NHL Best and Worst: Leafs star Mitch Marner is on some kind of run (2023)

It’s a U.S. Thanksgiving edition of the NHL’s Best and Worst. Unlike the festive turkey, however, this season has been high-flying, with scoring at record levels and goalies more acrobatic than we’ve ever seen.

Here’s everything you missed — or need to see again — from the past week in hockey.

Goal of the week

Everything’s going right for the New Jersey Devils, who have lost just one game in their last 16 and look like the NHL’s number one contender through the quarter mark of the season. While all the attention for them has been on the triple-H trio of Hughes, Hischer, and Hamilton, their depth has also been a big part of their success to this point in the season. That includes underrated winger Tomas Tatar, who has bounced back in a big way from last year’s disappointment. He currently sits fifth on the team in scoring behind their big guns and looks like he’s gotten his mojo back.

This creative little goal Tatar scored against the Edmonton Oilers last Monday was a beauty.

Save of the week

Pyotr Kochetkov is a bad man for this one. Freshly inked to a four-year, $8 million extension, the Russian netminder looks like the future of the Hurricanes crease, and for good reason. With unbounded athleticism and an elite ceiling, Kochetkov is likely just scratching the surface of his NHL potential.

Even more impressive, at just 23-year-old, Kochetkov has been thrust into a significant role with the Hurricanes due to an injury to Frederik Andersen, and hasn’t looked out of place one bit, rocking a .913 save percentage through his first six games. This straight-up robbery on Coyotes forward Travis Boyd is a glimpse into the future for Canes fans, as he gives it everything he can to keep this puck out of the net.

Star of the week: Mitch Marner

Mitch Marner may not have the most points in the NHL over the past week — that would be the Stars’ Jason Robertson — but he deserves massive credit for what he’s been able to string together over the last little while.

After an up-and-down start to his and the Maple Leafs’ season, the winger has found his groove in a big way, notching a point in sixteen straight contests while accumulating five goals and 17 assists over that time. His Saturday game against the Penguins looks to be the crescendo of that run, as the Leafs star notched an electrifying tally just seconds into the game, then later added a hard-working apple to help the Buds to a dominating win.

Mitts of the week

After signing a hefty extension over the summer, expectations for Tage Thompson shot through the roof, as he went from draft disappointment to NHL superstar seemingly overnight. Now, in the final year of his current contract, Thompson looks like he’ll be worth that $7 million annual value, and then some, as his excellent play from last season has elevated another degree in the early going. While this one didn’t result in a goal, his impeccable edge work allowed him to make mincemeat of his former team, as he bobbed and weaved his way toward the net, just missing out on cashing in on a surefire goal of the week candidate.

Like a flock of Penguins

Celebrating his 1000th NHL game, Evgeni Malkin’s Penguins teammates had a little bit of fun at his expense during warmup, mimicking his routine in one of the most mesmerizing videos you may ever see. Malkin’s 1000th-game celebrations didn’t stop there, as Crosby’s perpetually underrated running-mate had even more to celebrate in their next game later that week. The Magnitogorsk native called game against the Calgary Flames, scoring a nifty shootout winner with a celebration to match, as his Penguins continued their hot streak following a sluggish start.

Stat of the week

Speaking of Sidney Crosby, it’s worth remembering that, while no longer the NHL’s undisputed top player, he’s still very much an NHL legend in his own right. This bonkers stat from the Pittsburgh Penguins official account last Sunday is almost Gretzky-esque, as Sid the Kid continues to show everybody around the league that he’s still got plenty in the tank.

Milestones: Bergeron hits the millennium mark

Not too many NHL players age the way Patrice Bergeron has, as the 37-year-old went from the brink of retirement to having yet another highly productive, arguably Selke-level season with the Boston Bruins. Well known for his defensive acumen (the trophy should probably bear his name after he retires), Bergeron’s offensive prowess got its flowers as well on Monday when he picked up his 1000th NHL point, as the pivot continues to ho-hum his way to a late-career point-per-game resurgence. Not too shabby for a former second-round selection.

Milestones: Money Makar

Not Bobby Orr. Not Paul Coffey. Not Ray Bourque. No, it’s Cale Makar that has set the NHL record for the fastest defenceman ever to reach 200 points, doing so in a blistering 195 games. He’s also the only defenceman in NHL history to do so at over a point-pergame clip, blowing past the next fastest in Sergei Zubov by a dozen games. No big deal for the NHL’s reigning Norris Trophy winner, who adds to an already insane resume and leaves little doubt that we’re watching a generation-defining player.

Worst of the week

While the Winnipeg Jets ultimately got the last laugh during overtime, the fact this game even reached the extra frame is worth the worst of the week award itself. How this one counts is beyond me, as Connor Hellebuyck’s helmet is sent flying while he ducks for cover before Jason Robertson wires the puck into an understandably empty cage. Sure, it’s Jets defender Josh Morrissey that initiates contact, but there is no way this goal should be allowed.

Quote of the week

Do yourself a favour and give this entire interview with Jack Hughes a watch. There are too many unbelievable quotes to pick just one, but a personal favourite is Hughes’ “get some Gato in us,” remark on trying to reenergize during a draining back-to-back. There’s no doubt that Hughes missed his true calling though, as he’d make an excellent third member to Letterkenny’s hilarious hockey duo of Riley and Jonesy. He’s even got the speech pattern to match.

Beware of flying objects

This is a two-parter, particularly given that they happened just a few short hours apart. First, it was Devils fans, dismayed by their team’s impending streak-snapping loss, that decided to chuck debris on the ice following their third disallowed goal of the evening. Then, later that night, after the Canucks stunned the Colorado Avalanche in their own barn, one Denver native decided that he’d had enough of Elias Pettersson, tossing a bag of gummy bears onto the ice in protest and nailing the Swedish centremen right on the dome. Fans, this one should be obvious, but PSA, please don’t chuck stuff on the ice. It looks like New Jersey fans are already learning!

The ice tilt is real

If you’ve ever played NHL 23 online and felt that you were dominating, only to be trailing for no discernable reason, you know what this one is like. Following the first period of action, the Arizona Coyotes were getting absolutely thumped by the Carolina Hurricanes by just about every metric — except for on the scoresheet.

That 100% shooting percentage through 20 minutes of play sure didn’t seem sustainable, however, Coyotes netminder Karel Vejmelka had something to say about that. The sophomore netminder continued his astonishing play this season, single-handedly dragging his team to victory despite being viciously outshot, shutting out the Canes in a surprising 4-0 win.

RIP Borje

Last week, the NHL lost an icon in Borje Salming, who passed away at the age of 71 due to ALS. The Swedish hockey legend received an outpouring from around the hockey world throughout the hockey world over the weekend, with tributes, patches, and even a chant in his native Swedish Hockey League.

Then, during the Maple Leafs game against the Minnesota Wild, their first since his passing, fellow Swede William Nylander scored his 148th NHL goal, tying him with Salming on a goal dedicated to The King. A fitting tribute to a wonderful man. RIP Borje.

Snap of the week: A dish best served cold

Kirby Dach, you sly dog. The first-year Montreal Canadiens forward, acquired this offseason from the Chicago Blackhawks in a surprise move, got his revenge against his former club in the shootout — tucking the game-winner with a swaggy celebration to match.

Scrap of the week

Listen, I’m not saying people don’t deserve a second chance. I’m also not saying it’s good to hold grudges. What I am saying, however, is that watching Tony DeAngelo get filled in by Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom is definitely worthy of scrap of the week honours. Beyond that, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Leeeroyyyyyy Jenkinssss

There are a few key ingredients that every NHL goaltender needs to possess if they have aspirations of being elite. First, they need to be cool under pressure, no matter what. Second, and always important, they need to be aggressive out there, and challenge the shooter. Finally, if they’re truly elite, the ability to keep plays alive and move the puck can often be an underrated part of any keeper’s toolkit. Bruins netminder Linus Ullmark evidently got that memo, however, it would appear he misunderstood the assignment just a little bit. Listen, as long as you stop the puck, nobody will be complaining too much — heart palpitations from this anxiety-inducing moment aside.

Tweet of the week

Score this one a big win for the National Hockey League. In a league primarily composed of straight white men, it’s always important to advocate for all. Hockey is for everyone, and it’s imperative that people don’t forget that.

The last laugh

This back-and-forth between Drew Doughty and Leon Draisaitl is tons of fun. After Doughty narrowly avoids getting creamed by Draisaitl, who promptly goes flying into the boards, the veteran blueliner hits the Oilers superstar with a mocking laugh. He wouldn’t be smiling for long, however, as just seconds later, Doughty promptly gets walked like a dog by an Oilers teammate, which brings Leon Draisaitl right back around with his own boisterous guffaw. Now, this is a west coast rivalry I can get behind.

Trending up:

After a forgettable expansion season during which the Kraken could not buy a save, the NHL’s newest franchise suddenly finds itself as one of the league’s hottest club, and comfortably in playoff position in the early going. The biggest difference? Probably the fact that their collective goaltending has gone from an unplayable .880 sv% to…a below-league-average .897 sv%.

It was that dire last year, and it’s no secret that the Kraken should’ve been better based on their analytical metrics. Now, with Martin Jones and his extraordinarily pedestrian .906 save percentage leading the way, the club has taken its game to new heights. Combined with the addition of some much-needed scoring punch over the offseason in Andre Burakovsky, they now sit second in the Pacific Division with the league’s fourth-best point percentage. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is merely a hot streak, the Seattle Kraken are very much for real.

Trending down:

The Flyers, losers of 10 in a row, are a mess in basically every facet except for goaltending. They can’t score goals (30th in goals for), they don’t stop them as a team (27th in goals against), and they don’t have the puck all that often to begin with, either (27th in corsi for percentage, 28th in expected goals for percentage).

To say that Carter Hart, who by some miracle has a .915 save percentage, has been left on an island would be the understatement of the century. In fact, by goals saved above expected, only Islanders tender Ilya Sorokin grades out higher, according to Evolving Hockey. Things have gone extremely sour extremely quickly in the City of Brotherly Love, and it sounds like things are not going so great behind the bench either. At least Philadelphia has the Eagles.

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See a highlight worthy of the spotlight? Tag @JNeginShecter on Twitter using the hashtag #BestAndWorst and it may be featured in the following week’s edition of NHL Best and Worst.

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