubt, if the Stars don’t sign Klingberg, he’d get a lot of attention on the trade and/or free agent markets.

NHL injury/COVID news: Kucherov, Matthews, MacKinnon, and more

  • The Maple Leafs received a mix of good and bad injury news.

The bad news is that Petr Mrazek is expected to miss about two weeks with a groin injury. Toronto will likely roll with a Jack CampbellMichael Hutchinson combo in Mrazek’s absence.

On the bright side, Auston Matthews is slated to make his season debut against the Rangers on Monday. After that, the Maple Leafs face a back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday.

  • Speaking of the Rangers, they placed Kaapo Kakko on injured reserve.
  • Unfortunately, Nathan MacKinnon still tested positive for COVID. The Athletic’s Peter Baugh reports that MacKinnon won’t travel on at least the first portion of Colorado’s upcoming road trip. It’s a three-game trip (at Washington on Tuesday, Florida on Thursday, and Tampa Bay on Saturday). Overall, the Avs play four of their next five games on the road.
  • Nikita Kucherov left Saturday’s OT win with an injury the Lightning said “didn’t look good.” Steven Stamkos said they’re praying Kucherov is OK, according to Joe Smith of The Athletic.

Sometimes a minor-looking exchange can result in an injury:

For even more player news, check out NBC Sports Edge.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Rink Wrap: Bennett, McDavid enjoy Saturday hat tricks

Players of the Night

Sam Bennett, Panthers

Was Sam Bennett playing over his head after joining the Panthers in a trade? After all, Bennett scored more goals (six) and points (15) in 10 Panthers games than he managed in 38 games with the Flames last season (4G, 8A for 12 points). He couldn’t possibly match that pace over a full campaign, could he?

Probably not. But it’s still impressive that Bennett notced a hat trick, and did so against the normally-stingy Islanders.

Connor McDavid, Oilers

McDavid recorded his first three goals of the season during Edmonton’s 5-2 win over Calgary in this season’s first Battle of Alberta. The hat trick was the Oilers captain’s 10th of his career. Three of those 10 tricks have come versus the Flames.

Highlights from Saturday in the NHL

Brandon Tanev made moves with this goal …

… worthy of dusting off that Brandon Tanev face from his mugshot.

Pittsburgh Penguins Headshots
(Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Some doofus predicted a rebound season for Patrik Laine. Calling 40 goals for Laine was especially excessive, but maybe he can find his smile again? After starting the season with two assists, Laine generated the overtime game-winner as the Blue Jackets beat the Coyotes:

Alex Ovechkin once again doing Alex Ovechkin things:

Congrats to Katie Guay for becoming the first woman to ref an American Hockey League game. Guay wore the stripes for Saturday’s tilt between Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton:

Three Takeaways from NHL on Saturday

The Canadiens’ offense looks awful

Heading into the 2021-22 season, people focused on some of the losses the Canadiens endured possibly dooming them after that Cinderella run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. Yet, most of those losses were about losing defense. Shea Weber may never play again. Carey Price entered the player assistance program.

Even some of the departed forwards bring much of their value in limiting offense. (See: Phillip Danault.)

After going winless (and pointless) in their first three games, Montreal’s biggest offense is a lack of offense.

Before their deep playoff run, the story of the Canadiens was often about a team that could hog the puck, but not put that puck in the net. Maybe that’s an issue that will carry over to this season? Honestly, even during their playoff wins, it was often about suffocating opponents. They rarely lit up scoreboards.

With Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, the Canadiens have a duo that’s likely to start clicking. And even though Mike Hoffman looks lab-made to get in the doghouse and get scratched, he at least can shoot.

Overall, it’s best not to get too concerned. That said, the Canadiens have been one of those teams especially vulnerable to scoring slumps. This is at least a cause for some alarm.

Blunders aplenty for Blackhawks blueline

Imagine the frightful monster you’d get if you crossed the Canadiens’ offense with the Blackhawks’ defense.

(Sorry, but Halloween is near.)

Through three games, the Blackhawks have allowed a terrifying 13 goals, scoring six themselves. At times, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen carried some blame for those goals. Big-picture, though? The Blackhawks’ defense has been absolutely porous.

Consider their 5-on-5 high-danger chance results so far, via Natural Stat Trick:

  • In a 4-2 loss to the Avalanche, the Blackhawks lost the high-danger chance battle 11-3.
  • On the bright side, the Blackhawks salvaged a “charity point” while losing to Jack Hughes and the Devils 4-3 in OT. The Devils notched a 12-8 high-danger chance advantage there.
  • On Saturday night, the Blackhawks lost the high-danger chance battle to the Penguins (8-4), as Pittsburgh won 5-2.

No, the Blackhawks don’t have to play perfect defense to improve. Several NHL teams accept a certain number of mistakes, believing that they’ll create more than they allow.

But there’s not much defending how the Blackhawks are playing. That’s because they’re not doing much defending at all.

The Panthers sure look like a powerful scoring machine again

If you watched enough Panthers games last season, you likely ended up dazzled by their relentless attacking style. That said, some might downplay Florida’s success after a first-round exit (even if it came against the eventual, repeat Stanley Cup champ Lightning). Others might just wonder if the Panthers couldn’t repeat those results.

Drop that “it’s early caveat” in here, and throughout other takeaways. Nonetheless, the early signs are promising.

The Panthers didn’t just beat the Islanders, they hammered them 5-1. Speaking of high-danger chances, the Panthers generated an 8-3 edge in that department. (The volume was there, too, but the Islanders emphasize those Grade-A opportunities.)

Things weren’t as lopsided vs. the Penguins, but the Panthers created a ton of chances there too, scoring five goals as well.

Sometimes depth is overrated in the NHL. With the Panthers, an approach that emphasizes waves of offense — with some standouts, like Aleksander Barkov — could work a lot more often than it falls short.

Sunday’s big story

Stars vs. Senators

On Saturday in the NHL, hockey-lovers had to pick and choose. During especially busy hours, that even went for those who set up more screens than Batman did to catch the Joker. It can be a bit much. Even those with fortress-like bladders will need a rewind.

On Sunday, NHL fans have one choice: Stars at Senators, at 5 p.m. ET.

There, you can get a look at where the Stars might be pointed. Will this team be more like last season’s disappointment, or the surprise 2020 Stanley Cup Finalist?

And, you get a look at the upstart Senators. When’s that unparalleled success going to kick in, again?

Saturday’s NHL scores

Hurricanes 3, Predators 2
Blue Jackets 2, Kraken 1 (OT)
Lightning 2, Capitals 1 (OT)
Penguins 5, Blackhawks 2
Red Wings 3, Canucks 1
Maple Leafs 3, Senators 1
Bruins 3, Stars 1
Rangers 3, Canadiens 1
Panthers 5, Islanders 1
Sabres 2, Coyotes 1 (SO)
Wild 2, Kings 2
Oilers 5, Flames 2
Sharks 4, Jets 3
Blues 5, Avalanche 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Injuries a big problem for Golden Knights with Pacioretty, Stone out

If the Kings’ 6-2 win didn’t give people some pause about the Golden Knights cruising to a Pacific Division title, then a worrisome injury list might do the trick. The Golden Knights deem Max Pacioretty out week-to-week, while Mark Stone is day-to-day … at least for now.

(Peter DeBoer noted that Stone is still being evaluated.)

Injuries suddenly a big problem for Golden Knights with Pacioretty, Stone

As a reminder, underrated winger Alex Tuch is also out with a significant injury. Reports indicate that Tuch won’t be available for the Golden Knights until around January.

If both Stone and Pacioretty are out long-term (we already know Pacioretty is out week-to-week), then the Golden Knights lose two-thirds of one of the NHL’s best lines.

While Chandler Stephenson is underrated in his own right, Pacioretty and Stone really amplify his strengths. Stephenson can use his speed to transport the puck and make room for those two outstanding wingers. With less capable support, Stephenson may also look worse.

By now, most fans realize that Mark Stone is an elite winger, and a perennial Selke candidate. Since Stone joined the Golden Knights, Pacioretty’s game has really taken off, too. Pacioretty scored 24 goals and 51 points in just 48 games last season. “Patches” also scored 32 goals in 2018-19.

[Golden Knights’ 2021-22 season preview]

Presumably, the offensive focus shifts to the Golden Knights “former first line” of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith.

The Golden Knights might also focus that much more on defense, and leaning on Robin Lehner.

If any team’s found ways to make the best of things under numerous circumstances, it’s the Golden Knights. Could we see Peyton Krebs and/or Nolan Patrick emerge in this situation? Might Vegas prove that Evgenii Dadonov was an inspired pickup, rather than a baffling one?

Ultimately, the Golden Knights would prefer that those questions were subplots, rather than ones whose answers might make-or-break at least some chunk of this season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Rink Wrap: The Jack Hughes Show highlights Devils win

Player of the Night

Jack Hughes, Devils

New Jersey built up a 3-1 lead thanks to Dougie Hamilton‘s goal 17 seconds into the game and Hughes’ first of the season in the second period. But the Blackhawks scored twice in a 3:27 span late in the third to force overtime. It was there the young Devils star put on a brilliant solo display to win the game and then gifte a fan at Prudential Center a game-used stick.

Hughes’ first goal from Friday was pretty nifty, too.

Highlights from Friday in the NHL

The first of Carter Hart‘s rough goals felt a bit like “the nature of the beast.” The second cringe-worthy goal Carter Hart allowed, though? Pretty brutal. Elias Pettersson (again) put Hart in a bad spot, and J.T. Miller took care of the rest:

Marcus Foligno dropped the gloves with Max Jones in the first period and had the last laugh with a game-winning goal with 7.2 seconds left to help the Wild edge the Ducks:

Before that game, Trevor Zegras was just showing off:

The Blackhawks and Devils honored the late Jimmy Hayes Friday night:

Two Takeaways from NHL on Friday

So far, so very good for Devils and Dougie

As you can see above, Hamilton celebrated his big contract with the Devils by scoring right away. Then Jack Hughes did the rest to secure a debut win to kick off the Dougie days.

By the simplest terms, that’s a great debut.

But when you dig deeper … Dougie Hamilton shines even more.

Via Natural Stat Trick, the Devils dominated shot volume with Hamilton on the ice. Whether you count blocked shots (21 Corsi For, 7 against at even-strength), or not (17-6 Fenwick For), Hamilton tilted the ice in New Jersey’s favor.

• Hamilton’s Devils debut was strong in more than just “empty calories” ways. At 5-on-5, the Devils generated a 14-5 scoring chance advantage. As far as high-danger chances go? That’s a 7-3 mark. Just lights-out stuff.

• The simple stats are there, too. Hamilton earned a +3 rating, with the Devils generating three goals with him on the ice at 5-on-5, and not allowing one.

Vigneault sticks with Carter Hart after those tough goals

After four goals — including two especially painful ones — people were making jokes at Carter Hart’s expense. Or, they were making jokes about the Flyers’ backup plan of, uh, Martin Jones.

Of course, it’s far, far, far too early to assume Hart won’t rebound from his disappointing 2020-21 season. Plenty of people would’ve spared Hart the exposure of playing through the third period.

Instead, Alain Vigneault took the risk of added damage to Hart’s psyche. The young goalie bounced back with 15 saves in the third period, helping Philly gain a “charity point.”

Now, the Canucks still beat the Flyers. And Hart did allow Vancouver to score on both shootout chances. They’re not out of the woods by any means …

… But, hey, Vigneault stood by his goalie. It might just work out.

(Maybe Vigneault doesn’t have much of a choice, anyway?)

Saturday’s big story

Plenty of NHL season-openers

The 2021-22 NHL season’s been in action since Tuesday, yet quite a few teams open things up on Saturday. Here they are:

• Bruins host Stars at 7 p.m. ET.

• The Blues 2021-22 season begins the way their last one ended. They’re facing the mighty Avalanche at 9 p.m. ET after Colorado swept the Blues during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

• The Sharks kick off their 2021-22 season by hosting the Jets at 10 p.m. ET.

• Finally, the Flames begin their season against the hated Oilers at 10 p.m. ET.

We’ll get to see a retooled St. Louis lineup, and see how a mostly-intact Flames team handles what should be a high-pressure season. Should be a fun, busy Saturday in the NHL.

Friday’s NHL scores

Devils 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)
Canucks 5, Flyers 4 (SO)
Wild 2, Ducks 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Dylan Larkin suspended one game for roughing Mathieu Joseph

The NHL suspended Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin one game for roughing Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph.

As the suspension explanation video notes, part of the reason for the punishment is the “retaliatory nature” of Larkin’s punch on Joseph. When watching the video, you’ll of course note Joseph’s hit on Larkin before that reaction. It doesn’t sound like Joseph will receive supplemental discipline for his check on Larkin.

Between retaliation and the “forceful” punch, the NHL determined that Larkin deserved a one-game suspension. It’s the first time the 25-year-old’s been fined or suspended by the NHL.

Larkin received a match penalty as a result of the play, as well.

This was midway through a wild game where the Red Wings squandered 4-1 and 6-3 leads to the Lightning, who won 7-6 in OT.

Red Wings react more to Joseph hit than Larkin suspension

Generally, it seems like the Red Wings wished Larkin didn’t retaliate against Joseph in the way he did. That said, the team clearly wasn’t happy with the hit Joseph delivered.

“As a hockey observer in general, whether I’m watching my 11-year-old play hockey or watching us play hockey, I personally think the most dangerous play in hockey is anything where you’re pushing somebody head first into the boards,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said, via the Detroit Free Press. “I get there’s times when people turn, but (Thursday night) clearly wasn’t the case. You can say, well, he put himself in a vulnerable position — I don’t know, he’s going to get the puck. I think none of us want to be in a position where it’s OK to have high hits on the back, on numbers. That’s my personal opinion.”

Most simply, Red Wings teammate Robby Fabbri said he “didn’t like the hit at all.”

Due to that suspension, Larkin will miss Saturday’s Red Wings – Canucks game. He’s eligible to return against the Blue Jackets in Detroit on Tuesday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins sign Charlie McAvoy to eight-year, $76 million contract extension

Charlie McAvoy is going to be a Boston Bruin for a very long time.

The team and McAvoy have agreed to a brand new eight year, $76 million contract extension that will keep the standout defenseman in Boston through the end of the 2029-30 season. That comes out to a salary cap hit of $9.5 million per season.

He is currently in the final year of a three-year, $14.7 million contract that has a salary cap hit of $4.9 million per season. Obviously, the next contract is a fairly significant raise almost doubling in average yearly value.

This is honestly a great deal for everybody. McAvoy becomes one of the highest paid defenders in the league — as he should be — while the Bruins keep a 23-year-old franchise defender in place for nearly the next decade. He has already become Boston’s best, most reliable defender and is a significant part of their core.

Perhaps what stands out most about this deal is that his salary cap hit is significantly larger than every other player on the roster. Prior to McAvoy’s deal no other player on the team had a salary cap hit larger than David Pastrnak‘s $6.6 million deal. The Bruins have had a knack for getting their core players, no matter how good they are, to take contracts that have turned out to be significantly below market value. That obviously did not happen here (and that is fine).

This is the richest contract in Bruins history.

McAvoy is set to begin his fifth season in the NHL and has already established himself as a top-tier defenseman for his ability to defend and help drive offense.

He is already a Norris caliber player and figures to be on the shortlist of contenders for that award for the foreseeable future. He finished 10th in the voting two years ago and climbed all the way up to fifth this past season. It would not be a surprise if he eventually won it at some point in his career.

The $9.5 million salary cap hit is directly in line with a lot of the other contracts signed by defenders this offseason (Miro Heiskanen, Seth Jones, Dougie Hamilton, Zach Werenski) and when you consider that McAvoy is younger than all of them (minus Heiskanen) and significantly better than most of them it is an outstanding deal for the Bruins.

NHL Rink Wrap: Big upsets, but not vs. Lightning; First Kraken win

Player of the Night

Tyler Bertuzzi

Considering the Lightning’s ludicrous comeback from down 6-3 with mere minutes remaining in the third period, you might want to hand this to a Bolt. The argument is there. You could easily name Nikita Kucherov (1G, 3A) or Victor Hedman (four assists) as the player of Thursday night in the NHL.

After all, they earned that all-valuable last laugh.

But Tyler Bertuzzi still forced Tampa Bay to pull off those heroics thanks to a blistering four-goal night. During the second period alone, Bertuzzi notched a hat trick. When he scored his fourth, Bertuzzi put the Red Wings up 5-3. Clearly, that wasn’t enough; heck, another goal wasn’t enough.

Impressive stuff nonetheless from a player the Red Wings might want to be able to bring to Canada this season.

Highlights from Thursday in the NHL

The Blue Jackets honored Matiss Kivlenieks with a ceremony before their season-opener.

Truly, it’s a lot of fun when a scoring chance is so promising, an announcer gets fooled. That’s what happened when Braden Holtby robbed Ryan Strome on a truly golden opportunity:

Drop your jaw in awe of that 11-goal overtime stunner between the Lightning and Red Wings. One big highlight reel, really.

Three Takeaways from NHL on Thursday

No Red Wings upset, but two other significant ones

After 82 games, we might not look at the Sabres beating the Canadiens or the Senators holding off the Maple Leafs as big upsets. Sometimes, teams make big jumps (and drops) in the NHL.

Right now, though? It absolutely feels bizarre to picture even a competent season from Buffalo.

If the Lightning didn’t come back, that would’ve been another big one. Maybe the larger lesson is that we shouldn’t take things for granted in the NHL? (Or, at least, this early part of the season could introduce some chaos.)

This could be a long, long season for the Coyotes

Heading into 2021-22, it seemed like the Sabres and Coyotes would engage in a tanking war. It would seemingly be the most brazen of its kind since … well, the last time the Coyotes and Sabres tried to be as bad as possible.

At least on Thursday night, the Sabres didn’t play that role in a presumed race to the top of the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery.

The Coyotes, though? They fell 8-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Again, hindsight could tell a different story. But, heading into openers and early season games in the NHL on Thursday, it sure seemed like the Blue Jackets’ future skews closer to Arizona’s than contention (or even the playoff bubble).

Yet, in this one, the Blue Jackets cruised.

With two goals and two assists, Oliver Bjorkstrand made his own argument for player of the night for Thursday in the NHL. Max Domi notched three points. Patrik Laine, Jakub Voracek, and Jack Roslovic collected two assists apiece.

Plenty expected the Blue Jackets to beat the Coyotes. The sheer margin of defeat might be an upset, or at least upsetting, if you’re the ‘Yotes.

Kraken get their first win

After a tough loss in their debut on Tuesday, the Seattle Kraken are in the win column for the first time in their franchise history thanks to a 4-3 win in Nashville on Thursday night.

The Kraken used a perfect 2-for-2 not on the power play, as well as a pair of goals from Brandon Tanev, to get the win. Tanev scored one of the power play goals and also added an empty net goal late in the third period to make it a 4-2 game. Because Nashville scored just a minute later Tanev’s second goal, the empty net goal, goes in the books as the game-winner. Jared McCann (power play) and Alex Wennberg also scored goals for Seattle in the win. Philipp Grubauer stopped 27 out of 30 shots in the win.

Tanev’s empty-net goal was Seattle’s only shot on goal of the third period, but it was enough to get the two points.

Friday’s big story

A peek at the new-look Flyers

So far, we’ve seen the Seattle Kraken twice. The Blackhawks’ blueline makeover faced a big challenge. And, despite all of those changes, the Hurricanes look like they’ll keep opponents on their toes.

On Friday, we’ll finally get our first look at the Flyers after some bold offseason changes.

Can Ryan Ellis return to near-Norris-form after injuries derailed his 2020-21 season? Will the Flyers look smart after taking a chance on much-maligned blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen? Most importantly, was last season just a hiccup for Carter Hart, or a new reality?

Of course, we won’t get every answer about the Flyers one game into an 82-game marathon. Friday’s Flyers – Canucks game should be a better proof of concept than any exhibition though.

(And, hey, the Canucks made plenty of changes themselves.)

Thursday’s NHL scores

Sabres 5, Canadiens 1
Senators 3, Maple Leafs 2
Panthers 5, Penguins 4 (OT)
Stars 3, Rangers 2 (OT)
Blue Jackets 8, Coyotes 2
Hurricanes 6, Islanders 3
Lightning 7, Red Wings 6 (OT)
Kraken 4, Predators 3
Kings 6, Golden Knights 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lightning shock Red Wings by storming back from big deficit

Look, sometimes people go too far making weather-related puns regarding the Tampa Bay Lightning. Yet, if someone decided to dicuss “striking quickly” (or *cough* storms), the Lightning’s stunning 7-6 comeback OT win over the Red Wings would be an appropriate place for a few groaners.

For much of Thursday’s game, it seemed like the Lightning – Red Wings stories would revolve around:

Like a sleeping lion, the Lightning sure woke up.

Lightning rally for shocking overtime win against Red Wings

In hindsight, you might point to two big surges from the Bolts.

The Red Wings finished the first period up 1-0, then rode a second-period Tyler Bertuzzi hat trick to a 4-1 lead. Thanks to two power-play goals from Steven Stamkos, the Lightning restored some hope, shrinking the Red Wings’ lead to 4-3 heading into the third.

Just 4:35 into that third period, Bertuzzi scored his fourth goal to make it 5-3. If that wasn’t stunning enough, former Lightning forward Vladislav Namestnikov pushed the Red Wings’ lead to 6-3 just a few minutes later.

Honestly, two games — worrisome or not — would prompt worries that would be too hasty. But anxiety was still building a bit for the repeat champions.

And then the real comeback happened.

With 6:17 left in the third period, Ross Colton made it 6-4. Less than two minutes later, Nikita Kucherov struck on the power play. Just moments after emptying their net, the Lightning tied it 6-6 on an Alex Killorn goal.

Those three goals happened just 3:58 of game time. Hence … an appropriate time for weather puns. They really did strike fast.

The remaining 2:19 of regulation went without a goal. Once overtime kicked in, the Lightning dominated, culminating with Ondrej Palat‘s OT-winner.

In the end, Tampa Bay needed four points from Kucherov, and five assists from Victor Hedman. But the repeat defending champions provided a lesson to the rebuilding Red Wings, and the rest of the NHL.

This team can make your lead disappear quicker than a flash flood.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Gabriel Landeskog suspended two games for boarding Kirby Dach

The NHL suspended  Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog two games for boarding Blackhawks forward Kirby Dach.

During the game, Landeskog received a boarding major. Luckily, Dach was able to remain in action in a game the Avs won handily.

You can watch Landeskog’s hit on Dach, along with the explanation for the two-game suspension, in the league’s explanation video above.

The league emphasized:

  • The vulnerable position Dach was in (on one knee).
  • Also, his dangerous proximity to the boards.
  • The NHL also pointed out the speed and the force of the hit.

Naturally, Landeskog’s three previous suspensions were also mentioned. Here’s a rundown of Gabriel Landeskog’s suspension history.

The Avalanche host the Blues on Saturday (Oct. 16), then visit the Capitals on Tuesday (Oct. 19) with Landeskog suspended. The gritty forward will be eligible to return to action against the Panthers in Florida on Thursday, Oct. 21.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.