Your weekly dose of the good, bad and ugly from around the NHL.
Welcome to the first NHL Weekly Wednesday! With ESPN now airing multiple NHL games per week on Fox Sports and Kayo, local exposure on the league is at an all-time high. Add the fact that Australia’s very own Nathan Walker is currently lining up for the defending Stanley Cup champion St Louis Blues, and casual US sports fans down under now have a real reason to give the NHL a proper look.
As a freelance journalist who lives and breathes hockey from the comfortably warm Australian summer, I’m excited to get this column off the ground and share some of the major talking points from around the NHL with you, on The Roar.
Here are the NHL’s good, bad and ugly (read: fun!) talking points from the last week.
The good – Nathan Walker watch
Speaking of Nathan Walker, what better place to start this column, than with the man himself. Walker has been good lately, taking the chances presented to him through injuries and earning respect from the wider North American hockey media. Walker was even elevated to the top line last week against the Penguins and has continued to play solid minutes since, thanks to his tenacious style.
Walker is a known goal scorer, netting 12 in 20 games with San Antonio of the American Hockey League at the start of the year. After being called up as cover for injured stars Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen, Walker has a goal, an assist and four penalty minutes to boot in five NHL games.
St Louis have, however, lost their last two in regulation and will be hoping to bounce back today in Buffalo against the Sabres. Keep an eye out for the 5’9″ Aussie steaming down the left wing. Or, just do what everyone else does when they play the Sabres and watch superstar Jack Eichel. I’ll leave that decision up to you.
The bad – The coaches reckoning
NHL coaches have come under the spotlight in recent weeks, following allegations of all sorts of abuse spanning the last decade. Could some sort of a reckoning in fact be underway?
It all seemed to start when the Toronto Maple Leafs fired coach Mike Babcock after a lacklustre start to the season. Leading an obviously unmotivated roster littered with studs, there’s no doubt the players gave up on their boss. Then, ex-players had no trouble spilling the beans on their former boss’ dickhead behaviour. My favourite story was that Babcock forced then-rookie, now superstar, Mitch Marner to compile a list of the veteran players he thought were lazy. A list that he then read aloud to the team! Yikes.
From here, things only got worse. We’ve seen the Calgary Flames sack Bill Peters after it emerged he used racial slurs in the locker room of his then American Hockey League team, when certain genres of music were blasted after training. The Blackhawks have also suspended assistant coach Marc Crawford for allegedly kicking players at his own previous job and now the Predators are going into damage control after similar physical assault allegations were made against their boss Peter Laviolette when he was in Philadelphia.
While there’s a bit of a lunatics running the asylum feel to this one, there is obviously a clear line that can no longer be crossed. Somehow I think we’ll continue to hear more stories about coaches as the season unfolds.
The ugly – Joe Thornton throat punches Petr Mrazek
When I say ugly, you know I obviously mean fun. Right?
Well, the fun talking point from the week is no doubt the Carolina Hurricanes having a laugh at the Joe Thornton vs Petr Mrazek melee, after the San Jose Sharks came to Raleigh last week.
The Hurricanes’ goaltender made a save and had frozen the puck when Thornton skated past and pulled out the old can opener while looking for the puck.
Mrazek didn’t take kindly to the attempt to pry him open with a stick and had a swipe of his own at Thornton’s legs before squaring up to him. Thornton, an intimidating man with that luscious beard of his, swiftly jabbed Mrazek in the throat, who went down on the ice like he’d just been shot.
It was Mrazek who had the last laugh, however, earning the extra point for his side 3-2 in the shootout. But, while the pair weren’t too pleased with one another after the game, trading barbs via a salivating media contingent looking for a storyline, it was Mrazek’s teammates who gave us one.
Be careful where you’re skating, lads. This is still an active crime scene!
Australian TV games this week
Whether you’re at home in front of the telly, or have that sneaky second browser tab open at your desk, here are this week’s games you can catch.
Wednesday, 2:30pm (AEDT) – New York Rangers vs Los Angeles Kings – ESPN1
While the sharp decline of the Kings shows how quickly age catches up to even a Stanley Cup champion team, the New York Rangers have already blown things up in order to get younger.
By trading and opting not to re-sign all ageing assets on their books last season, their mediocrity was rewarded in the draft lottery with the no.2 overall pick, which they used to select 18-year-old Finn, Kaapo Kakko.
While Kakko hasn’t yet broken out offensively, only scoring six goals and providing seven assists to start his rookie season, the upside potential on this kid is enormous. You want to be watching when things finally click.
Thursday, 11:00am (AEDT) – Boston Bruins vs Washington Capitals – ESPN2
The Capitals and Bruins are the two best teams in not only the Eastern Conference but also the entire NHL.
The Bruins (20-5-6, first in the Atlantic Division) and the Capitals (22-5-5, first in the Metropolitan Division), go head to head for the second time this season, after the Capitals won their only other meeting on November 16, 3-2.
With players like Alexander Ovechkin and Brad Marchand on the ice, you want to watch because you’ll be seeing goals, goals and more goals. (Now, cue the 1-0 shutout).
Monday 12:00pm (AEDT) – Vancouver Canucks at Vegas Golden Knights – ESPN2
After making a run all the way to the Stanley Cup final in their inaugural season, the Golden Knights reverted to the mean last season to finish middle of the pack.
Gone are the days when expansion teams are walkovers. Now, in their third season of existence, the Golden Knights are once again sitting pretty in a Western Conference playoff spot and continue to surprise with a roster built on the back of some savvy expansion drafting.
Throw in a young, competitive Canucks side featuring Elias Pettersson into the mix and we’ve got ourselves an exciting divisional match-up between sides at opposite ends of the spectrum.