A breath. A reset. And then the NHL resumes, with a lot on the plate.
As the league returns from another successful All-Star weekend in St. Louis, the storylines abound. Here in the New York area, the Rangers are trying to push for the playoffs — or sell off before the Feb. 24 deadline. The Islanders are trying to maintain playoff position — and add a much-needed top-six forward before the deadline. And the Devils are trying to save some face — and eventually make the playoffs again at some point in the not-too-distant future.
So besides all the things that can happen before the trade deadline, the league outside of our area is bustling with big things. Let’s take a look at the Top 5.
1. Can Alex Ovechkin actually beat Wayne Gretzky’s goal record?
With Ovechkin putting up 34 goals in his first 49 games of the season — and then skipping the All-Star Game, much to the chagrin of commissioner Gary Bettman — the talk of him approaching Gretzky’s seemingly untouchable record of 894 goals became plausible. The 34-year-old Ovechkin now has 692, just two short of Mark Messier for eighth on the all-time list. So he has a long way to go. But Gretzky, of all people, thinks he has a chance.
“It’s hard to do what I did, and it’s really hard to do what he’s doing now,” Gretzky told NHL.com this weekend. “But there’s no question in my mind that he has a real legitimate chance of doing it. The two things that you need; you’ve got to stay healthy, and he’s proven that over his career. He plays hard and he stays healthy. And, secondly, you’ve got to be on a good team — and he plays on a good team.”
2. Is Sidney Crosby superhuman?
The Penguins captain had surgery for an injury to a core muscle in November, and missed exactly two months for a total of 28 games. He returned Jan. 12, and just happened to put up a goal and three assists in his first game back.
The thought was that his team would struggle to maintain without him, but the Pens went into the break at 31-14-5, good for second in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the league. They’re obviously better with him, so does this represent a chance from Crosby & Co. to pick up a fourth Stanley Cup?
3. Connor McDavid was hurt?
Big news right before this weekend came when the best player in the league said he rehabbed from a serious knee injury all summer, but was ready for the start of the year (Not so coincidentally, the news came with the release of a documentary). McDavid hurt himself slamming into a goal post in his team’s regular-season finale on April 6, suffering multiple tears in the knee and a broken tibia. He hurt his PCL, which meant it would be a somewhat unusual surgery. He chose not to do it, choosing rehab instead.
“Obviously I was a 22-year-old kid at the time, and you never want to miss a season,” said McDavid, who is leading the league with 76 points in 49 games. “There were days when it didn’t feel that good going through that process. You’re like, ‘Uh, I wonder what the MRI is going to look like? Should we go back and do the surgery and start over?’ But it just kept progressing and progressing and ultimately we didn’t have to go through the surgery route.”
4. The Blues might repeat.
The city did a great job reminding everyone this weekend that the Blues won the Stanley Cup last season. Laila Anderson, the inspirational young girl with a rare immune disease, was outstanding in introducing her hometown players Saturday, and no-longer-interim coach Craig Berube had his team third in the league at 30-11-8.
The Blues are built for the playoffs, so how well they’re doing in the regular season says something. They have as good a chance as anyone to win this year, with the Penguins of 2016 and 2017 as the most recent repeat champions.
5. Is Torts for real?
Name one player outside of Seth Jones on the Blue Jackets (For note: They have no one in the top 65 in points). This is why John Tortorella is already garnering buzz for the Jack Adams Award, as he has Columbus in playoff position yet again. Of course it wouldn’t take much of a slip for the Blue Jackets to fall out, but just to be in the conversation after losing their best player in Artemi Panarin and their starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky last summer is astounding.
Of all the great seasons Tortorella has orchestrated behind the bench, this might be his finest work.
For more on the Rangers, listen to the latest episode of the “Up In The Blue Seats” podcast: