All posts by Matt Teague

Skinner: ‘I don’t think you learn anything’ by not playing

Buffalo Sabres forward Jeff Skinner was a healthy scratch for the third straight game Thursday night, but the 28-year-old doesn't think watching from the press box will help him break out of his lengthy slump.

"I don't think you learn anything extra by not being out there, but, obviously, this situation is maybe not that straightforward in the fact that 'lessons being learned' is maybe more of a vague concept," Skinner said Friday, according to The Athletic's John Vogl.

Skinner, who's in the second season of an eight-year, $72-million contract, has yet to score and has just one assist through 14 games. He skated with the club's taxi squad during Thursday's practice.

Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger said Thursday that he doesn't have a doghouse and that he'll continue to work with Skinner to find his potential. The 5-foot-11 winger understands Krueger's decision and insists it hasn't impacted how he views his future with the club.

"I try and help the team win as much as I can," Skinner said. "That's my main focus. Obviously, the coach is trying to do that, too. ... He has 23 other guys to worry about. He has a team to coach. I just have to play hockey.

He added, "I love being a Sabre. I love the city of Buffalo. I wouldn't have chosen to stay here if that wasn't (the) case, so that answer is simple."

The Sabres could certainly use Skinner's offensive touch. Buffalo ranks 27th in scoring this season and sits last in the East Division through 17 games.

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Berube: ‘Good chance’ Tarasenko plays on upcoming road trip

St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko is nearing his long-awaited return.

Head coach Craig Berube said Friday that there's a "good chance" Tarasenko will make his season debut on the Blues' upcoming road trip, according to NHL.com's Lou Korac.

The 29-year-old sniper hasn't suited up in a game since Aug. 14, as he underwent shoulder surgery shortly after. He played only 10 contests last season due to a separate shoulder procedure in October 2019 but eclipsed the 30-goal mark in each of his five previous campaigns.

Tarasenko skated alongside David Perron and Brayden Schenn during Friday's practice and competed in contact drills.

The Blues begin a six-game road trip against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday. It wraps up back in the Bay Area on March 8.

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Looking North: Oilers find rhythm, Habs, Canucks look to regroup

Welcome to the sixth edition of "Looking North," our weekly Friday dive into the all-Canadian division. This installment dates back to Feb. 19.

The rundown

Derek Leung / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Are the Edmonton Oilers for real? Time will tell if this is just another short-lived hot streak, but Connor McDavid and Co. appear to have found their rhythm two months into the season. The Oilers have won eight of their last nine contests and sit second place in the North division.

The Montreal Canadiens' fall from grace culminated in the firing of former head coach Claude Julien on Wednesday as the club hopes to rediscover its dominant form from the season's opening 10 games. Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks' campaign continues to slip away. The club went winless last week, collecting just one point while falling further down the standings.

The Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs continue to find ways to win, while the Calgary Flames are still trying to discover their identity. The Ottawa Senators, who routed the Flames 6-1 on Thursday, have won three straight and are playing their best hockey of the season.

Team Points over last week
Edmonton Oilers 8 (4-0-0)
Winnipeg Jets 6 (3-0-0)
Ottawa Senators 6 (3-0-0)
Toronto Maple Leafs 4 (2-1-0)
Calgary Flames 3 (1-3-1)
Montreal Canadiens 2 (0-2-2)
Vancouver Canucks 1 (0-3-1)

The stars

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Forward: McDavid strengthened his bid for a second Hart Trophy, pacing all skaters in the division in both goals (five) and points (eight) last week. The Oilers captain stole the show in the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta, lighting up the Flames for five points, which included a natural hat trick.

Defenseman: Thomas Chabot has been the Senators' best player this season, and his elite abilities have catalyzed the club's first three-game winning streak this season. The 24-year-old rearguard played just under half the contest and set up the game-winner in the Sens' second of two victories over the Canadiens last week. Chabot added two more assists in the team's thrashing of the Flames as Ottawa owned 61.33% of scoring chances at five-on-five with him patrolling the ice.

Goalie: The Oilers have been a different team since Mike Smith returned to the crease earlier this month. The veteran puck-stopper is red-hot, allowing just four goals (.953 save percentage) over his last three starts - all wins. Smith's 32-save shutout against the Canucks on Thursday punctuated what's been an invaluable stretch of play to the Oilers.

Canadian of the week

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Good for Matt Murray. McDavid may have stolen the show with his offensive bona fides, and Smith was easily the top puck-stopper last week, but Murray should be recognized for bouncing back from a dreadful start to his campaign. The Senators netminder, who hadn't won consecutive games this season, earned a victory in all three of his starts last week, authoring a .929 save percentage across those outings.

The moments

Nylander's heroics

William Nylander has been criticized for his lack of involvement at times this season, but the dynamic winger silenced his critics with a heroic performance against the Flames on Wednesday. With the Leafs in danger of being shut out for a second consecutive game, Nylander pounced on a loose puck late to force overtime.

Nylander put his incredible skill on display again in the extra frame to secure the Leafs' victory. The 24-year-old became the fourth player in franchise history - and first since 1995 - to score the tying goal with under two minutes to play in regulation and the overtime winner in the same game, according to NHL Public Relations.

Oilers storm back on Canucks

The Oilers and Canucks are heading in opposite directions, and the latter is running short on time to reverse course. Vancouver jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening frame Tuesday night before surrendering four straight goals - including three in the final period - to lose in regulation. Tyler Ennis delivered the dagger with just under seven minutes to play.

Unfortunately for the Canucks, this debacle wasn't an isolated incident. Vancouver has owned at least a 2-0 lead in three of its last five losses.

No-look, no problem

McDavid's aforementioned natural hat trick against the Flames was highlighted by another moment of magic. His second came at the start of the middle period as No. 97 put his hands, vision, and lightning-quick release on full display.

The question

Now that Claude Julien has been directed to the exit in Montreal, will the hammer continue to drop on North Division coaches? Flames bench boss Geoff Ward and Canucks head coach Travis Green are certainly far from safe.

It was reported in January that the Canucks intended to re-sign Green, whose contract is up after this season. A lot has changed over the last month, however, and as the losses continue to pile up, something may eventually give. The Flames turned their campaign around after Ward took over coaching duties last season, but the honeymoon period may be over. If Ward can't help Calgary carve out an identity in the coming weeks, a new voice might be needed in the Flames' locker room.

Quote of the week

Matthew Tkachuk didn't mince his words when assuring fans and pundits that the sibling rivalry between him and brother Brady won't play out on the ice the way they'd like it to.

"Anybody that thinks we're going to fight is an idiot," Tkachuk said prior to Thursday's outing between the Flames and Senators.

Unfortunately for fans, a 6-1 beatdown wasn't enough to push Matthew over the edge, and their father seems happy to keep it that way. "They're brothers, they're best friends," former NHLer Keith Tkachuk said earlier in the week. "(My wife) Chantal wouldn't like it and I wouldn't like it."

The Flames and Senators square off eight more times this season, including four games in the next nine days, but don't hold your breath for an old-fashioned showdown between the Tkachuk brothers.

Stat of the week

McDavid's five-point night against the Flames was his second such outing of the season. The franchise pivot clinched the natural hat trick with his fifth point in just 13:27 of ice time. He finished with only 17:33 thanks to the lopsided score.

Games to watch

The red-hot Oilers are just four points back of the Maple Leafs for first place entering a three-game set in Edmonton this week. The sides have split the season series at two wins apiece, with three of the four contests being decided by just one goal.

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Penguins’ Zucker out ‘longer term’ with lower-body injury

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jason Zucker will be out "longer term" after suffering a lower-body injury in Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals, head coach Mike Sullivan announced Thursday.

Zucker needed to be helped off the ice by trainers after catching his skate on Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen's foot in the third period.

The Penguins acquired Zucker from the Minnesota Wild ahead of the trade deadline last season. The 29-year-old winger has contributed four goals and seven points while logging 16:30 of average ice time through 17 games in 2020-21.

Pittsburgh is set to take on the Capitals for the sixth time this season on Thursday.

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Vezina Power Rankings: Grubauer, Fleury putting on clinic in the crease

In the second edition of theScore's 2021 Vezina Trophy Power Rankings, we get an early look at which netminders have been at the top of their game this season.

GAA = Goals against average
xGA/60 = Expected goals against per 60 minutes
SV% = Save percentage
HDSV% = High-danger save percentage
GSAA = Goals saved above average

*Goaltenders must play a minimum of 10 games to qualify

5. Kevin Lankinen, Blackhawks

Gregg Forwerck / National Hockey League / Getty
Record GAA xGA/60 SV% HDSV% GSAA
 8-3-3 2.59 2.66 .921 .848 6.83

Lankinen is coming off a pair of subpar starts, but his incredibly consistent play throughout most of the season has been the catalyst for a surprisingly strong start for the re-tooling Blackhawks. He owns the league's fifth-best goals saved above average and has played the seventh-most minutes among all goalies. The rookie will likely receive plenty of Calder Trophy consideration if he continues to make a significant impact.

4. Semyon Varlamov, Islanders

Sara Schmidle / National Hockey League / Getty
Record GAA xGA/60 SV% HDSV% GSAA
 8-4-2 2.06 2.14 .927 .856 7.81

Varlamov was due to regress after an absurd start to the campaign, but the Islanders puck-stopper has continued to look sharp despite his opponents' strength in the East division. The Russian is among the top-five netminders in every individual statistic above and has allowed more than three goals in just one game this season. He's also tied for the league lead with three shutouts.

3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty
Record GAA xGA/60 SV% HDSV% GSAA
 10-3-1 2.01 2.49 .931 .860 9.64

The 2019 Vezina Trophy winner continues to prove he's arguably the best goaltender in the world. Vasilevskiy is tied for second in wins and hasn't dropped consecutive games in regulation all season. It's worth mentioning that his recent five-game winning streak came against two of the league's worst teams, but Vasilevskiy has long proven his elite status and shouldn't be penalized for the lighter schedule.

2. Philipp Grubauer, Avalanche

Christian Petersen / Getty Images Sport / Getty
Record GAA xGA/60 SV% HDSV% GSAA
 9-4-0 1.78 2.22 .932 .859 8.59

Grubauer often gets overshadowed by his star-studded Avalanche teammates, but he's been red-hot between the pipes all season. The German netminder conceded just 10 goals over his last seven starts and has allowed three or more goals in only three games this campaign. Grubauer will be in a terrific position to capture his first career Vezina Trophy if he continues at this rate.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Golden Knights

Jeff Bottari / National Hockey League / Getty
Record GAA xGA/60 SV% HDSV% GSAA
 8-3-0 1.55 2.15 .942 .877 10.39

Fleury is far from finished. The 36-year-old remains at the top of his game in his 17th season, and his dominant play has kept the Golden Knights near the top of the standings while Robin Lehner recovers from injury. Fleury has held opponents to just one goal or less in over half of his starts this campaign and paces all puck-stoppers in goals-against average, save percentage, and goals saved above average.

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Panarin taking leave of absence due to ‘fabricated story’ from Russia

New York Rangers star Artemi Panarin will be away from the club indefinitely in the wake of a "fabricated story" against him from Russia, the team announced Monday.

In the piece, there's a claim that Panarin "beat up" an 18-year-old girl in a Russian bar in 2011, according to the New York Post's Larry Brooks.

"Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story," the Rangers said in a statement. "This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events.

"Artemi is obviously shaken and concerned and will take some time away from the team. The Rangers fully support Artemi and will work with him to identify the source of these unfounded allegations."

Panarin has publicly criticized the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin. In January, the 29-year-old showed his support for opposition leader Alexei Navalny with a post captioned "freedom for Navalny" in Russian.

The 5-foot-11 winger ranked third in league scoring with 95 points over 69 games last season, finishing third in Hart Trophy voting.

Panarin has tallied five goals and a team-best 18 points over 14 contests this campaign.

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Super Sid: How Crosby’s career stacks up to the greats after 1,000 games

Can we still call him "Sid the Kid?"

After 1,000 career games, the moniker can be contributed to Sidney Crosby's evergreen love for the game and his elite ability at 33 years of age. Hockey fans everywhere still hold on to parts of that rosy-cheeked wunderkind from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, that became the face of hockey 16 years ago.

The Penguins blue-chip pivot is the first player in franchise history to reach the millennium mark in games played, and his accomplishments along the way have formed a body of work unmatched by most.

Before we get into the numbers, let's briefly revisit what's been a remarkable ride for No. 87 thus far.

Crosby's rise to greatness

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Crosby burst onto the scene with 102 points in his rookie season. He then captured both his first Hart Trophy as MVP and first Art Ross Trophy with a league-best 120-point sophomore campaign. The Penguins made Crosby the youngest captain in NHL history ahead of Year 3, and by Year 4 he had led the franchise to the Stanley Cup. He accomplished all of this by the 290-game mark of his career.

In Year 5, Crosby potted 51 goals to win the "Rocket" Richard Trophy. Well-documented concussion issues kept him sidelined for the better part of the three seasons to follow, but in 2013-14, Sid had a remarkable rise back to the top. He captured both his second career Hart and Art Ross that season after breaking the 100-point mark for the fifth time.

With Crosby at the helm, the Penguins became the first team in 19 years to win back-to-back Stanley Cups (2016, 2017), with the captain collecting the Conn Smythe Trophy each time. In 2018-19, Crosby hit the 100-point mark once again - 14 years after doing it for the first time. Despite being in the latter half of his career, something tells us that "Sid the Kid" isn't done quite yet.

Leader of an era

Dave Sandford / National Hockey League / Getty

Let's take a moment to appreciate how incredible Crosby's first 1,000 games have been relative to his peers still playing today.

Rank Player G A Pts
1 Sidney Crosby 468 810 1278
2 Alex Ovechkin 603 515 1118
3 Joe Thornton 307 697 1004
4 Ryan Getzlaf 268 666 934
5 Jason Spezza 326 570 896
6 Anze Kopitar 311 575 886
7 Eric Staal 349 486 835
8 Phil Kessel 357 467 824
9 Corey Perry 374 406 780
10 Patrice Bergeron 307 473 780

It's clear Crosby's body of work through 1,000 career games is superior. He also trumps every player on that list in both Stanley Cups and most of them in major individual awards, too.

It's worth mentioning players like Patrick Kane (992 games played) and Crosby's longtime teammate Evgeni Malkin (923 games played) are on track to be near the top of that list once they reach 1,000 games. Malkin projects to reach around 1,176 points, which would still put him 100 back of Crosby.

Legend among legends

Jeff Vinnick / National Hockey League / Getty

When looking at Crosby's illustrious career to date from a historical perspective, there's no questioning his status as one of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of skates.

The 33-year-old is surrounded by Hall of Famers at this stage of his career both statistically and in terms of hardware. Below shows statistics from each player through 1,000 career games as well as how many Stanley Cups, Hart Trophies, and Art Ross Trophies they collected during that span.

Rank Player GP G A Pts SC Hart Art Ross
1 Wayne Gretzky 1000 749 1516 2265 4 9 9
2 Mario Lemieux 915 690 1033 1723 2 3 6
3 Steve Yzerman 1000 533 790 1323 3 0 0
4 Jaromir Jagr 1000 523 760 1283 2 1 5
5 Jari Kurri 1000 558 721 1279 5 0 0
6 Sidney Crosby 1000 468 810 1278 3 2 2
7 Dale Hawerchuk 1000 470 795 1265 0 0 0
8 Paul Coffey 1000 339 910 1249 4 0 0
9 Joe Sakic 1000 480 765 1245 2 1 0
10 Peter Stastny 977 450 789 1239 0 0 0

*Mario Lemieux and Peter Stastny never reached the 1,000-game mark but remain in the top 10 in terms of points among players who did

Crosby sits sixth in points and fourth in assists, which is impressive enough, but his greatness truly shines through when we understand which era each player played in. Using Hockey Reference's era-adjusted formulas, we can say with some reason Crosby has had the third-best career through his first 1,000 games in NHL history.

Rank Player G A Pts
1 Wayne Gretzky 607 1245 1852
2 Mario Lemieux 616 924 1540
3 Sidney Crosby 548 924 1472
4 Jaromir Jagr 564 808 1373
5 Joe Sakic 485 773 1257
6 Alex Ovechkin 684 559 1243

What comes next?

With everything he's already accomplished, it's crazy to consider Crosby likely still has five-to-seven years of quality hockey left in him. The Penguins' perennial captain recently confirmed his desire to remain with the club for the remainder of his career, but whether or not the franchise can get back to being Stanley Cup contenders in that time remains to be seen.

Statistically, he currently ranks 37th on the NHL's all-time scoring list. It's impossible to say how long Crosby can keep pace with his career point per game average of 1.27 - which is currently seventh-best all time - but it's reasonable to believe he'll crack the top 10 when all is said and done.

If Crosby can average around 55 points for the next six seasons, which is extremely likely, he'll become just the 10th player ever to eclipse the 1,600-point mark.

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Report: Babcock to be named University of Saskatchewan’s next HC

It appears Mike Babcock will find himself back behind the bench, but it won't be in the NHL.

The Saskatoon native will be announced as the next head coach of the University of Saskatchewan's men's hockey team, TSN's Darren Dreger reports.

Babcock recently accepted a role as a studio analyst with NBC and has appeared on several NHL broadcasts this season.

The 57-year-old served as an NHL head coach for 17 seasons, most recently with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2015-2019. He came under scrutiny after his firing for using what some believed to be controversial tactics with his players.

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Ducks place Henrique on waivers

The Anaheim Ducks placed veteran forward Adam Henrique on waivers, according to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

Henrique, 31, has three years remaining on his contract beyond this season with an annual cap hit of $5.82 million. The Ducks signed him prior to the 2019-20 campaign.

The 6-foot pivot led Anaheim in goals (26) and points (43) through 71 games last season but has amassed just four points over 16 contests this year.

Henrique has collected 189 goals and 193 assists over 681 career games since the New Jersey Devils drafted him in the third round in 2008.

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Ristolainen out indefinitely after revealing difficult COVID-19 battle

Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen will miss more time as he continues to recover from a difficult battle with COVID-19.

Ristolainen, 26, detailed his struggles with significant drops in oxygen levels, intense chest pain, and fatigue to Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat on Friday, according to The Buffalo News' Lance Lysowski and Mike Harrington via Google Translate.

The Sabres had an outbreak in late January and were kept off the ice for 14 days. Blue-liner Jake McCabe, who also had COVID-19, says Ristolainen's scary experience proves how serious the virus is.

"I was texting with 'Risto' and we were both going through it together," McCabe said, according to Lysowski and Harrington. "So obviously, he had a little bit of a worse case than I did and maybe not even a little bit, a lot worse.

"It just goes to show how crazy and serious this virus really is. And Risto is probably the fittest guy on our team. For him to battle like this, it's very tough and unfortunate."

Head coach Ralph Krueger says it will be a "long process" for Ristolainen to return to the lineup because of what he's gone through.

The 6-foot-4 rearguard has tallied two goals and six points while logging a team-high 23:34 of average ice time over 10 games this season.

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