Blake’s Takes: The Arrival of Mika Zibanejad

It was a quiet week in hockey outside of what could have been the game of the year between the Rangers and Capitals. I’ll highlight that game and the major milestones that came from it. The league also announced some news that could impact the future of emergency goalies. Happy reading.

1. EBUGs are Here to Stay

Last week, the NHL hosted their annual GM meetings in Boca Raton, FL, where the GMs decided that there could be another David Ayres. The policy in regard to EBUGs (emergency backup goalies) was discussed and the GMs refrained from making any changes to the current policy which allowed for Ayres and Scott Foster to claim their 15 seconds of fame.

Sports have become hyper-serious and data-oriented over the last few years, it’s hard to remember that they are still entertainment. Seeing Ayres and Foster, two regular guys, get lucky enough to play in an NHL game is something special. Obviously, they were good enough to get a shot, but luck was still a factor. It’s something that can’t really happen in other sports and I’m happy the NHL has embraced EBUGs. It is funny that both players not only made it into games but played exceptionally well.

We can all be thankful that the league’s GMs didn’t suck the fun out of this ordeal.

2. Zibanejad, the Game of His Life, and the Game of the Season

[Photo Credit: NHL]
If you didn’t hear, the game of the season happened last Thursday night between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. The Rangers edged the Caps 6-5 in overtime with Mika Zibanejad scoring the OT winner.

This game had everything. No team ever had more than a two-goal lead, with each team answering after every goal. 11 total goals were scored and Zibanejad scored five goals in the game, his fifth being the OT winner. Five goals! The goal in itself might just be the goal of the year. Check it out:

First, the pass from Artermi Panarin is just insane. Definitely one of the better passes I’ve seen.  Zibanejad breaks through the defense and scores on a slick backhander to beat the goalie on the breakaway. The goal without context is worthy of being the top play on SportsCenter. But, the fact that it was the OT winner and Zibanejad’s fifth of the night is what makes it the goal of the year.

It’s sad that it took this game from Zibanejad for me to realize how great of a season he’s having. Obviously, you remember the guy with a name like his, but the Rangers having another player with a last name starting with a Z for so long (Mats Zuccarello) had me confused. I will certainly never forget Zibanejad after this game.

Last year was actually his breakout season. He scored 30 goals and posted 74 points for the Rangers. He’s on pace to smash those numbers this year. He is currently sitting at 39 goals and 72 points.

With Zibanejad, Panarin, and a nice crop of good, young players, the Rangers are trending up after years in the cellar.

3. RIP Henri Richard

The Stanley Cup King has passed on. On Friday, Henri Richard, who holds the record for most Stanley Cup victories with 11, all with the Canadiens, passed away. Richard was 84-years-old.

Richard wasn’t just lucky to be on great teams. His resume is long and his accomplishments are plenty. He is a Hall of Famer, was named to the NHL postseason All-Star team four times, was selected for ten All-Star Games, and won the Masterton Trophy. He played his entire career with Montreal, scoring 358 goals and finished with 1046 points.

This is a sad moment for the hockey community and for Montreal Canadiens supporters. Best wishes to Richard’s family and to all that he brought joy on and off the ice.

4. The Flyers are Good?

The Philadelphia Flyers have been somewhat of an afterthought in the NHL over the last few years. They haven’t made it out of the first round of the playoffs since the 2011-12 season. It’s not for a lack of star-power, with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek on the roster.

Over the last season or two, the Flyers have added a few players that have drastically improved their team. Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk have turned out to be two great free-agent acquisitions. I was critical of the Hayes signing before the seas0on, but he’s scored 23 goals and has added another 18 assists this season. van Riemsdyk has put up almost identical numbers, with 19 goals and 21 assists. It’s a shame van Riemsdyk will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken finger.

There are two other players that have really elevated the Flyers this season. The first is forward Travis Konecny. Without a doubt the hardest last name in the league to pronounce. Watch this if you need help. Still, Konecny is leading the team in points with 61 and goals with 24. The 22-year-old has taken a big step forward after finishing back-to-back seasons with between 45-50 points. He was named an All-Star this season and could surpass Giroux as the most impactful forward on the roster.

It’s second-year pro, Carter Hart that has blossomed this year. He had a lot of hype last year and played well. This season he has cemented himself as the number one goaltender. He’s 24-12-3, with a 2.43 GAA, .913 sv%, and one shutout. Hart has left no doubt that not only is he a bonafide number one, but he’s going to be a star.

The Flyers are currently tied with the  Washington Capitals for first in the Metropolitan Divison. It should be a thrilling spring and if we’re lucky, they will match up with their rival Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. Here’s to hoping.

5. The Emergence of Kyle Connor

This summer, I wrote about how the Jets hit home runs with their extensions of Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor. At the time, Connor looked to have the higher floor and Laine the higher ceiling. Now, I think it’s obvious Connor is much more of a dynamic player than most gave him credit for and will have a better career.

This kid has speed to burn. He’s used it to torch defensemen all year. He’s already set career highs in goals, assists, and points, with 36-35-71. I would argue that even at 23-years-old, the Shelby Township native is the best player in the Jets.

The Jets have been in limbo for the last few years after losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2018 Western Conference Finals. Since then, their team has cooled off, Laine has been inconsistent, and Dustin Byfuglien hasn’t even played a minute this year. If the Jets are going to turn their franchise around, Connor is going to be at the forefront of their resurgence. ■

Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.

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