NHL What to Watch: Lake Tahoe outdoor games take center stage

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Kane and the kids

Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings
Monday, 7:30 p.m. ET; ESPN+, FS-D, NBCSCH+, NHL.TV
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN

Patrick Kane continues to be one of the most entertaining and productive players in the NHL at age 32. The Blackhawks forward has scored 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 16 games this season, tied for third in the NHL.

His rate of 1.38 points per game is the highest of his 14-season NHL career, ahead of the 1.36 he averaged in 2018-19, when he scored an NHL career-high 110 points (44 goals, 66 assists) in 81 games, and 1.29 he averaged in 2015-16, when he won the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion with 106 points (46 goals, 60 assists) in 82 games.

But Chicago has rookies to watch too: goalie Kevin Lankinen and forwards Pius Suter and Philipp Kurashev

Can any of them win the Calder Trophy voted as NHL rookie of the year like Kane did in 2007-08?

Crosby’s 1,000th NHL game

New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET; NHLN, ATTSN-PT, MSG+, NHL.TV
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET; ATTSN-PT, MSG+, NHL.TV

Penguins center Sidney Crosby is scheduled to play his 1,000th NHL game Saturday. It’s a significant milestone for anyone. But for Crosby, it’s another opportunity to measure up against some of the greatest players in NHL history.

Crosby has scored 1,275 points (467 goals, 808 assists) in 997 games.

Only 25 players have scored at least 466 goals through their first 1,000 games, a list of legends that begins with Wayne Gretzky (749) and ends with Dale Hawerchuk (470). Crosby would be the 26th.

Eight players have scored at least 1,270 points through their first 1,000 games: Gretzky (2,265), Marcel Dionne (1,374), Phil Esposito (1,333), Steve Yzerman (1,323), Bryan Trottier (1,291), Jaromir Jagr (1,283), Jari Kurri (1,279) and Guy Lafleur (1,275). Crosby would be the ninth.

Four players have had at least 800 assists through their first 1,000 games: Gretzky (1,516), Paul Coffey (910), Adam Oates (860), Trottier (817). Crosby would be the fifth.

Stanley Cup Final rematch

Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars
Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET; FS-SW, SUN, NHL.TV
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET; FS-SW, SUN, NHL. TV

The Lightning defeated the Stars in six games in the Stanley Cup Final last season. Now we get a rematch.

Wait. Make that eight rematches as division rivals.

Dallas and Tampa Bay will play eight times — four times back to back — in the Discover Central Division. The Stars usually are in the Central, the Lightning in the Atlantic, but the NHL realigned temporarily this season because of restrictions at the Canada-United States border and the need to reduce travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The teams that met in the Final haven’t been in the same division the following season since 1980-81, when the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers were in the Patrick Division after the Islanders defeated the Flyers in six games in the 1980 Final.

But back then the NHL had 21 teams, not 31; the regular season was 80 games, not a pandemic-shortened 56; and they played each other four times, not eight.

Battle of Alberta back to back

Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers
Friday, 9 p.m. ET; ESPN+, SN1, SNE, SNO, SNW, TVAS, NHL.TV
Saturday, 10 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SN, NHL.TV

The Battle of Alberta did not disappoint Feb. 6. In the teams’ first game this season, the Flames defeated the Oilers 6-4 at Scotiabank Saddledome in a back-and-forth game that was frantic to the finish.

Oilers forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are the top two scorers in the NHL, McDavid with 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists), Draisaitl with 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists). That night, McDavid had a goal and an assist, Draisaitl an assist. Each played the final 5:45 of the game, which included a power play, a timeout and a pulled goalie. Still, the Flames held on.

Now they play on back-to-back nights, in Calgary on Friday and Edmonton on Saturday.

NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe

Colorado Avalanche vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Bridgestone NHL Outdoors Saturday, 3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS
Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Honda NHL Outdoors Sunday, 3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS

The NHL has staged 30 outdoor games since 2003, but none like these two.

The outdoor games are always about the spectacle, and usually the spectacle centers on unusually large crowds for hockey games. It was little more than a year ago that the Stars and Nashville Predators drew 85,630, the second-largest crowd in NHL history, to Cotton Bowl Stadium for the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

This time the spectacle won’t center on the crowd, because there won’t be one. With attendance limited or eliminated altogether around the NHL amid the pandemic, the League is taking the game back to its most romantic of roots. The rink will be on the golf course at Edgewood Tahoe Resort on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe in Stateline, Nevada.

The spectacle will be the scenery — mountains, trees, the lake — as the players play the closest thing to pond hockey they can while competing in a real NHL game. 

Stat of the week

26 — The number NHL teams that will have played in an outdoor game once the Golden Knights take the ice at Lake Tahoe. The Flyers have played outdoors four times (1-2-1), the Bruins three times (2-1-0) and the Avalanche twice (0-2-0).

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