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Weekly Warmup: Feb. 24

Ovechkin notches other worldly 700th goal but other weekend stars--Zamboni driver-turned-winning goalie and NHL trades-shine brighter

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ /

On NHL Trade Deadline Day, like a good defenseman, let's put our heads on a swivel to take a look back plus see what's ahead with play on the ice as team general managers call and text and call and text.

Weekly Warmup starts now. 


Ovechkin Overshadowed
Question: How does a superstar player score his 700th career goal-the second youngest ever behind Wayne Gretzky and his 894 goals-yet still end up in a lower slot on any sports news report across all platforms? Answer: When a division rival wins with a 42-year-old Zamboni driver and Toronto-based emergency goalie David Ayres starts his night in the hometown Maple Leafs then finishes in goal stopping seven straight shots in the third period to seal a 6-4 win for his team-for-the-night Carolina Hurricanes (see next item for more details). Ovechkin scored his 700th in the third period to tie Washington's road game at 2-2, prompting a celebration in which all of Ovi's teammates jumped on the ice to celebrate (with previously arranged league permission). Ovechkin was relieved and his usual gracious self after the game, but the home Devils doused the excitement by winning on a late goal in regulation. The Capitals lost their fourth straight game Saturday before rebounding for a 5-2 win over Pittsburgh Sunday to regain first place in the Atlantic division. The Caps are 4-7-1 in their last dozen games. 

The Zamboni Driver Who Could
In a charming bit of NHL rules, every home team has to make available an emergency goalie in the rare chance that both of the home or road team's goalies are injured or ill, not able to continue in a game. Name another pro sport that offers entrée into what happened Saturday night in Toronto…OK, waiting…right, none. Back to Toronto: Carolina's starting goalie James Reimer and backup Petr Mrazk both were injured. Next man up: David Ayres, 42, who works on the maintenance crew and drives the Zamboni for the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies. Ayres also serves as third goalie for Marlies practices and sometimes for the NHL Maple Leafs. So he sees a lot of pro-caliber shots. But stepping from the stands (where his wife stayed, flooding social media channels with some choice material) to the Carolina net in front of hometown fans during the traditional Hockey Night in Canada broadcast? Let's say it was nerve-wracking, as Ayres gave up goals on the first two shots he faced in the second period-reducing Carolina's to one goal--then made a save before intermission. Carolina forward Eric Houla, traded to Florida Monday, did his former team one final solid by encouraging Ayres to "just have fun" and that didn't matter the score. That apparently settled Ayres, who stopped all seven shots he faced from Toronto in the third period while Carolina bagged two goals and the precious first NHL win for Ayres.

Trading Paces
Newly traded players often heat up fast in their new surroundings. Jason Zucker (formerly Minnesota) did it for Pittsburgh, playing alongside future Hall of Famer Sidney Crosby, as reporting in Weekly Warmup last Monday. New Vancouver Canucks forward Tyler Toffoli (ex-LA King) did the same instant scoring thing Saturday in 9-3 home rout of Boston. Toffoli assisted on the game's go-ahead, stay-ahead goal in the first period than scored two third-period goals. 

Goalie Stats
While David Ayres earned a win and $500, plus keep his jersey, top NHL goalie honors is still to be achieved. Boston's Tukka Rask is sitting on 23 wins, a 2.17 goals-against average and .928 save percentage (top five in the league). Ben Bishop of Dallas has 21 wins with a 2.45 GAA and .922 save percentage. Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay has a whopping 32 wins with a 2.58 GAA and .916 save percentage. Throw in Winnipeg's Connor Hellebucyk at 26 W's, 2.72 GAA and .918 save percentage. Who gets the nod as the league's best goalie?

Games to Watch
You can check out the first returns on Monday's trades with these Tuesday games: Dallas at Carolina with new forward Vincent Trocheck; New York Rangers at New York Islanders and just-arrived Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Edmonton (with new D-man Mike Green) at Anaheim. Tuesday is one of the busiest nights of the year with 26 teams in action after general managers have finally stopping calling and texting. Edmonton goes back-to-back with a stiff test Wednesday night in Vegas. Toronto heads to Florida Thursday in a game that matters in the wild-card standings (yes, even in late February).




700 and Beyond
Alex Ovechkin, 34, is chasing the greatest NHL goal scorer, Wayne Gretzky, with 194 goals to go. Ovi is one of only eight N.H.L. players to have scored 40 goals in 10 seasons, and he has already scored more goals (225) after his 30th birthday than Gretzky (188), who retired at age 38. Only Gretzky (886) required fewer games than Ovechkin (1,143) to score 700 NHL goals. 

Three-Quarters Mark: Goals
The always informative NHL communications staff released some fun stats after teams reached the three-quarters mark of the season Saturday. Here are some goal nuggets:

5,736 - Goals scored (including shootout-deciding goals) for an average of 6.1 per game - on pace to mark the first instance of back-to-back campaigns each averaging at least six goals per game at season's end since 1994-95 (6.0) and 1995-96 (6.3). 

4,346 - Even-strength goals scored (not including shootout-deciding goals). Over three-quarters of all goals scored in regulation/overtime have been at even strength (76.8%; 4,346 of 5,660); the last season to feature at least 77% at this stage was 1977-78 (77.3%; 3,668 of 4,747). 

2,058 - Goals scored by players age 24 or younger (not including shootout-deciding goals), including 43 apiece by 23-year-old Bruins forward David Pastrnak (43-43-86 in 62 GP) and 22-year-old Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (43-30-73 in 62 GP) who share the most in the NHL. Each of the last 13 NHL seasons excluding 2012-13 have now featured at least 2,000 goals scored by players age 24 or younger. 

Three-Quarters Mark: Gamesmanship
More nuggets from the NHL communications wizards: 

670 - Games decided by a one-goal margin or multiple goals with at least one empty netter, accounting for 70.8% of all games contested in 2019-20. 

402 - Games won by a team who trailed by at least one goal, the third-most comeback wins through 946 games in NHL history. 220 - Games that have required overtime, equating to over one-fifth of all contests (23.3%).

 194 - Games which featured at least one team erasing a multi-goal deficit (regardless of result), representing over one-fifth of all contests (20.5%). 



Break in case of Emergency
When emergency goaltender Dave Ayres took the ice after Carolina's James Reimer and Petr Mrazek were subject to injuries, the well-wishes were overwhelming. Players from both teams were fist bumping the 42-year-old zamboni driver. He was even treated to some special attention post-game by earning the first star of the game honors. The Hurricanes, however, took it a step further and made Ayers shirts - with Ayers recieving royalties and the extra monery going to charities. Talk about cool. 

Tweet from @Canes: Dave will be getting royalties, but we are also working with him to identify a kidney foundation that will receive a portion of the proceeds

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