The Highlights and Lowlights of the NHL 2019-20 Season
The NHL 2020 season has undoubtedly been one of the craziest years for the league, as it has been for the majority of the sporting world. From shutdowns to bubbles to surprises from wonderboy Connor McDavid, here are our NHL highlights for events that took place both on and off the ice.
The Coronavirus shuts down play
2020 already had a pretty rocky start, to say the least, with numerous events such as Australia’s wildfires dominating the news. But when reports began appearing that the Coronavirus had begun to spread outside of China, things went from bad to worse, especially for NHL fans.
While the NHL had initially taken steps to prevent media access to their locker rooms in early March, it soon became clear that more drastic measures would need to be taken to prevent this new virus from spreading out of control. On March 12, 2020, just a day after the NBA announced they would pause their season, the NHL announced they would be suspending play for the 2019-20 season indefinitely.
As we all know now, that indefinite pause would be long, but it wouldn’t be forever. NHL fans waited for almost five months, and in early July, the NHL, after numerous discussions with all the relevant stakeholders, announced that they would be returning to play on August 1.
A 42-year old Zamboni driver surprises everyone
Even if you don’t watch the NHL, you’d have likely heard about David Ayres, an average Joe who showed the world he was made of sterner stuff when he ended up playing goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes.
An unexpected series of events saw David, a 42-year old Zamboni driver and emergency goalie, step into the rink for the Carolina Hurricanes. The New York Times reported how David Ayres was in the stands watching the Hurricanes game with his wife when he saw Hurricanes’ goalie James Reimer get injured.
While Petr Mrazek, the Hurricanes’ backup goalie, was prepped and ready to go, David decided to get ready, just in case something happened to him as well. Clearly, Ayers’s gut was right because halfway through the second period, Mrazek also went down. And that’s how, in the most unlikely way, David Ayres ended up on the ice as the backup goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Many of you already know what happened next, but for those of you who don’t, needless to say, it shocked a lot of people. Even though David failed to stop the first two shots he faced, he then proceeded to shut down the next eight attempts on the goal, allowing the Hurricanes to claim the win with a 6-3 score over the Maple Leafs. He also became the oldest goalie to win his NHL regular-season debut.
Dumba takes the knee during the national anthem
Whether you agree or disagree with how politics and sports should or shouldn’t mix, the NHL hasn’t been spared its racism scandals, with Akim Aliu accusing Bill Peters of using racial slurs against him when he played in the minors.
It was this and other experiences, as well as the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in the US, that led Matt Dumba to share his thoughts on racism not just in the NHL but all of society and to take the knee during the national anthem.
The NHL soon followed up with their own statement as well as media content in support of the message, which marked a clear shift from the apolitical stance the league supported in 2017.
Alex Ovechkin hits 700 goals
While this may not be of interest to you if you aren’t a fan of Alex Ovechkin, the forward still entered the history books when he managed to break the 700 goal mark in a game against the New Jersey Devils. He was the eighth player ever to achieve this goal. The other seven players above him include:
- Wayne Gretzky – 894
- Gordie Howe – 801
- Jaromir Jagr – 766
- Brett Hull – 741
- Marcel Dionne – 731
- Phil Esposito – 717
- Mike Gartner – 708
As of the end of the 2019-20 season, Ovechkin has a total of 706 goals.
Connor McDavid’s “exceptional” penalty shot
“At the end of the day, everyone knows who the best player in the League is, and it’s not me,” was a statement Connor McDavid made to TSN back in 2017. If he had made this penalty shot back then, we’d have definitely believed him.
In a game versus the Hurricanes back in December 2019, defenceman Brett Pesce used his glove to cover a loose puck in front of the net after he fell, even though their goalie, James Reimer, was in position to handle it. The referees gathered to decide if it was intentional, and after it was decided that it was, a penalty shot was awarded to the Oilers.
McDavid stepped up to take the shot and lost control of the puck right in front of the net.
Connor McDavid’s reminds us why he is number one with these exceptional goals
While the penalty shot above may have been embarrassing, it reminded us that even incredible players like Connor McDavid could make mistakes. But even with the occasional slip up like this, Connor more than makes up for it. While he put so many great shots away in the 2019-20 season, here are three that stand out for us.
Our first highlight is from a game versus the Canucks in 2019. The Oilers, who were tied with the Canucks, gained a 3-2 lead after McDavid blasted through three defenders and put the puck in the top left corner.
The second impressive clip highlights an exceptional 1v1 against Toronto Maple Leafs’ Morgan Reilly. McDavid pretends to look for a pass before faking past Reilly and scoring another goal for the Oilers.
Finally, we have a deceptively simple two-man play that highlights how easily Connor is able to fool his opponents. Connor is heading down the ice with his eyes locked on teammate Sam Gagner. Expecting the pass, the LA Kings let McDavid get close enough to the net to put it away himself.
Brad Marchand is so close, yet so far, in shootout against Philadelphia Flyers
There are moments when you need not to buckle under pressure, or in this case, whiff under pressure. In this game between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, Bruins’ star Brad Marchand needed to score to match Travis Konecny’s sixth goal during the shootout.
Unfortunately, Marchand overshot the puck and tapped it ever so slightly as he skated by. The puck moved, so the refs called it an attempted shot, giving the Flyers the 6-5 win. When asked about this unfortunate moment, here’s what Marchand had to say:
“I was just trying to get going and just missed it. That’s the way it is. I’m not going to overthink it.”
Bobby Ryan hat trick after extended leave of absence
Bobby Ryan fans were undoubtedly excited when the winger returned to the ice after a long break from professional play. The Senators’ winger had been absent since November 2019 to get help from the NHL’s substance abuse program, which he joined because he struggled with alcohol.
But Bobby Ryan was clearly not down and out because he returned to play in February 2020 against the Vancouver Canucks. Not to be held back by his struggles, Ryan contributed three goals to the Senator’s five-point win over the Canucks.
This incredible return to the rink was not only a great moment for the player but also for those who may have been struggling with similar challenges, as Bobby opened up about his issues and how he got the help he needed.
Marc-Andre Fleury’s daring diving save vs. Robin Lehner’s crazy catch
We turn our attention from the goal scorer to the goalkeeper with two amazing saves. While we would normally honor these great defensive plays separately, we decided to give them a nod together since they both came from Vegas Golden Knights’ goaltenders.
The first incredible save was from Marc-Andre Fleury in a game versus the Maple Leafs. They were down 2-3 when Ilya Mikheyev took a shot at the goal. Unfortunately, the puck hit the crossbar but landed in the perfect place for Nic Petan to have another go. A dive by Fleury allowed him to catch the puck and deny the Maple Leafs the equalizer.
This marked the 450th win in Fleury’s career.
The competing save comes from teammate Robin Lehner in a game against the Vancouver Canucks. The Golden Knights were ahead 3-0, and Lehner intended to keep it that way after he denying an attempt by Brock Boeser. One could argue it was a less flashy play and that the Knights had a fairly safe lead, but it could also be argued that even if it was less flashy, it was still an excellent read and catch by Lehner and that he was the reason they had such a safe lead in the first place.
Carrier scores no-look, between-the-legs rebound goal
The Golden Knights feature yet again, but this time we’re back to epic goals. In a contest against the Dallas Stars just a few days after the NHL resumed play, William Carrier scored an incredibly impressive goal that had people cheering because the shot-taker himself had his back to it.
After the puck rebounded off the end board behind the Stars’ net, Carrier managed to regain control of the puck, turn his body to protect it, and slip it backward between his legs into the goal. The goal was initially denied because the goaltender, Ben Bishop, had dropped his stick after it got caught on Carrier’s jersey. However, a successful coach’s challenge saw the goal rewarded to Carrier and the Knights.
Two memorable mid-air goals
We’ve already seen serveral ways to score an excellent goal in this article, but one can never forget the classic reactionary mid-air shot.
Our first one is from Chicago Blackhawks’ forward Dominik Kubalik in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. After successfully getting the puck to the edge of the attacking zone, Jonathan Toews fed it to Kubalik. However, the puck was airborne, but that didn’t stop Kubalik from taking a mid-air shot and putting it in the goal.
Our second mid-air goal makes the cut because it involved a broken stick. An initial attempt to score by Vancouver Canucks’ J.T. Miller was successfully blocked by Justin Faulk, but the shot was so powerful that it broke his stick. Faulk quickly discarded it but was the only player between Miller and the goalkeeper.
A helpful teammate passed his stick to Faulk, only for Miller to send the puck back across the rink, followed by it being fed to Elias Pettersson, who tipped it into the goal mid-air.
NHL playoffs wrap up with no COVID-19 infections
With all the challenges the NHL has faced this past year, some fans and NHL commentators doubted that the league could deliver a playoff series that wasn’t riddled with positive COVID-19 tests and delays. But on September 28, the winning team held the Stanley Cup up high, after the NHL completed a COVID-free playoff series.
This was possible thanks to a similar bubble strategy introduced by the NBA — extensively testing players and coaching staff and isolating them for the playoffs’ duration. Additional staff that weren’t required to isolate, such as cooking, cleaning, and arena staff, were also kept away from the quarantined individuals to ensure there was as little risk as possible.
It was undoubtedly a less than ideal situation, but at the end of the day, it allowed the playoffs to go ahead without any disruptions, much to the joy of fans from around the world who got to see the season come to a successful close, even if it wasn’t from arena seats.
The Tampa Bay Lightning raise the Stanley Cup
The Tampa Bay Lightning raised the Stanley Cup for the second time this season, 16 years after they did it for the first time back in 2004. Not only was this an accomplishment for the team but the league as a whole. Despite the conditions they were expected to perform under, and even the calls for the season to be canceled, the NHL managed to bring the 2019-20 season to an epic close.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said it best during the cup presentation:
“The gauntlet that you have to run to hoist this trophy is unbelievable. And never more unbelievable than this year. This Stanley Cup run will go down in the record books as perhaps the hardest run of all times. You guys should all be incredibly proud.”
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