NHL best and worst: Dylan Larkin leading Red Wings' playoff charge

Here’s everything you’ll need to get caught up on in this week’s edition of the NHL’s best and worst.

With two weeks to go until the NHL Trade Deadline, the regular season is rapidly approaching crunch time. General Managers are deep into negotiations, while the players on the ice are making their final auditions for prospective new homes.

Meanwhile, off the ice, there’s plenty of drama, both of the artistic and gossip variety, to go along with pretty goals, bone-crushing hits, and all the other action across the National Hockey League. Here’s everything you’ll need to get caught up on in this week’s edition of the NHL’s best and worst.

Goal of the week

One of several names in trade discussions these past few weeks, James van Riemsdyk, may no longer be a star, but the hulking power forward still has some dynamite hands. The 33-year-old is still producing at a decent clip, despite missing time with injuries, and has been a bright spot on a pretty bad Philadelphia Flyers squad.

As a pending free agent, however, it seems unlikely that his future resides in the City of Brotherly love, which makes his ability to pull off stuff like this a pretty compelling sell for any prospective deadline buyer.

Save of the week

Is Jack Campbell officially back? We’ve asked the question a few times in the past few weeks, but the man affectionately known as Soupy might have found the secret sauce once again.

The Oilers netminder has continued his solid play of late, and while there have been bumps in the road — the Oilers did go on to lose this one in heartbreaking fashion — the Toronto version of Campbell slowly seems to be peering out his eternally wholesome head. Take this glove save against the New York Rangers on Friday night for example, as he sprawls across the crease to rob former teammate Jimmy Vesey blind.

Player of the week: Dylan Larkin

The Detroit Red Wings are surging, picking up seven wins in their last ten games and sitting a mere three points out of the playoff picture with games in hand. A big part of that surge is undoubtedly captain Dylan Larkin, who has been electric since making waves at the NHL All-Star game.

Dylan Larkin is setting himself up for a sweet payday this offseason after registering eight points in four games this week. (Getty Images)
Dylan Larkin is setting himself up for a sweet payday this offseason after registering eight points in four games this week. (Getty Images)

The Michigan native picked up eight points in four games this week, including a three-assist night to wrap up their Western Canadian swing against Seattle. The big production has only further put his ongoing negotiation stalemate with Steve Yzerman under the microscope and is starting to raise the temperature, if only ever so slightly, regarding his future in Motown.

Dish of the week

Another week, another New Jersey Devils first line highlight. This week, Jesper Bratt is the benefactor of one of hockey’s most creative lines, as the trio of Sharangovich-Hughes-Bratt team up for a gorgeous passing play finish that leaves Dustin Tokarski seeing stars. The Devils' once-steady spot atop the Metro Division has crumbled to ash over the past few months, but don’t be fooled into thinking they aren’t a legitimate Cup contender. There aren’t very many other teams that can make the Pittsburgh Penguins look like this.

Hit of the week

The Josh Manson-Colorado Avalanche marriage has been another success in a long line of them for Avs president of hockey operations Joe Sakic. The right-shot defenseman has been a stabilizing force since he was acquired roughly a year ago, serving as a steady defensive presence for the Burgundy and Blue despite battling injuries earlier this year.

Another underrated element that the former Anaheim Ducks workhorse brings is his imposing size, which he uses every inch of here to absolutely lay out Wild sophomore Connor Dewar.

Worst of the week

In the wise words of Steve Dangle: if you’re a goaltender, tend the goal. Petr Mrazek is evidently one of several netminders this year that seem to have missed that memo, and against his former team, the frequently cast-off netminder once again went full tank commander on this brutal giveaway.

(Almost) Scrap of the week

We were so close to greatness, as just over two years to the anniversary of the latest goalie scrap, Phoenix Copley and John Gibson came ever-so-close to a California showdown at centre-ice. The refs ultimately put the kibosh on what would’ve no-doubt been a doozy, but we’re sure that the next time these squads meet, there will be plenty of bad blood to go around in a west coast rivalry that has suddenly made headlines once again.

Follow the bouncing puck

Something was in the plexiglass this week, as three separate goals found their way to the back of the net off ridiculous bounces off the boards behind the net. First, on Monday, Viktor Arvidsson made good on an insane hop on home turf, as Phillip Danault ringed the puck around the boards, then into the skates of Craig Anderson on the goal line before Arvidsson tucked it home.

Then, the very next night, Blues forward Brayden Schenn did him one better, as he earned credit for tipping a Torey Krug shot that eventually took a hilarious bounce to elude Spencer Knight on an insanely horrible goal.

Finally, the Bruins pulled their own pinball wizardry as Patrice Bergeron tapped home a shot off the glass from Charlie Coyle to complete the trifecta of goals that will make a coach rip their hair out.

The choice of the new generation

Every player has their own unique way of staying hydrated and locked into a game, but Andrei Kuzmenko’s choice of fuel is certainly one of the oddest we’ve seen in some time. The Canucks rookie went with the unbeatable combo of a Banana and a Pepsi to keep his legs limber and his heart racing, and it seems as though it worked. Kuzmenko would go on to score his 24th of the season as Vancouver drubbed a helpless Flyers squad 6-2 behind a five-point night from Elias Pettersson.

Safe to say Pettersson did not approve of Kuzmenko's mid-game snack.

Check the label

One would imagine that a lot is going through a player's mind on the day that they’re traded, so hopefully, you can excuse Ryan O’Reilly, who had landed in Toronto just hours prior, for this one.

The Maple Leafs big deadline addition was looking for a pre-game hose down ahead of their Saturday night tilt, but instead found a bottle full of BioSteel. While he did pick up his first point as a Maple Leaf, it’s a good thing O’Reilly didn’t score a hat trick in his debut, because there’s no doubt that would’ve become a daily tradition given how superstitious hockey players are.

Walsh keeps tweeting

In case you missed it, Alan Walsh did something insane online again and got everybody's attention, accusing Darryl Sutter of sucking the life out of the Flames room.

While everybody, including Walsh’s client Jonathan Huberdeau, shrugged off the remark, that didn’t stop it from making headlines across Calgary ahead of their Saturday night showdown with the New York Rangers.

In what had become billed as a ‘Put Up or Shut Up’ game, Huberdeau and the Flames made good on the stakes, picking up the overtime win on the back of a Jonathan Huberdeau assist, his second of the night.

Caulfield’s got pranks

He may be out for the season, but Cole Caufield certainly isn’t fading into the background in Montreal. This past week, Caulfield pulled off the always classic and always sneaky water bottle lid trick, as Jonathan Drouin could only giggle at his teammates' shenanigans.

Persistence pays off

Alex Belzile’s road to the NHL has been a long and arduous one. Having spent parts of nine seasons in the minors before sniffing an NHL regular season game, then playing in two more without scoring a goal, the moment of glory finally came for the Quebec native last Sunday. With the celly to match the occasion, Belize became the oldest player in Canadiens history to score their first goal since Herb Gardiner scored his first at 35-years-old in 1925.

Theatre in the round

The Maple Leafs held their annual fundraising gala this week, with proceeds raised in support of the MLSE Foundation. Beyond the gala’s important cause, the most compelling part of the evening was this heart-stopping table read from linemates Mitch Marner and John Tavares, who did their best Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams impressions while acting out a scene from The Notebook.

To be or not to be

Speaking of a love for the arts, the Bruins family trip this week appeared to reveal a hidden secret of the NHL’s best pest. When Brad Marchand’s brother Jeff was asked about any secret talents his big bro possessed, Jeff went to work spilling all the deepest and darkest secrets of Brad Marchand’s covert pastime. Brad was quick to deny of course, but we’re onto you Marchand…

Randy Johnson moment

The Predators catfish tradition is decidedly unique amongst its NHL chucking peers that range from octopi to waffles, but this particular instance was almost especially ugly. With Nashville down big late in the second, one fan had clearly grown tired of waiting for something to happen and gave the whiskered produce a heave-ho onto the ice.

If that wasn’t crazy enough, Preds forward Cole Smith nearly went full Randy Johnson, missing a chance to filet the fish by mere inches as the period wound down.

Graves beats the buzzer

We’ve got another buzzer-beater from the NHL. This time, Ryan Graves was our procrastinating king, as the Devils defenseman put the Devils ahead with just 1.4 ticks left on the clock to help lift New Jersey over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Full marks to the Jackets as well, who somehow kept the juggernaut Devils largely at bay despite their lowly positioning at the bottom of the NHL standings.

Unhappy camper

In case it wasn’t abundantly obvious, the Arizona Coyotes are tanking extremely hard for Connor Bedard. The team won’t admit it, heck, even Gary Bettman won’t, but at least in the dressing room they’re not oblivious to it. That’s what made Clayton Keller’s comments on Arizona’s hot second half — they’ve picked up points in each of their six games post All-Star break — all the more amusing regarding how GM Bill Armstrong feels.

Trending up: Carolina Hurricanes (9-1-0 in last 10, W3)

After a dominating 4-1 Stadium Series win on Saturday night against the Washington Capitals — by the way, raise your hand if you knew that was happening before yesterday — the Hurricanes picked up their league-high ninth win over their last 10 games.

That Bunch of Jerks is back to their old ways and is scorching hot ahead of the trade deadline. Even scarier? There are whispers that they’ll be in the mix to add, with some discussion that Timo Meier could be headed to Raleigh, though that might be wishful thinking.

As is always the case, the Hurricanes are dominating under the hood as well, as their 60 percent expected goals share towers over every other team, while their poor shooting luck from earlier this year seems to be turning for the better.

Trending Down: Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars are in quite the rut right now, losers of a season-high four straight, and winners of just three of their last ten. The scoring has completely dried up, with just five goals during their four-game skid, and their stars are failing to produce.

While they’ve admittedly faced some tough opponents during that stretch, including both the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, those are both teams that Dallas is supposed to hang with, and they simply haven’t been up to the task.

Is this of any long-term concern at large? Probably not. Dallas is still a really good hockey team, and there’s reason to believe they'll get back on track sooner rather than later based simply on how talented their roster is. But make no mistake, these are the quality of teams Dallas will need to beat if they want to make another deep run, and taking their foot off the gas during these playoff-type games is decidedly not a recipe for success.