The Biggest Takeaways from Week 12 of the 2014-15 NHL Season
The National Hockey League welcomed 2015 with its annual Winter Classic outdoor game—a reminder that sometimes spectacle can be just as important to the league as the game being played on the ice.
Fans got a bonus when the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks delivered a solid 60 minutes of hockey to kick off the year, hopefully setting the tone for a great second half and Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Elsewhere around the league last week, we saw some young and old players make headlines, while teams at the top and bottom of the standings asserted themselves.
Here are your top takeaways for the week ending Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015.
Winter Classic Disappoints When Mother Nature Cooperates
On January 1, a tightly contested hockey game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Capitals was decided by ex-Blackhawk Troy Brouwer's power-play goal with 12.9 seconds remaining in regulation time to give the host Capitals the 3-2 win. Alas, the on-ice excitement wasn't enough to engage television viewers.
The 2015 Winter Classic from Washington, D.C., drew the lowest ratings in the history of the event, according to Sports Illustrated.
After a snowy spectacle between natural rivals Toronto and Detroit in front of more than 100,000 spectators at the Big House in Michigan in 2014, a "mere" 42,832 fans enjoying a sunny afternoon in a sold-out Nationals Park didn't pack nearly the same visual punch on television.
Johnny Hockey Makes a Case for the Calder
Listed at 5'9" and just 150 pounds, little Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames is making a big impact during his first year in the NHL.
Gaudreau was named NHL Rookie of the Month for December thanks to eight goals and 13 points in 14 games, most notably a natural hat trick in Calgary's come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on December 22.
Along with the Winnipeg Jets' impressive rookie netminder Michael Hutchinson, the dynamic Gaudreau is mounting a challenge to the Nashville Predators' Filip Forsberg for Calder Trophy consideration in 2014-15.
Jaromir Jagr Keeps on Ticking
Speaking of hat tricks, on January 3, Jaromir Jagr became the oldest player in NHL history to score three goals in one game as he helped his New Jersey Devils beat the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 5-2.
Jagr moved up the ranks to become the fifth-leading scorer in NHL history earlier this season, passing Marcel Dionne, per HockeyDB.com. Leading the Devils with nine goals and 16 assists, he could catch Ron Francis, who's 18 points ahead of him in fourth, before the year is out.
Imagine how Jagr's stats would look if he hadn't taken those three seasons off to play in the KHL starting in 2008!
Despite Jagr's best efforts, the Devils already sit a distant 10 points out of a wild-card playoff spot. Will we see the mercenary moved to a playoff contender by the trade deadline?
Latvia Makes Its Case for an NHL Visit
Latvia and Chicago: the two places where fans are most eager to exercise their right to vote for the starters of this year's NHL All-Star Game.
Thanks to the enthusiasm of his countrymen back in his home country, 20-year-old center Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres will be part of the game's starting lineup in Columbus on Jan. 25. He finished first with 1,574,896 fan votes, according to NHL.com.
The rest of the starting positions will be filled by five Chicago Blackhawks: forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and goaltender Corey Crawford.
The Latvians' support for Girgensons may have taken North America by surprise, but he's a very big deal back in his homeland.
The Fourth Period reported back in October that the NHL is interested in reviving its Premiere Series, where teams start their seasons overseas. The fans of Latvia just gave the league a very good reason to consider Riga as a potential destination city.
Los Angeles Kings Remain Comeback Kids
After a mediocre month of December when they posted a record of 6-5-3, the Los Angeles Kings started the New Year doing what they do best—staging miraculous comebacks.
The Kings spotted the host Vancouver Canucks a 2-0 lead on New Year's Day, then used two goals in the last two minutes and seven seconds of the game to steal an outright 3-2 win from their Pacific Division rivals.
On January 3, the Kings came out sleepy for their matinee against the Nashville Predators. Starter Jonathan Quick was pulled at the 9:43 mark of the first period as Nashville took a 3-1 lead, which grew to 5-1 by 3:57 of the second period.
Heading into the late stages trailing 6-3, goals by Dwight King, Marian Gaborik and Jeff Carter in the last 2:01 of the third period earned L.A. the tie and the single point.
The Predators prevailed in overtime, but the Kings' late surge reminded opponents that when they're playing the Stanley Cup champions, no lead is safe.
Edmonton Oilers Begin the Reconstruction
After firing coach Dallas Eakins on December 15, the Edmonton Oilers have embraced their position as the NHL's worst team and will target phenom Connor McDavid with a draft lottery win in June.
Or will they?
Since Craig MacTavish returned to his general manager duties and former Oklahoma City Barons coach Todd Nelson started flying solo behind the Edmonton bench on December 30, the Oilers have earned points in four straight games.
Edmonton has made some tweaks to its lineup, saying goodbye to Mark Arcobello, David Perron and Leon Draisaitl while picking up Matt Fraser, Derek Roy and Rob Klinkhammer. On paper, it's nothing to get excited about, but the fresh blood behind the bench and on the ice is making an impact.
Each of the three new players chipped in with a point as the Oilers stopped the surging New York Islanders by a score of 5-2 on Sunday. At this rate, the Oilers might soon lower their lottery odds if they escape last place in the NHL standings.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.