Matt Niskanen sent apology text to Crosby following playoff cross-check

This was probably a top-five dumbest hockey story of all-time back in the spring.

In case you don’t remember, here’s a refresher for you. During the first period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round between the Penguins and Capitals last season, Sidney Crosby was going to the net, gets slashed/high-sticked/lacrosse-style stick-checked (whatever it was it was nothing major) by Alex Ovechkin then loses his feet, runs into Matt Niskanen whose stick meets his face. Niskanen goes to the box for cross-checking, Crosby leaves the game and goes into concussion protocol (then missed Game 4 of the series, which Pittsburgh won in seven games) and all hell breaks loose everywhere but inside the glass of this hockey game.

To sum it all up, it was essentially an Internet Outrage Industrial Complex special.

It also gave us this beauty.

So Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of the first Pens-Caps showdown of the season, Crosby told reporters he received an apology text from Niskanen in the aftermath, basically saying it was all water under the bridge and, well, a complete non-issue, upon which few would disagree.

Again, there was so little to this story yet it somehow managed to gain legs and spread like wildfire, something not uncommon to say the least.

Hopefully this closes the book on this story. Until the next “wow, why are we dedicating so much air time and column inches to this” saga…

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Best Centers: 1-5

So here we go. Best 20 centers in the league. I’ll be putting these out in increments of five (so 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20), and I’ll top it off with the best of the rest. I’ll do the same thing on Tuesday with wingers, defensemen on Wednesday, and goalies on Thursday.

Without further ado, you’re best five centermen in the league. Don’t @ me.

1 – Sidney Crosby

When it’s all said and done, Sidney Crosby will be a top-5 player of all time. Right now he’s in the group of 5-10 guys in the running for the guy behind Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux, and Howe. If he wants to, he can lead the lead the league in goals – he won his second Rocket Richard Trophy last year. He can lead the league in assists – he had a league-high 68 apples in 2013-14 and while his 84 helpers in 2006-07 (his second year in the league) was eight off the pace of Joe Thornton’s 92 that season, it would’ve led the league every year since. He’ll out-work, out-grind, out-skill you. There’s nothing he hasn’t won. Oh, did I mention he just turned 30?

2 – Connor McDavid

McDavid is the man trapped in the chasm between Crosby and the rest of the league. He’s inching his way closer to No. 87. Like Crosby in 2006-07, McDavid picked up his first Art Ross Trophy in his sophomore NHL season with his 100-point campaign last season. The 20-year-old is one of five NHLers to record triple-digit point totals since 2010-11, joined by Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, and Daniel Sedin.

3 – Evgeni Malkin

If Crosby is Gretzky, Malkin is Messier. A guy who will go down as one of the top 15-20 players ever, a guy who can go off on his own and lead a team to a Stanley Cup. Malkin has two Art Rosses of his own and after his performance last spring en route to Pittsburgh’s second straight title, as good a case can be made that he should have just as many Conn Smythes.

4 – Patrice Bergeron

The three aforementioned guys are in a class of their own. Bergeron is the best of the rest. Name something you need – Bergeron can do it. He gives you offense (61.2 points per 82 games in his career), he can win a faceoff (in fact, he’s won a league-high 7,524 faceoffs since 2009-10, which is nearly 1,000 more than runner-up Jonathan Toews over that span), he drives play, and he plays in every situation. The greatest quality of Bergeron? His ability to raise the level of the players around him at all times, from flanking Sidney Crosby for Team Canada to carrying his black and gold sidekicks over the years from Marco Sturm to Brad Marchand. It’s what he’s done best since his rookie year when he was part of a line comprised of an 18-year-old Bergeron along with Michael Nylander and Sergei Samsonov that carried Boston in the second half of the 2003-04 season.

5 – Auston Matthews

Don’t trick yourself into thinking the gap between the top pick in the 2015 draft (McDavid) and the 2016 draft (Matthews) is a wide one. Matthews is Sidney Crosby with a few more inches. He’s a big body, he grinds, he protects the puck as well as anybody, and just seems to do everything at will. He scored four goals in his first NHL game, he scored 40 in his rookie season. Matthews scored a league-high 30 goals at five-on-five last season. The Maple Leafs are the team that’s going to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada and it’s the Good Scottsdale Boy that’s going to lead them there.

 

Mid-season award predictions

So it’s the official midpoint of the season even though many teams are around the 50-game mark, well past the official midway point that is 41 games. But anyway, here’s a look at who might, will, and/or should win the respective NHL awards that are handed out following the season.

Hart Trophy: Brent Burns, San Jose- This award will probably go to Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby but Burns is why the Sharks lead the Pacific Division and are in the running to repeat as Western Conference champions. He’s been on the ice for 36 percent of San Jose’s goals, according to puckalytics, which compares to 28 percent for McDavid and 22 percent for Crosby. His 51 points in 50 games leads the team.

Vezina Trophy: Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota- What a story this will be. The once forgotten about, cast away to the AHL only to get another chance and thrive goaltender in Dubnyk finally getting his due. He’s statistically been right up there with Carey Price among the game’s best netminder over the past few seasons and he’s been unconscious once again this season. He leads the league in save percentage (.936) and GAA (1.88), and is second in wins (27). The only thing that separates him from the goaltending Triple Crown at the moment in Sergei Bobrovsky, who has one more win than Dubnyk.

Norris Trophy: Brent Burns, San Jose- For all the reasons mentioned above, and then some. He’s having an historic season for a defenseman, and is making a serious push at the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading point-getter. Should Burns win the scoring title – he’s eight points off the current perch held down by McDavid – he’d be just the second blueliner in NHL history to lead the league in scoring. The other is Bobby Orr.

Selke Trophy: Ryan Kesler, Anaheim- Kesler has been Anaheim’s best player this season. He has 39 points in 51 games while his 21:48 of ice time per game is a second behind Patrick Kane for the league-high among forwards. Kesler has taken a league-high 1,119 faceoffs, his 57.6 success rate on the draw third in the league behind Patrice Bergeron and Ryan O’Reilly among players that have taken greater than 900 faceoffs. Watch out for a late surge from Bergeron, whose offensive numbers aren’t there but numbers on defense, faceoffs, and possession remain through the roof.

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews, Toronto- In what has been the Year of the Rookie in 2016-17, Matthews stands alone in the race for the Calder. That’s how good he is, and that’s how much higher a level he’s on than everybody else. Forget rookies, Matthews has been one of the top five players in the league this season. He looks like he’s been in the NHL for 10 years. He’s tied with Alex Ovechkin for fourth in the NHL with 23 goals.

Jack Adams Award: John Tortorella, Columbus- The Blue Jackets have broken out this season, emerging as one of the league’s best teams, highlighted by a 16-game winning streak that stretched from November to January. It’s another feather in the cap for Tortorella, whose best known for going into young clubs and getting guys to realize their potential, as he did in Tampa Bay and New York.

General Manager of the Year: Peter Chiarelli, Edmonton- Chiarelli has done a fine job reconstructing the roster in Edmonton, and the Oilers are on track to erase an 11-year playoff drought as a result. Of course, it all starts with Connor McDavid, but a Chiarelli bringing in a number of players over the past two years, such as Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Andrej Sekera, Mark Letestu, and Kris Russell has changed the identity of the team. While he traded an elite talent in Taylor Hall, it’s looked like the shake up the Oilers needed.

Lady Byng Trophy: Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis- He’s having his best season yet, with 47 points in 49 games while carrying a Blues team that isn’t as good as years past. He’s done so by staying out of the box, with just eight penalty minutes.

Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson, Ottawa- Anderson hasn’t played since December 5th, away from the Senators to be by his wife’s side as she undergoes treatment for cancer. However, he’s nearing a return as his wife has completed treatment.

Art Ross Trophy: Brent Burns, San Jose- He’s a long shot but what the heck, let’s have some fun here. I’ll be rooting for the story.

Richard Trophy: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh- Crosby has slowed off the pace when it comes to putting the puck in the net after a torrid start to the year, but nobody has really caught up.

Second Look: Crosby and Ovechkin play on same line

This is what makes the All-Star Game such a spectacle. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the two greatest players of the generation of which they played, playing together on the same line, setting each other up for goals.

Who wouldn’t want to watch this?

The two stars, who have been bitter rivals since coming into the league in 2005 and bitter division rivals since the NHL realigned in 2013, finished with a goal and assist apiece en route to the Metro winning the four-team three-on-three tournament that was the game. Both picked up their points in the first game, a 10-6 win over the Atlantic. Crosby got the first goal on an assist from Ovechkin before Crosby returned the favor, setting up Ovechkin for a goal with a second to play.

Stat of the Day: Sidney Crosby with no goals in last five games

Sidney Crosby, never known for his goal scoring, was out to a blazing start in the 2016-17 season.

The all-world, all-time great Pittsburgh Penguin pivot had 26 goals through 31 games to begin his season, which was delayed by a concussion suffered days before the season opener.

While Crosby was playing the best hockey of his Hall of Fame career, there was plenty of reason to believe a drop-off – even of the slightest nature – would occur. After scoring his 31st goal in a December 28th Pittsburgh win over Carolina, Crosby had connected on nearly one-quarter of his shots (24.3 percent shooting percentage), an uptick from the 14.3 percent clip he’d connected at over the first 11 seasons of his career. His 82-game pace of 69 goals was well above his career-high of 51.

So it comes as no surprise that Crosby has been held scoreless over his last five games, falling a tad bit off the thunderous pace he’d been on for the past calendar year. Of course, it hasn’t been all bad, either, over those five games, as Crosby has picked up four assists to go along with an even rating. He’s averaged 20:10 of ice-time per game while putting 15 shots on net, recording a shot in every game but Wednesday’s loss to Washington, where the 29-year-old was summoned to take on heavier defensive assignments against a high-octane, explosive Capitals team.

Crosby maintains the NHL goal scoring lead, but has Jeff Carter quickly gaining, as the Kings center scored his 23rd goal of the season on Saturday. Behind Carter is Cam Atkinson, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Alex Ovechkin at 21 while Vladimir Tarasenko and Max Pacioretty have 20.

The Push(es) for 1,000: The Sedins get one step closer

Alex Ovechkin became the 84th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 points on Wednesday night. Four other players are looking to follow him, with Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Sidney Crosby, and Shane Doan all within 44 points of four figures.

Here’s an update of how three of the four that played last night fared.

*Both Henrik and Daniel Sedin inched closer in the Canucks 5-4 shootout loss to Philadelphia. The two connected on the first goal in the way they’ve become best known – Henrik the facilitator, Daniel the finisher – when Daniel scored on a feed from Troy Stetcher at 9:21 of the first period to open the scoring. Henrik got the secondary assist on the powerplay goal, Daniel’s 366th career goal and 966th point.

Henrik picked up his 766th career as he moved within three points of 1,000.

*Sidney Crosby, sitting a 982, was held off the scoresheet in the Penguins 4-1 loss to Ottawa. It’s just the seventh time in 35 games this season he’s failed to record a point.

*Doan was idle as the Coyotes were off on Thursday. Arizona gets back in action on Friday when it hosts Winnipeg.

Alex Ovechkin first of a few stars to reach 1,000 points in coming future

Alex Ovechkin scored his 1,000th career point on Wednesday night in the first period of the Washington Captials 5-2 win over Pittsburgh on a goal that coincided with the 545th tally of his career, which put him past hockey legend Maurice Richard for sole possession of 29th place on the all-time list.

He became the 84th player in NHL history to record 1,000 points in the league.

The milestone, of course is another mark in the amazing career of Ovechkin, who will go down as one of the great goal scorers to ever play the game. He reached 1,000 points in 880 games, one of just 37 players to reach four figures with one team.

Going into the game, Ovechkin was one of five NHLers within 45 points of the milestone. The Russian won the race, with Henrik Sedin the closest to him, at 996. He also beat out Sidney Crosby, who along with Ovechkin has been the face of the league since the two came into the league following the 2004-05 lockout. Crosby stands 17 shy, at 983.

Daniel Sedin (965) and Shane Doan (956) are the others within striking distance. Sedin, whose twin brother is four points shy, might not reach it until next season. Doan, however, might not reach the mark. Doan has just 11 points in 40 games this season, and there’s speculation he might retire at the conclusion of the season.

Ovechkin is the only player to score 1,000 points in a Washington uniform. Few will argue his place as the most important player in franchise history, not to mention the best, as well. He’s one of six active players with 1,000 career points, joining former Capital Jaromir Jagr (remember that?), who is second all-time at 1,893, Joe Thornton (1,367), Jarome Iginla (1,284), Marian Hossa (1,114), and Patrick Marleau (1,055).

As for who follows this group of five (if you include Doan) on the horizon? Well, there’s not much. Henrik Zetterberg (864) is next on the list after Doan, but is unlikely to reach 1,000, at 36 years old and heading into the twilight of his career. Jason Spezza (837), Eric Staal (816), and Evgeni Malkin (804) are the next ones on the list, but all three will need at least a couple of seasons to get to the milestone.