NHL Rink Wrap: Kings keep winning; Torts on McDavid

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Top players from Thursday in the NHL

Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils

Later on in this post, we’ll expand upon how the Devils have performed reasonably well considering some losses.

Let’s start with one thing that hasn’t been there every night: reliable goaltending. MacKenzie Blackwood merely played his third game of the 2021-22 NHL season on Thursday. If anyone needed a reminder of his potential impact: Blackwood pitched a 42-save shutout. The Devils haven’t gone pointless in Blackwood start yet (2-0-1).

Blackwood wasn’t the only NHL goalie with a notable shutout on Thursday. Jonathan Quick kept the Kings hot with his 34-save goose egg. Zach Fucale only needed 21 saves for his. But Blackwood stood out by often standing on his head.

Highlights from the NHL on Thursday

Making his NHL debut after 200 games professionally in the AHL and ECHL, Zach Fucale posted a shutout against the Red Wings.

Welcome to the NHL, Cotter? *Cough* Anyway, really nice first goal from Paul Cotter of the Golden Knights:

Crafty goal from Nick Suzuki, especially since he tried to bank a puck off of Jacob Markstrom just a bit before this worked:

Thursday’s NHL takeaways

Sorry Torts, McDavid already does more than just provide offense

Few opinions are quite as dusty as blaming a team’s best player when they don’t win a Stanley Cup. An unkempt cousin of such a take is to assume that a high-scoring player isn’t playing enough defense.

Overall, John Tortorella’s argument about Connor McDavid is weathered, and tired.

Following a 2019-20 season when Connor McDavid impressively managed 97 points in 64 games, that criticism was actually reasonable. Granted, McDavid was still a considerable “net positive” then, but you could see that his defensive game was wanting.

Since 2020-21, it sure looks like McDavid’s tightened up his all-around game. Hockey Viz’s 5-on-5 isolated impacts provide visual clues to an impressive transformation:

Overall, you could spin a few stories.

  • In 2018-19 and 2019-20, Connor McDavid tried to do too much. After fielding criticism for his defense, he’s shown signs of “playing within himself.” That shows the maturity you’d hope for from a superstar and leader.

  • Maybe McDavid improved over that 2020 offseason? Sidney Crosby improving at faceoffs feels like an archetype at this point. One can almost picture that perfect faceoff circle somewhere in a cave.

Shouldn’t we give McDavid credit for massively improving on defense? It’s astounding, really, that he’s scoring at this rate while getting better all-around.

Truly, the Oilers’ nightmare scenario would be for McDavid to try to overcorrect, and miss out on game-changing offense.

Look, Tortorella’s accomplished a lot in his career. That doesn’t mean he’s always found the right offense – defense balance. Perhaps Torts would still be installed with the Blue Jackets if, say, he got the most out of players like Anthony Duclair? Either way, that’s a tepid Torts take.

(By the way, McDavid and the Oilers beat the Bruins on Thursday. Leon Draisaitl was especially impressive, scoring two goals and an assist.)

Seven wins in a row for the Kings

Remember when the Kings were languishing at 1-5-1? The Kings pushed their winning streak to seven games on Thursday, the longest active run in the NHL.

Now, sure, this latest win came against the Senators. The Kings’ streak also includes two wins against the Canadiens, and one vs. the Sabres. So, feel free to say the Kings haven’t been dominating against hockey royalty.

Still, they’re one win away from sweeping their four-game Canadian road trip. From there, the Kings play seven games in a row at home, and nine of 11. Quite an opportunity for a team hungry to compete again.

Devils in the Metro mix

Beyond the division-leading Hurricanes, there’s not much separation between teams in the Metropolitan Division. Maybe none are undeniably great — yet? — but just about every Metro team has some reason to dream about a playoff berth.

Take the Devils, for instance.

After beating the Islanders 4-0, the Devils are now on a three-game winning streak. Even their previous losing streak wasn’t so bad, as they squeezed two points out of three losses (0-1-2).

At 7-3-2, the Devils aren’t on fire, but it’s tempting to picture bigger things. After all, Jack Hughes has only played two games, and Dougie Hamilton just returned to action after an extended absence.

A fully healthy Devils team might not be a contender, but may not be a pushover, either.

Friday’s big story

Blue Jackets get a chance to prove it vs. Capitals

Speaking of Metro teams hanging in there, the Blue Jackets are on a three-game winning streak of their own. Early on in the post-Torts era, the Blue Jackets are a respectable 7-3-0.

Coming off of a win against the Red Wings, the Capitals will be less rested than the Blue Jackets on Friday. This a game the Blue Jackets should win, if they’re more than just a curiousity.

Thursday’s NHL scores

Oilers 5, Bruins 3
Canadiens 4, Flames 2
Kings 2, Senators 0
Devils 4, Islanders 0
Penguins 3, Panthers 2 (SO)
Capitals 2, Red Wings 0
Predators 4, Blues 3 (OT)
Jets 4, Sharks 1
Avalanche 7, Canucks 1
Golden Knights 3, Wild 2
Ducks 7, Kraken 4

More hockey news

Nine Ottawa Senators players now in NHL’s COVID-19 protocol It is not time to worry about the Avalanche (yet) Bob Murray resigns as Ducks GM, will enter alcohol abuse program

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Rink Wrap: Kings keep winning; Torts on McDavid originally appeared on NBCSports.com