Nick Turchiaro - USA TODAY Sports

EP Rinkside 3 Stars: Like the Terminator

The Brendan Gallagher hit last night was astonishing.

It's late, it's really high, it's all elbow. Gotta love the little shrug as everyone's rushing toward him like, "What did I do?" My man, you cannot throw that hit in a league where not a week goes by that a "clean" hard body check doesn't lead to a big fracas, and play innocent here. Just an absurd reaction to a completely unacceptable hit. It's a bozo move.

But you gotta hand it to the Department of Player Safety: Not to be outdone, they are only giving him a phone hearing, meaning he'll get a suspension that's a maximum of just five games. Now that's in the Clown Zone. It's just inexplicable that this would happen.

I presume they'll say it wasn't as late as it looked and that, perhaps, Gallagher's elbow lightly brushed Adam Pelech's jersey on its way straight to his chin, meaning it's not direct head contact. Maybe the prognosis on Pelech is that he's not gonna miss much or any time, which always factors in. And you have to make these leaps because, well, there's not a lot else that you could say to lessen the severity of the punishment except that Gallagher is not considered a repeat offender.

Lots of people said immediately it should be a 10- or 15-game suspension and it's hard to disagree, but it's just not operating in any kind of reality. This league simply doesn't operate like that, and does little to diminish the impression that it's afraid of getting any suspensions sent to an arbitrator, which is possible any time a ban exceeds five games.

There might be any number of reasons for that reticence but the end result is the same: Guys are let off easy on hits that, were this a league that took head injuries and dirty play, would otherwise get an entire library's worth of books not thrown at them, but dropped from considerable height.

If you ask me, it's not good, but I can't wait to hear their little explanation. Should be a hoot.

3. Playing a lot

I don't know what the record for "teams playing four games in seven days" is in the NHL, but I know that 13 of them did it this week, and that's a lot. Another 16 played three games. Only the Colorado Avalanche, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Seattle Kraken played two.

This is probably a consequence of the All-Star Game being next weekend, so everyone is trying to pack in dates so they can reach 50 or 52 games before that. The problem with playing this much is it increases injury risk, but that's just life in the NHL sometimes. Can't imagine we'll have too many more weeks where there are literally 53 NHL games — between Saturday and Thursday each night had no fewer than six matchups, which is way better than the usual week where, like, Monday and Wednesday have two or three apiece — so you gotta enjoy it while you can.

This week was a sicko's delight. Big thumbs up from me.

2. Coming back from the brink

There were a lot of people out there who were justifiably getting into clock-watching mode on Sheldon Keefe's tenure in Toronto. About a week and a half ago they were wrapping up a four-game losing streak in which they gave up 17 goals, then beat a poor-to-middling Calgary Flames team 4-3, then lost 6-4 to the Vancouver Canucks. Five losses, bad goaltending, it wasn't going well. Keefe, as usual, didn't seem like a guy who was swimming in answers for his club's troubles.

The Leafs weren't exactly vulnerable because they never dipped below the first Wild Card spot — not exactly where they want to be but also not teetering on the brink — but it just started to feel like something had to give.

But then it didn't. The Leafs beat up on the Kraken, not exactly the toughest of competition, but it was one of those 2-1 games that might as well have been 15-0 for how much Seattle was getting to the net and making things difficult on Ilya Samsonov (only 17 shots on goal and 1.8 expected goals). Not that the Toronto offence looked super dynamic, but there was a defensive determination against a team that frankly doesn't have a lot of firepower in the lineup, and so this was the result. Follow that up with a 1-0 overtime win against an excellent Winnipeg Jets team, and it feels like all involved can take a little bit of a breather. They play the Jets again tomorrow night — should be a good one! — then they're off for the All-Star break, and I would say not a moment too soon. Anything short of a blowout loss will probably be seen as acceptable given the teams' relative positions in the standings, and Keefe will live to coach again.

1. Working smarter, not harder

You'll see above that I noted Colorado was one of only three teams in the league to take it easy, put their feet up, and only play two games this week.

Well, your leading scorer for the week, playing just under 44 minutes of ice time, is Nathan MacKinnon. Six goals and three assists in his two games. That's 12.3 points per 60, and only one of his assists was a secondary.

It must be said that four other players had eight points this week: Joel Eriksson-Ek (3-5—8), Kirill Kaprizov (5-3—8), Nikita Kucherov (4-4—8), and Noah Dobson (0-8—8). But they all needed four games to do it. Twice as many games, fewer points. Oof. And Only two points per game? Pathetic. Take a hike!

The only way to top what MacKinnon did this week, I'm afraid, is to go back to like 1987 or be Sam Gagner that one time, I guess. It's really funny to me that this guy had a three-point game this week and was like, "Y'know what, I can do better than that." You gotta respect it.

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This article is about:
NHL Colorado Avalanche Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Brendan Gallagher Nathan MacKinnon Sheldon Keefe
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