Games that defined the 2019-20 NHL season (so far)

Thomas WilliamsHockey writer
Yahoo Sports Canada
The 2019-20 NHL season has been beautifully bizarre. (Getty Images)
The 2019-20 NHL season has been beautifully bizarre. (Getty Images)

While the 2019-20 NHL regular season has been paused due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, it has still been an eventful few months around the league.

From jaw-dropping goals to wondering how exactly a certain game finished that way, every night there was something to behold.

But in case you need to really remember what happened during the currently-suspended season, here are a few games that really gave the 102nd NHL season its own flair.

January 11, 2020 — Battle of Alberta

For a couple weeks during the slog that normally is the middle of the NHL regular season, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers gave the entire league a boost of drama. It was all anyone could talk about and rightly so.

During the second period of the mid-January matchup, Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk lined up Oilers forward Zack Kassian for a brutal high hit, causing a retaliation. In a moment that shot all of Alberta back to the 1980s, Kassian brought Tkachuk down to the ice and started pummelling him as the Flames winger covered his head.

Regardless of the legality and morality of the violence, it stoked the fires of a rivalry that hasn’t seen that amount of passion since both teams were winning championships.

February 22, 2020 — The EBUG Game

Some stories are predictable — a player scores in their first game, a good team beats a bad team — but the Carolina Hurricanes embarrassing the Maple Leafs while in Toronto, on the back of a 42-year-old emergency backup goaltender, was one of the most farfetched narratives you could imagine.

With regular starter James Reimer and backup Petr Mrazek leaving the game with injuries, David Ayres, the Zamboni driver for the Toronto Marlies, entered the game.

The end result was a 6-3 win for Carolina, with Ayres making eight saves on 10 shots in over 28 minutes of action.

Whether it was an opportunity to openly mock the Maple Leafs for continuing their questionable season or to be stunned by something that has never happened before in the NHL, it was truly a moment everyone around the hockey world was glued to.

December 19, 2019 — This is just getting Wild now

This is one that has gone under the radar.

A battle between two teams that often are the butt of a joke because of their mediocrity, the Minnesota Wild and Arizona Coyotes had the highest-scoring game of the season. An 8-5 slugfest win by the Wild, it is peak NHL this season.

For two teams like the Wild and Coyotes, both known for their defense before anything else, to combine for 13 goals is just another weird thing to happen this season.

Scoring is up yet again and apparently that means just any team can score now.

October 29, 2019 — The Svech

There is no possible way that any hockey fan can mention this season without the words “Andrei Svechnikov scored a lacrosse goal” coming out of their mouth within 30 seconds.

In the first month of the season, we were all witness to the Carolina Hurricanes teenage phenom scoring a goal in a way that no one has ever accomplished in the century-long history of the NHL.

At just 19 years of age and on the cusp of superstardom, Svechnikov was able to burst through the rough barrier of on-ice flair and score his highlight reel tally.

It’s not unusual to crown Goal of the Year candidates early in the season, but this single goal might have created a sizeable shift to players upping the creativity on the ice. We already saw Nashville Predators winger Filip Forsberg become the second player to score a lacrosse goal, after Svechnikov already scored his second.

Maybe next season we’ll see an even more outrageous goal.

March 5, 2020 — Zibanejad nets 5

Speaking of goals, during one night in March against the Washington Capitals, New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad was able to make history and finish the game with five goals.

A player who has always flirted with greatness, Zibanejad has been thrust into the spotlight with key free agent signing Artemi Panarin coming to New York and establishing a potent offense that was on fire against the Capitals.

Zibanejad was just the third player in the Rangers’ 94-year history to score five goals in a single game. Mark Pavelich was able to complete the feat back in 1982-83 and Don Murdoch scored five during the 1976-77 season.

It was also the first time a player had five goals in a single game since Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine netted five in November 2018. Since 1996, only Laine, Zibanejad, Johan Franzen and Marian Gaborik have been able to score five.

As the Rangers continued their push to become relevant again, this performance by their 26-year-old forward was really a symbol of what could come with the current talent group they have established. We might never know if they would be able to shock the hockey world and appear in the postseason this year, but with some mind-bending performances like Zibanejad had, it could have happened.

February 6, 2020 — Flyers being the Flyers

In an unexpecting late-season game against the bottom-tier New Jersey Devils, the Philadelphia Flyers experienced some of the most outrageous hockey you could imagine.

The Flyers earned 15 of their last 20 available points prior to the Feb. 6 matchup, while the Devils were battling it out with the Senators and Red Wings for the bottom spot in the conference. Regardless the standings and status of the two clubs, Philadelphia was able to unload 46 shots on goal, while New Jersey had only 19. But guess who ended up with the 5-0 victory.

Of course it was the Devils, on the back of Mackenzie Blackwood’s insane shutout and complete fluke of a hockey game.

If one game could perfectly describe the current day NHL landscape, it would be an extremely lucky win by a bad team against a team with Stanley Cup aspirations going completely unnoticed. It has become so standard for upsets like this to happen in this parity league, but it’s still amazing to witness such an uncommon result.

February 22, 2020 — Ovechkin joins the 700 club

Similar to seasons in the past, 2019-20 could be known as yet another campaign with Alex Ovechkin’s name sprawled across it as he hit milestone after milestone.

Even at the age of 34, Ovechkin is still tearing up the scoresheet and in the running for yet another Rocket Richard Trophy. But it was on Feb. 22 that he finally reached a critical point in his career to enshrine his name next to the greatest goalscorers in hockey history.

Ovechkin became just the eighth player to score 700 career goals in the NHL and only the second European to do so.

The Great 8 was the second-fastest player to reach the feat, in his 1,144th game. Of course, only Wayne Gretzky was able to do it in less games and the race is still on for Ovechkin.

As of the suspension, he is sitting at 706 career goals, 189 away from passing Gretzky and becoming the top goalscorer in the NHL. Quite a feat, but with yet another elite season coming from the Russian winger, it’s becoming more and more probable.

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