Blues winger Jaden Schwartz saw his chance to end Tuesday’s game in overtime and he took it, going upstairs with a beautiful backhand for his 10th goal and third game-winner.
Jaden Schwartz’s 2015-16 season was disappointing, but it wasn’t exactly his fault.
Schwartz was expected to be a key cog in a Blues offense that was expected to, and did, make a deep run in the post-season this past season, but the then-23-year-old had most of his year derailed by an unfortunate ankle injury just weeks into the campaign. Schwartz ended up being sidelined for 49 games and finished the year with just eight goals and 22 points in 33 games, a definite down-year for a projected 30-goal scorer.
He’s making up for lost time this year, though.
Injury once again hindered Schwartz at the start of the campaign as he missed four games with an elbow ailment, but since returning to the lineup he has been every bit the dynamic scorer the Blues were expecting him to become. No play better exemplifies that than Schwartz’s overtime winner against the Canadiens on Tuesday night, which came on a picture perfect backhander that beat Montreal’s Al Montoya clean:
Not to sleep on the great pass by Alex Steen, but that’s almost a video game backhand by Schwartz. The power, accuracy and timing of the shot gave Montoya next to no chance to stop the shot.
For Schwartz, the goal has put him right on the kind of goal-scoring pace the Blues have long expected him to reach. His pair of goals Tuesday — he scored midway through the third period on a net-front scramble to send the game to OT — puts him on pace for his first campaign with 30-plus goals and he’s set to have a near 60-point campaign.
More than just scoring, though, Schwartz is blossoming into the true top-line threat the Blues were expecting when they selected him 14th overall in the 2010 draft. After consistently skating in a top-six spot over the course of the past two seasons, Schwartz has averaged close to 20 minutes per game this season. Steen and Paul Stastny are the only Blues forwards who’ve seen the ice more.
Canucks defenseman Philip Larsen was left motionless after taking a big hit from Devils winger Taylor Hall on Tuesday night. Larsen, 27, was taken off the ice on a stretcher, but was responsive before being taken to hospital for further evaluation.
There’s concern for the health of Canucks defenseman Philip Larsen after the 27-year-old was hit hard and stretchered off the ice Tuesday
In the second period of Vancouver’s outing against the New Jersey Devils, the puck got worked behind the Canucks’ net, where Larsen was waiting for a puck that had been sent back for him to pick up. As Larsen turned to receive the puck on his backhand, he turned his head and when he swung back around he was met with a hard check from Devils winger Taylor Hall.
The hit knocked Larsen hard, causing him to fall backwards and slam his head off the ice. A scrum around Larsen broke out following the hit by Hall as Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom and center Markus Granlund attempted to push the pile up away from Larsen, who remained motionless on the ice.
A hush fell across the Prudential Center as medical staffs from both the Devils and Canucks attended to Larsen. After a few minutes, Larsen’s teammates and the medical staffs helped the lifted the defenseman, who was strapped to a backboard, onto a stretcher and wheeled him off the ice.
Thankfully, the Canucks announced Larsen was both awake and responsive before being taken to hospital for further evaluation.
When it comes to the hit by Hall, it’s not so much a dirty hit as it is an absolutely terrible result. As he followed through on the hit, Hall kept his arm tucked, and the contact with the head isn’t so much a case of Hall targeting Larsen as it is the awkward way in which they collided as the Canucks rearguard opened up to his left.
More than anything, it’s the unfortunate contact Larsen’s head makes with the ice that results in the injury to Larsen.
Larsen has played in 16 games this season for the Canucks, registering four assists and averaging nearly 18 minutes of ice time per game. Larsen spent the past two seasons in the KHL before signing a one-year, $1.025-million deal with the Canucks in the off-season.
He was drafted by the Dallas Stars in the fifth-round, 149th overall, in 2008, and has played 141 career games with eight goals and 35 points.
A Michigan high school player scored an absolutely jaw-dropping goal, spinning backhanded against the grain before scoring a Marek Malik-style goal.
Connor McDavid has scored some beauties this year, Sidney Crosby has been his normal self and the hockey world has been enamoured with the blistering shot of Patrik Laine. When it comes to goal of the year, though, the honor may very well have to go to a high school player in Michigan.
It’s nearly impossible to explain how on earth Gibraltar Carlson Marauders sophomore Jake Rhoades thought to pull off this move, but it’s must-see material.
Coming down the left wing, Rhoades was one-on-one with a defender while cutting towards the middle of the ice. Instead of trying to power around the defender, Rhoades threw down a backhanded 360 spin move, controlling the puck with the heel of his stick. That alone would have been enough to make this highlight-reel worthy.
However, after the spin move allowed Rhoades to slip by the lone defender, he flipped the puck back between his legs and popped it over the blocker of the netminder:
Philip Larsen got knocked unconscious, the Canucks retailiated without knowing what happened, and they could have hurt their teammate even worse in the process.
The incident was horrific. We can all agree on that.
Tuesday night in New Jersey, Vancouver Canucks blueliner Philip Larsen skated behind his net to retrieve a puck. He had no idea Devils left winger Taylor Hall was pursuing the same puck. They collided heavily. Larsen bashed his head on the ice and was knocked out cold.
It was a scary scene, undoubtedly, one that understandably evoked a ton of emotion from Larsen's teammates. It was hardly a surprise to see a flurry of Vancouver players swarm Hall and make him fight.
It was a shame, however, for multiple reasons. First off, the hit wasn't dirty. It wasn't even a deliberate bodycheck. Hall leaned back on his skates to slow his momentum and held out his arms as if protecting himself from imminent impact. It was more of a crash than a bonecrushing hit. We can debate whether Larsen's head was the principal point of contact – I don't believe it was at all – but it's irrelevant when assessing Hall's guilt. There was no intent there. He won't be disciplined by the NHL for an accident.
And yet, thanks to the sport's culture of immediate and forceful vengeance, Hall had to fight anyway. In the spur of the moment, in the heat of elite competition, players are simply too jacked up to take a breath and assess the situation. They see a comrade fall and, in mere milliseconds, seek and destroy whoever caused the harm.
“You always have a problem with a hit when one of your guys gets hit hard," Canucks coach Willie Desjardins told the Vancouver Province's Jason Botchford after the the game. "It doesn’t matter if it’s a clean hit. You have a problem when a guy gets hit that hard. I think all coaches would.”
The ironic thing about this tough-guy mentality is that it could end up pushing one of the toughest things about hockey out of the game: good, clean hits. If the swarm mentality goes on much longer, the only guys willing to lay opponents out with big hits will be those ready and willing to drop the gloves right afterward. Sooner or later players might decide it's not worth sitting five minutes and/or risking injury just to put a lick on a guy. And, in Hall's case, he wasn't even trying to drill Larsen.
Will we ever stop seeing players attacked after clean hits? I doubt it. The revenge assault is a crime of passion, a snap decision. But maybe, just maybe, the Canucks and players all over the world can learn a bit from what happened right after Larsen got hit. Watch:
The first instinct, sadly, is not to help Larsen, but to destroy Hall. Center Michael Chaput immediately starts a fight. That causes a pileup of players from both teams – all around the unconscious Larsen. It's downright disturbing to see him getting kicked in the head by his own teammates’ skates. Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom tries to box out Larsen and keep him safe. Markus Granlund tries as well but has to step over and onto Larsen in the process. It’s a miracle Larsen wasn’t cut. None of that would've happened had Chaput thought of Larsen first.
The ugly scene is a reminder that, right after a teammate takes a massive hit, the first priority should be to protect him. The best way to do that isn't to attack his attacker. It's to attend to the teammate first. There's plenty of time to review what happened and take down the perpetrator's number for later in the game. That's what jumbo-tron replays are for. And, in cases like Hall's, the violence would be averted altogether if players watched the replay and realized it was an accident.
Sadly, the idea is a pipe dream, and I don’t expect players to learn from Larsen's fate anytime soon. But we can always hope.