NHL best and worst: Keller's red-hot tear leading resurgent Coyotes

Keller's ridiculous run post All-Star break has the Coyotes looking like giant slayers in the home stretch of the NHL season.

We’ve reached the home stretch of the NHL season, with just a dozen or so games remaining on the schedule across the league. It’s put up or shut up time, as playoff hopefuls ramp up the intensity in the hopes of an extended run deep into the spring.

With that increased intensity comes plenty of outstanding action from across the world of puck, and we’ve got it all right here in this week’s edition of the NHL’s Best and Worst.

Clayton Keller's ridiculous run post All-Star break has the Coyotes looking like giant slayers as the NHL regular season nears its end. (Getty Images)
Clayton Keller's ridiculous run post All-Star break has the Coyotes looking like giant slayers as the NHL regular season nears its end. (Getty Images)

Player of the week: Clayton Keller

If I asked you to guess who had the second-most points in the NHL since the All-Star break, how many guesses do you think it would take until you picked Clayton Keller? The oft-forgotten gem of the 2016 NHL Draft, Keller has been shot out of a cannon since picking up four points at the All-Star Game in Sunrise, Florida in February. With 34 points in 20 games, the Coyotes star sits tied with Nathan MacKinnon in the two-hole behind Connor McDavid, and his contributions this week are no small part of that. Keller’s five goals this week paced all NHL forwards and notably made him the first Arizona Coyote since Radim Vrbata in 2011-12 to tally 30 goals in a season.

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Goal of the week

Back in December, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Nick Seeler set a new career high for goals in a season with his third of the year in a 6-5 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. A journeyman defenseman, Seeler has never been a player on the tip of fan's tongues often, frequently finding himself playing bottom-pair minutes or more often finding himself in the press box or the AHL. On Tuesday, however, the Minnesota-native pulled a rabbit out of his hat that nobody could have possibly predicted, as the defensively-minded blueliner danced through the Golden Knights top pairing to score one of the goals of the year.

Save of the week

Holy moly, Akira Schmid. The Swiss rookie netminder has been a revelation for the New Jersey Devils this season, putting up a .924 save percentage as the team’s third-string goalie and looking like the team’s potential netminder of the future at just 22-years-old. This stop against Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nick Paul certainly won’t quiet those calls, as Schmid robs Paul blind with an acrobatic and dynamic reactionary save.

Dish of the week

After earning goal of the week honours in last week’s Best and Worst, Trevor Zegras is back at it again with some nifty moves and a slick feed. This time, after pulling off a nasty between-the-legs dangle to separate Ryan Pulock from his jockstrap, the Ducks star fires off a pinpoint pass onto the stick of Kevin Shattenkirk for the easy one-timer beauty.

Hit of the week

Another week, another Jacob Trouba bomb. Some may call him dirty, and he’s certainly had his share of questionable hits, but there is nobody in the NHL today that can quite lay the body like the New York Rangers captain. This time around, his victim Alex Nylander stood no chance, as Trouba ran him over in open ice after a brutal suicide pass by Jeff Petry left Nylander out to dry, promptly getting him flattened.

Worst of the week

Avalanche forward Lars Eller might be the benefactor of one of the worst calls you’ll see all season. Following a presumptive icing on Colorado, a bizarre decision by the referees to refuse to blow the whistle left the puck sitting in the crease and gave Eller the easiest tap in of his life. Needless to say, the players and fans in Ottawa were quite displeased with this one, later giving it to the refs in this hilarious clip, which includes head coach D.J. Smith.

Luckily for Eller, the goal was his first in 33 games, helping him break the ice in his new home after arriving in Colorado from the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline.

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Losing the net

If you’re a goaltender… well, you know the rest. Pyotr Kochetkov gets absolutely cooked by Jack Hughes here, as the wandering netminder winds up flat on his wallet, flailing for a puck that's long gone, and eventually winds up in a yawning Hurricanes cage.

Scrap of the week

Once again, the refs have robbed us of what would have undoubtedly been an absolute classic of a netminder fight. With Jordan Binnington up to his usual antics, Marc-Andre Fleury decided that he’d take the famously mouthy goalkeeper’s challenge, heading down the ice and preparing for an all-time showdown. That unfortunately didn’t come to pass, but the content that followed almost made up for it. Not only was Alex Gologoski’s retaliatory celebration after his goal hilarious, but the Minnesota Wild’s mic’d-up version of the scrap is a must-watch.

Mic malfunction

Maple Leafs fans came to the rescue ahead of their game against the Buffalo Sabres when the anthem singer's microphone stopped working prior to the rendition of the American national anthem. Notably, this isn’t the first time that Scotiabank Arena has had technical difficulties like this, as back in 2015, the team’s anthem singer also required some help from the crowd to get through the Star Spangled Banner.

Dirty dangles

It’s not an NHL goal, so it’s hard to give it Goal of the Week status, but in every other sense of the word, this sequence was magnificent. In the closest recreation I’ve ever seen to Mario Lemieux’s famous goal against the Minnesota North Stars, Rhett Pitlick takes the Michigan defender for a walk, leaving his ankles snatched and his heart in tatters before burying one of the most disrespectful goals you may ever see.

Mickey Mouse League

With the NHL going virtual this past week, we got plenty of great moments courtesy of the House of Mouse broadcast, but nothing quite beats the sheer lunacy of watching the first goal scored during the broadcast. Everything about this is awesome, from the net flying off, to the cartoon fans, and even the netminders being replaced with characters from Disney Channel’s Big City Greens.

Highway robbery

This larcenous save by Jonas Johansson partly makes the list for how exceptional a save it is. With the game on the line, the Swedish netminder stoned Alex DeBrincat cold to seal the win. The other reason this one gets the call, however, is for the hilarious broadcast call from Marc Moser, who loses his marbles trying to process how this puck stays out.

Stat of the week

The Calgary Flames are cursed with a capital C. By basically every underlying metric, Darryl Sutter’s squad has been a top team, frequently out-possessing and out-chancing their opponents. Unfortunately, a combination of poor goaltending, an inability to get timely goals, and plain old bad luck has sent them spiralling out of the playoff picture and likely to miss the postseason despite lofty preseason aspirations. Their overtime loss to the Dallas Stars on Saturday set a new high, or perhaps low, for the club in particular, as the defeat marked a franchise record 26th one-goal loss this season. For reference, the San Jose Sharks sit second this year with 21 and are the only other team with more than 20 one-goal losses.

Petterson plays nice

Good Guy Petey strikes again, as the Canucks presumptive captain-to-be pulled the old 'Cale Makar' by trying to wave off a tripping penalty against the Dallas Stars. The penalty did eventually stand, as Domi wound up sitting for two, but the Canucks would fail to cash in, leaving Elias Pettersson breathing a sigh of relief, or at least, one would imagine.

At the horn

With less than half a second on the clock, and the ESPN scoreboard already at 0.0, Martin Necas somehow found a way to steal a point for the Carolina Hurricanes with this epic last-second goal against the Philadelphia Flyers. Even crazier is the great save by Felix Sandstrom literally seconds beforehand that seemingly ended things, though his defensemen would ultimately let him down, allowing the Canes' leading scorer to tap this one home.

The best part of the sequence as a whole, however, has got the be the overtime goal from Sebastian Aho that followed, as he slices and dices the entire Flyers squad to secure Carolina’s come-from-behind win.

You are welcome here

After James Reimer became the latest NHLer to refuse to wear a pride jersey, Pittsburgh Penguins President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke — and once upon a time, Reimer’s general manager in Toronto — spoke out on the persistent issue with a powerful statement. Burke’s words hold particular weight given his extensive history as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, including through his late son Brendan and the You Can Play Project.

Heavyweight snoozefest

If the near-Binnington vs. Fleury bout is our scrap of the week, then this “fight” between Boko Imama and Ryan Reaves is the anti-scrap of the week. As two of the league’s few remaining tough guys (even with Imama mostly playing with the AHL's Tucson Roadrunners), this one should have been an awesome heavyweight bout. Instead, it looks a whole lot more like two minutes each for delay of game.

Trending up: Arizona Coyotes

In a remarkable turn of events, the ever-rebuilding Arizona Coyotes, fresh off a deal to ship their best defenseman for scraps, have caught lightning in a bottle. Their four-game winning streak is second behind the Colorado Avalanche for the longest active run, while a 10-4-4 record since Chychrun’s last game comes out to a staggering 109-point pace. The aforementioned Clayton Keller has found another gear, while Barrett Hayton has developed into another bonafide top-six option. With multiple possible lottery picks coming down the pipe this year as well, plus several other high-end prospects under team control, the future is finally sharpening into focus for the Desert Dogs.

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Trending down: Ottawa Senators

On the other end of the Chychrun spectrum, the Boca Raton native’s current team has come apart at the seams since arriving in the nation’s capital. With the team rolling along at 10-3-1 immediately before the acquisition, the Senators are losers of five straight and 3-5-1 post-trade, turning what looked like a potential playoff run into another playoff-less campaign. With ownership changes on the horizon, one begins to wonder if yet another ”post-rebuild” failure could spell disaster for Pierre Dorion and his front office.