Connor McDavid had quite a week.
The NHL's leading scorer had a relatively tame night here Tuesday, collecting two assists in Edmonton's overtime loss to the Sabres. But that game was sandwiched between two tumultous affairs that became the talk of the league.
Thursday night in Philadelphia, a wild 6-5 Oilers loss to the Flyers was punctuated by some extreme give-and-take between McDavid and Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning, the player mostly responsible for McDavid's broken clavicle last year. McDavid clearly cursed out Manning after scoring a goal during the game and said afterward the Philly blueliner chirped him by saying the injury was what he intended to have happen.
"I did all I could defending him last year in the media,” McDavid said. “Everyone wanted to make a big deal saying he did it on purpose. He wanted to say some comments today about what went on last year and I thought it was one of the most classless things I’ve ever seen on the ice. He said some things and our guys responded accordingly. I guess we can put the whole if he did it on purpose thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that. Shows what kind of guy he is the way he doesn’t step up and fight some of our guys.”
For his part, Manning said "one hundred percent not" when McDavid's comments were relayed.
"Anybody who knows me, knows I play a hard game, that’s the reason I’m in the NHL. I think I play an honest game,” said Manning. “There was a hit in the first period he didn’t like and for whatever reason, he kept coming at me. ... He comes out and says that’s the most classless thing he’s ever seen. He comes out in the second period and yells at our bench for a minute and then yells at me to get on the ice. He scores a goal and starts chirping me. I think you see where his focus is right there.”
The teams' other meeting is Feb. 16 in Rogers Place. Stay tuned.
McDavid had another big issue arise during Sunday's overtime loss to Minnesota, as he was pulled from the game by the league's new concussion spotters after he reached for his head when he hit the ice chin-first during a second-period collision. And right when he was pulled, the Oilers were going on a two-man advantage.
"It happened at an important time of the game and it could happen at even worse times," McDavid said when he came to Buffalo Tuesday. "What if it's overtime or it's a playoff push or it's late in the third period and stuff like that? I think they definitely have to take that into consideration."
The league has added a staff of spotters certified in athletic training to monitor games from New York. When they see something amiss with a player they can call that arena and have that player removed from play. No ifs, ands or buts. The Sabres saw that happen Oct. 16 in Edmonton when Oilers goalie Jonas Gustavsson was pulled from the game.
"I have young boys that play hockey too and I want them to be protected in every way, shape or form," Edmonton coach Todd McLellan said here Tuesday. "I get that part. The frustrating part for me and Connor and some of the other guys is the inconsistency. You see one or two guys go down who aren't removed and at a critical moment in the game, we lose him.
"We have really good people. Doctors and trainers who are right there who can communicate with the athlete and assess him right away. That's a tough one to swallow but I support it and understand it. I know why we're doing it. I know if it were my young man and they pulled him out, I'd probably be thankful because they looked after him that way."
This situation bears watching as we head down the stretch and into the playoffs. What McDavid said is true. Teams may lobby officials to get a player removed. It would be sad for that to become a tactic.
During a game in New York last month, Rangers backup Antti Raanta was pulled from a loss to Vancouver by spotters and Henrik Lundqvist was inserted cold. Lundqvist allowed two goals in a six-minute span before Raanta was cleared to return to a game the Rangers eventually lost, 5-3.
"I think they really have to look into this rule because it's not like a" skater "where you can sit out a shift," Lundqvist said. "A goalie, it's a whole other ballgame. If he's saying he's fine, at some point you've got to go with it. I think there's gonna be an issue if this is the playoffs and you have guys calling from upstairs to make that decision. I'm not gonna go off easy, I'm telling you that."
Out on an Island
Things just get weirder and weirder when it comes to the Islanders. The team announced a five-year contract extension for alternate captain Cal Clutterback on Friday. Yep, five years and $17.5 million for a 29-year-old who has two goals this year and one 30-point season in his nine year career.
All this from a franchise that didn't keep Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen in free agency but gave Andrew Ladd seven years and $38.5 million and has been rewarded with three goals and six points.
It seemed like coach Jack Capuano was about to get fired until a 5-0-1 run silenced plenty of critics. But lots of fans, pro or con, aren't heading to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch this team play. The announced crowd for Thursday's visit by St. Louis was 11,178, the sixth ticket count of the season under 12,000. The in-house crowd was naturally much less than that. The season average of 12,549 is 29th out of 30 teams, ahead of only need-to-move Carolina's 10,969.
There's obstructed view seats all over the place. There's a truck parked in the corner behind the glass like it's some rink in the Czech Republic. The ice is terrible. All in all, Brooklyn is a complete disaster. At least the team is able to stay on Long Island for morning skates in its new practice facility this year and is then heading to Brooklyn for games in the late afternoon, rather then holing up in a hotel the day of home games.
"At times, we felt like we were playing a lot of road games," Okposo told this corner Thursday. "Once we stopped going in there for morning skates, it helped a lot. And this year, they have the new practice facility The situation is what it is. That's the arena they're in. The ice isn't good and that's pretty well documented. At the end of the day, it's still hockey and I'm sure they're making the best of it."
The Blues, by the way, had to cancel their morning skate Thursday because they got stuck in traffic trying to head from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
"That's not surprising," Okposo said. "You have to deal with the traffic and I'm sure New York is getting extra crazy with Donald Trump there, adding an extra element for teams with their travel situations. The whole thing was an adjustment, a learning curve for everybody and a learning curve for us when I was there last year."
Vanek disses Brooklyn
Former Sabres winger Thomas Vanek raised further eyebrows on the Brooklyn situation in recent days by pointing out it's becoming a negative influence for the choices made by pending free agents.
"When I was here a few years back, I would've stayed in a heartbeat if we'd stayed on the Island," Vanek, now with the Red Wings, told Newsday last Sunday in Detroit. "It was a good team, they're still a good team. Every team loses guys, what I know is moving had turned some guys off."
No Islanders have moved to Brooklyn, with most opting to stay on Long Island near the practice facility.
"I don't think it's the most ideal situation to be in Brooklyn but I don't know if it's a turnoff for guys," Okposo said. "I can't speak to other guys because my situation was different. Buf if they were out on the Island and had a new rink out there, would it be more attractive? Absolutely."
There's continued talk the Brooklyn situation is going to be temporary with plenty of chatter about a new arena in Queens adjacent to Citi Field, home of the Mets. Majority owner Jon Ledecky is also reportedly reaching out to alumni for thoughts on how to improve the franchise and is looking for a big-name team president. Newsday reported former Sabres and Islanders star Pat LaFontaine, now working on projects for the NHL, is one of the prominent names that has been contacted.
Around the boards
---If you said to yourself that Tuesday's comeback win over Edmonton felt like a pretty rare one for the Sabres, you would be right. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was just the second time in the last 11 seasons they have won a game in overtime in which they trailed in the final minute of the third period. The only other such comeback since 2006 came in a win over Boston on Feb. 26, 2014, when Matt Moulson scored the tying goal and Matt D'Agostini won the game at 22 seconds of overtime.
---You want a whopper of a road trip? Look what the Kings are starting Tuesday in KeyBank Center. It's a nine-game affair, split up only by the Christmas break. Tuesday in Buffalo, Thursday in Detroit, Friday in Pittsburgh, Dec. 18 in Boston, Dec. 20 in Columbus, Dec. 22 in Nashville, Dec. 23 in Dallas, Dec. 28 in Vancouver, Dec. 29 in Edmonton. Saturday's matinee against Ottawa is their last home game until New Year's Eve. Yikes.
---The Capitals swept all three games from the Sabres this season, extending a remarkable record against the Atlantic Division. They've earned a point in 44 of their last 50 against the Atlantic, going 40-6-4 since Dec. 9, 2014. They're 7-1-1 against the Atlantic this season after going 19-5 last year.
---Rhythmic chant of angry Flyers Fans, accompanied by organ, in the third period Thursday night vs. Edmonton: "Ref, you suck." Response of television play-by-play man Jim Jackson: "Holiday wishes from the fans to the men in striped shirts."
---Tweet from former Sabres center Matt Ellis, who joined the coaching ranks at HarborCenter's Academy of Hockey in October: "I know my life has changed when I just got home from the rink and can't wait to grab my board and a marker to draw a new drill idea."