James leads Cavaliers to victory
LeBron James scored 25 points with 14 assists in the Cavaliers’ win over the Timberwolves on Tuesday. It was James’s 14th game with at least a dozen assists this season, which is his highest total in any season as a professional; his previous best was 12 such games, in 2009–10. The only NBA players with more 12-assist games than James this season are James Harden (25), Russell Westbrook (19) and John Wall (19).
Wiggins has big night against drafting team
Andrew Wiggins scored 41 points in Minnesota’s loss, the second-highest total by a number-one overall pick against the team that drafted him. LeBron James scored 43 points for the Heat against the Cavaliers in 2014. The only other 40-point game was by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who scored 40 for the Lakers against the Bucks in 1979.
Bulls win 11th straight against Raptors
The Bulls defeated the Raptors on Tuesday for their 11th straight win over Toronto, and the Raptors entered all 11 of those games with a winning record. There has been only one similar team-versus-team winning streak in NBA history, in which one team won 10 or more consecutive games and its opponent entered each game over .500. From 2002 to 2004 the Spurs had a 12-game regular-season winning streak of that kind against the Jazz.
Laine makes NHL history
Rookie Patrik Laine completed his league-leading third hat trick when he scored the second of the Winnipeg Jets’ two empty-net goals in their 5–2 victory against the Stars. The 18-year-old Laine is the first player in NHL history to register three hat tricks before his 19th birthday.
Laine is the first rookie on any NHL team to produce at least three hat tricks in one season since 1992–93, when Teemu Selanne had five for the former Winnipeg Jets (who moved to Arizona in 1996) and Eric Lindros notched three for the Flyers.
A surprising move by Montreal
Despite holding a six-point lead in the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens fired their head coach, Michel Therrien, and replaced him with the recently-fired head coach of the Bruins and former Montreal head coach, Claude Julien. This is the second time that Julien has replaced Therrien behind the Canadiens’ bench, having also done so in the middle of the 2002–03 season.
The Canadiens are the first NHL team to make a midseason head-coaching change while holding first place in their division since late February in 2008, when Ottawa’s John Paddock was relieved of his duties with the Senators holding a one-point lead in the Northeast Division. (Ottawa G.M. Bryan Murray, who fired Paddock, took over the Senators’ coaching reins.) This is only the second time that the Canadiens have had a midseason coaching switch while in first place in their division. It also happened in 1979–80, when Bernie “Boom-Boom” Geoffrion resigned in mid-December with the Canadiens leading the Norris Division by seven points. Geoffrion, who quit due to stress and frustration with interference from Montreal’s upper management, was replaced by Claude Ruel.
Matthews scores twice in blowout win
Auston Matthews scored a pair of goals as the Maple Leafs rolled to an easy 7–1 win over the Islanders. It was Matthews’ fourth multiple-goal game in the NHL, which is the second-highest total among rookies this season, behind the Jets’ Patrik Laine, who has five, including a hat trick on Tuesday. Matthews’ four multi-goal games are the most in one season by a Leafs rookie since 1985–86, when Wendel Clark and Steve Thomas each had five.
Draisaitl making “threes” like Curry
Leon Draisaitl matched his season high for points in one game when he tallied one goal and two assists in the Oilers’ 5–2 win over the Coyotes. It was Draisaitl’s sixth three-point game this season, which ties him with Sidney Crosby and Nicklas Backstrom for second-most in the NHL, one behind his Edmonton teammate, Connor McDavid, and the Stars’ Jamie Benn.
Murray blanks Vancouver
Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray posted his third shutout of the season, the most by any NHL rookie, with a 4–0 win versus the Canucks. Les Binkley set the Penguins record for shutouts by a rookie goaltender with six in 1967–68, the team’s inaugural season. Murray is only the third rookie netminder since then to register as many three shutouts in one season for the Penguins. The others were Patrick Lalime in 1996–97 and Peter Skudra in 1998–99.
Rookie Cramarossa scores in 1–0 win
The Ducks turned a first-period goal by rookie Joseph Cramarossa and 37 saves from John Gibson into a 1–0 win over the Wild in Minnesota. Cramarossa is the first rookie to score the goal in a 1–0 NHL game this season and the fifth rookie in Ducks franchise history to do so. The others were Mike Crowley (1998–99), Stanislav Chistov (2002–03), Chris Kunitz (2005–06) and Maxime Macenauer (2011–12).
Lehner wins against former team
Robin Lehner stopped all but two of the 41 shots on goal against him in his 3–2 victory for the Sabres in Ottawa. Lehner played his first five seasons in the NHL with the Senators before they traded him to Buffalo in June 2015. In the two seasons since then Lehner has excelled against his original team, posting a 4–0–2 record (with two no-decisions due to injury) while allowing only nine goals in eight games. He’s 3–0–1 (with one ND) in five games versus Ottawa this season. The only other former Senators goaltender to beat them three times in one season is Ben Bishop, who’s done it twice (for Tampa Bay in 2013–14 and 2015–16).
Palmieri rebounding after a slow start
Kyle Palmieri’s goal late in the second period proved to be the game-winner for the Devils in their 3–2 victory over the Avalanche. Palmieri scored a career-high 30 goals last season, his first with New Jersey, but he got off to a slow start this season with only four goals in his first 30 games. Palmieri has regained his scoring touch, having produced a team-high 11 goals in 24 games since then (Dec. 22 to date).