The annual Heritage Classic took place in Tim Horton's Field, featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres are the first non-Canadian team to play and an odd choice. While the closest team to Toronto, they aren't very good. Wayne Gretzky was on hand for commentary. I don't think he's a good analyst, but he's a great storyteller. I loved hearing him tell stories about playing in his backyard as a kid and his family. His mom was too embarrassed to buy a hose sprayer in December that his dad did it. They talked about other Oilers, playing on the team, and why he decided to play behind the net. His coach thought he was too small to be in front of the net. The actual game was okay.
The Maple Leafs were in control the first two periods, but they gave up some bad goals, and it became worse in the third. Petr Mrazek gave up a brutal goal, and then there was a confusing sequence. It was ruled not a goal, then a goal after an officials conference, then the TNT replay official said it definitely was not a goal, and then it stayed a goal. Confused? I'm not even going to bother. Below is the clip and the other bad goal from a turnover off a Maple Leaf's face-off win. We aren't even mentioning the own goal off TJ Brodie's skate. Then Auston Matthews got chippy and hit Rasmus Dahlin in the face with his stick. I get why he retaliated, but he needs to watch where he puts the stick. He might get suspended. It was not the best day for the Maple Leafs.
Things I like
- Auston Matthews has been on a tear recently with eight goals in his last five games. He scored seven in four games two months ago. He reached forty goals for the fourth time, tying a Maple Leaf's franchise record. In the last five seasons, only Alex Ovechkin has scored more goals with 208 to Mathews' 203. What's troubling is the Maple Leafs are 2-3 during this stretch. Johnny Gaudreau has been almost as hot with six goals in his last five games before the loss to the Colorado Avalanche, and two were game-winning goals.
Both are on pace for career highs, and no players are more important to a teams' success than these two. Matthews has struggled at times the last few playoffs, and Gaudreau struggled mightily the last time the Flames were a top seed. This year's first-round match-ups will not be easy.
- The Los Angeles Kings appear to be heading back to the playoffs, and since I've called them completely clueless with their moves over the last few years, I suppose I owe them an apology. But I reserve judgment until I see what they do in the playoffs and next season. I wish I could comment on their play, but I can't watch any Kings or Anaheim Ducks games thanks to YouTube TV dropping all the Bally Sports channels and ESPN+ not letting me use a VPN to watch it as I could with NHL TV. But I seriously question how far they can go with Anze Kopitar leading the team in scoring in 2022. Jonathan Quick isn't what he used to be either. They also got crushed by the San Jose Sharks Saturday night 5-0.
Things I don't
Jack Eichel returned to Buffalo and received a mixed reaction and video tribute. Pregame, he was calling it just another game, sure. Postgame, he said that was the loudest he's seen the Buffalo Sabres fans in seven years. That's a bit unnecessary. The Sabres haven't made the playoffs since 2011, and they haven't won a series since 2007. They don't have much to cheer for. Eichel returning is the most significant event in a decade, and this was a big win for the Sabres. Eichel is scoring for the Vegas Golden Knights but they aren’t winning. That’s a problem.
The NHL still illogically schedules games. They only had the doubleheader games on TNT Wednesday night but eight early games the next day. I wanted to watch half of them, but I can only watch two at a time, and I hate doing that because it's hard to focus. Such a stupid way to have people consume your product.
Fights of the Week
Special thanks to hockeyfights.com for making this section a little easier to do.
Keegan Kolesar vs Casey Fitzgerald
Not the best slate this week. This was the best fight.
Goat of the Week
Alex Nedelkjovic - Detroit Red Wings
Nedelkjovic demonstrates why goalies shouldn't be allowed to touch the puck. I guess he was trying to swat it to the far side, but it would have made more sense to bat it to the side it was going or just not touch it at all. I was pretty good at stick handling and passing. But as a goalie, I couldn't do anything with the puck, so I didn't even try. The one time I did, I scored on myself. I know what he's feeling. And yes, the extra gear and stick make it harder. Although a few goalies are great at it, it's rare. The Red Wings lost in the shootout.
Stat Line of the Week
03/11/21 Washington 4 vs. Vancouver 3
Skater TOI G A +/- S PPG E. Kuznetsov 15:54 3 0 0 5 2
Evgeny Kuznetsov had been cold with only one goal in his last eleven games. But he scored his second career hat trick here, including two in 43 seconds, before Lars Eller won it in overtime. Kuznetsov is quietly on pace for his best season ever.
9 – Shutouts for Jacob Markstrom, three ahead of second-place Ilya Sorokin 19 – Shots by the Detroit Red Wings against the Calgary Flames, none went in, and yes they're still bad 9 – Goals by the Arizona Coyotes against the Detroit Red Wings 22 – Goals by the Arizona Coyotes in a three-game span, they still stink 6 – Points by Patrick Kane against the Anaheim Ducks 5 – Points by Artemi Panarin against the Dallas Stars 23 – Points over an eleven game point streak for J.T. Miller 3 – Hat tricks on Friday night
The rankings are based on how the teams are currently playing.
Top 5 1. Florida 2. Calgary 3. Boston 4. Carolina 5. Vancouver
Bottom 5 30. Seattle 29. Ottawa 28. Detroit 27. Philadelphia 26. Anaheim