The All-Star Game is behind us, and the NHL is finally back.
And so is Connor McDavid. I'm not sure which absence felt longer, that of real hockey or the Edmonton Oilers rookie phenom.
Looking back on the season, it's clear just how unexpected this rookie class has been. Both McDavid and Jack Eichel were expected to take the league by storm and dominate coverage all year long. McDavid's injury nullified that a bit, and Eichel hasn't lived up to his (undeniably lofty) expectations just yet.
But instead of disappointing, the league's other rookies filled in the gaps. Artemi Panarin is still proving doubters wrong in Chicago. Dylan Larkin just topped an excellent first half with a thrilling All-Star weekend. Max Domi is doing wonders in Arizona. At the start of the year, it was inconceivable that even one of those three would supersede McDavid or Eichel. Now all three have, thanks to circumstance.
But now McDavid is back. And it took maybe two shifts before he reminded everyone why he's going to be the gem of this rookie class for the next decade or two. He quickly became the most deadly player on the ice against the Blue Jackets. He flashed skill many veterans couldn't dream of wielding. It was like someone finally unpaused the game and he picked up right where he left off. There was no rust.
There was just a special, special player. And a sign that the viewing pleasure we've missed for three months is back and ready to make the rest of his rookie peers take a backseat. I can't wait.
Maple Leafs 4, Bruins 3 (OT)
Blackhawks 2, Avalanche 1
Oilers 5, Blue Jackets 1
3 things we learned
1. Sidney Crosby is making a serious run
The thought of Sidney Crosby cracking the top five (or even top 10) in points by mid-February made for a good laugh or a skeptical shrug a month ago. Not anymore. After a hat trick and a four-point night on Tuesday, Crosby somehow sits 13th with 45 points. He's two behind Johnny Gaudreau for 10th, and just four behind Joe Pavelski for fifth. Heck, even catching Jamie Benn for second (currently at 58 points) isn't out of the question. The turnaround was probably predictable (this is Sidney Crosby, after all) but no less remarkable.
2. Montreal flies the status quo
Turns out an All-Star break can't cure serious ailments. Like losing forever. For much of Tuesday's effort in Philadelphia, it felt like the hapless Habs were going to eke out at least a point coming out of the break. Instead, a couple of quick mistakes doomed them. As always. The Canadiens are the broken record of the NHL. Maybe they're just broken. And nobody (from the fans, to the media, to the coaching staff, to the GM) seems to have a clue how to fix them. It's pretty depressing.
3. The Stars remain unconvincing
The more I watch the Stars lately, the more I wonder if that incredible start was a mirage that masked some serious weaknesses with the team. Dallas played a sloppy game Tuesday in Winnipeg and deserved to lose, but eked out a win anyways. Somehow that team can still outscore themselves out of mistakes and danger. Surely that can't last forever. The Stars need to re-tighten their game soon.
The moment when Connor McDavid arrived -- again.
McDAVID. IS. BACK.https://t.co/J2vjqimBcJ— NHL (@NHL) February 3, 2016
Stat of the Night (impressive edition)
NHL rookies points per game leaders:— James Mirtle (@mirtle) February 3, 2016
1. McDavid: 1.07
2. Panarin: .87
3. Gostisbehere: .77
4. Larkin: .69
5. Eichel: .68
Stat of the Night (depressive edition)
Leafs have one of worst records in NHL's in last 25 games and have gained 13 points on Canadiens in that span. Only five back now.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) February 3, 2016