Posted on: February 29, 2012 3:18 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 5:19 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: what it's going to take for Steven Stamkos to become the first 60-goal scorer since 2007-08, and whether or not it's even possible.
Steven Stamkos has been the one consistent bright spot for the Tampa Bay Lightning this year, and he is currently putting together the most productive goal-scoring season of his young career.
Through Tampa Bay's first 63 games he is leading the league with 44 goals, seven more than Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin as of Wednesday afternoon. Barring injury he looks to be well on his way to the second 50-goal season of his career, as well as his second Rocket Richard Trophy. (He shared the goal-scoring crown during the 2009-10 season with Sidney Crosby, with both players scoring 51 goals).
He has clearly taken over as the NHL's best, and most dangerous goal scoring threat.
But he also has a chance -- a very small chance -- to do something that only one player has done over the past 14 years -- score 60 goals in a single season. It's not going to be easy, of course, and it's probably going to take a great deal of luck along the way, but it's not entirely out of the question, either.
Scoring 50 goals these days is rare enough. Since the NHL came out of the lockout in 2005-06 only 10 different players have scored even 50 goals in a single season (Alex Ovechkin has done it four times, Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk have done it twice, Stamkos, Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Vincent Lecavalier, Jaromir Jagr and Corey Perry have all done it once).
Scoring 60 goals in this era is practically unheard of.
Ovechkin was the last player to reach the mark having scored 65 goals during the 2007-08 season. Before that you have to go all the way back to the 1995-96 season when Mario Lemieux and Jagr scored 69 and 62 goals respectively for the Penguins.
With 19 games remaining on the schedule for Tampa Bay, Stamkos needs 16 goals to reach 60 for the season. Twice in his career he's had 19-game stretches where he's scored at least 16 goals, including one such run earlier this season between games 20 and 38 for the Lightning, scoring 16 goals on 61 shots.
His best 19-game stretch came at the start of last season he averaged a goal-per-game over the first 19 games of the season. So it is possible, and he's done it before.
If he were to maintain his current shooting percentage for the season, a career-best 19.9 percent, he would need to generate somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 shots on goal over the final 19 games of the season to score 16 goals. That's a lot. Even worse, if he were to shoot at his career average of 16.8 percent he would need to generate nearly 100 shots in 19 games, which is just over five per game. That's nearly impossible. Especially if you add in the fact that he's already in the middle of a hot streak, having scored seven goals in his past seven games, which would mean he would need to finish the season with 23 goals in 26 games.
One of the biggest reasons we no longer see 60 (or even 50) goal seasons is the same reason goal-scoring as a whole is down across the league -- a declining number of power play opportunities.
Stamkos is at his most lethal to opposing teams when the Lightning are on the man-advantage and his teammates are able to feed him one-timer after one-timer from the circle. With the average NHL team getting just 3.5 power play opportunities per game this season, the lowest average the NHL has seen in over 10 years, and the Lightning actually well below that average at just 3.1 opportunities per game, players just aren't getting as many prime opportunities to put up huge goal totals.
And it's why the 60-goal scorer is nearly extinct in the NHL.
Photo: Getty Images
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Posted on: February 15, 2012 5:58 pm
Recently, ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun asked an NHL scout to rank the four big Russian skaters playing in the NHL -- Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk. Here's the answer he gave:
"Really close between Datsyuk and Malkin, they’re 1a and 1b, then it’s Kovalchuk, and Ovechkin a distant fourth."
Imagine that, Alex Ovechkin, two years ago seen by many as the best player in the world, "a distant fourth" just among Russian skaters? It seems hard to imagine if you think back to 2008 or 2009. But you can't argue with it at all.
Malkin might be the front-runner for the Hart Trophy right now. Datsyuk is seen by most to be the most offensively gifted player in the league, described as a wizard when he has the puck. And Kovalchuk? Well he has become a complete player this season as my colleague Adam Gretz pointed out earlier today.
Ovechkin? Well he's trended down in the last couple of seasons, way down. The stat heads will tell you that he was due for it, his numbers from a couple of seasons ago were completely unsustainable. Perhaps, but how to explain such a sharp and quick drop in production?
Former Cap Ollie the Goalie Kolzig, now a consultant for the Caps goaltenders, was asked about a number of topics regarding Washington on Wednesday. Among them, he had some thoughts to help explain Ovechkin's dip.
Well, that's pretty interesting. The insinuation there is that Ovechkin isn't dedicated enough. Dare I paraphrase and say that he doesn't "care" enough like his Russian teammate in Washington Alex Semin has been accused of? To be sure it's pretty harsh criticism.
What would point to him being wrapped up in the rock star status? Not that I agree, I'm just spitballing, but he did recently make some news when he bought an extravagant $4.2 million home in Virginia. Perhaps it is his lavish car, a Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series. Or maybe it's his romantic link to Russian tennis player Maria Kirilenko? I'm not sure.
What I can tell you is that production is still down. Here are some numbers that illustrate how much via Corey Masisak of NHL.com.
Personally, I think it's more about the league figuring him out. Nicklas Backstrom being hurt doesn't help, but his numbers have been down the past season and a half, much of that with Backstrom playing, so I don't buy it as a big reason.
The lesson in all of this is that if you make as much money and are as recognizable a player as Ovechkin is, you better hope if your production dips that your team's doesn't, otherwise fingers will be pointed.
Posted on: February 15, 2012 3:35 pm
Edited on: February 15, 2012 3:35 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The trade that sent Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils prior to the trade deadline two years ago may prove to be the best thing that has happened to him in his NHL career.
Not only because the Devils have given him an opportunity to play on what has been a consistent playoff team (something his previous team, the Atlanta Thrashers, was not) but also because his time in New Jersey has resulted in him becoming a better, and more complete player.
Kovalchuk has been on a roll offensively for the Devils over the past couple of weeks, and thanks to his three-goal, four-point effort against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night he's recorded nine points in his past five games for a Devils team that looks as if it's going to return to the postseason after a difficult first half kept them out of the playoffs a year ago, and a lot of that has been due to the play of Kovalchuk.
His current per-game averages for the season would give him 40 goals and 90 points over an 82-game season, which is pretty much what we've grown to expect from him offensively.
But he's not doing it the same way he used to do it in Atlanta. Just watching him you can notice a difference in the way he plays when he doesn't have the puck, but he's also seen role and value expand beyond just goal-scoring. It's not uncommon to see him on the ice late in games with the Devils protecting leads, and he's taking on more responsibility. Even though his total ice-time per game is about the same (around 21-22 minutes) it's being spread out across the board a bit more.
His power play time is down and his even strength and, perhaps most surprising, his shorthanded minutes are up. Way up.
Only once over the past six seasons did he finish a season averaging more than 15 seconds of shorthanded time per game (and that was when he averaged 23 seconds back in 2007-08).
This season he's playing over a minute per game on one of the best penalty killing units in the league, and during his 60 minutes of shorthanded play Kovalchuk is a plus-four on the season, having been on the ice for five Devils shorthanded goals (scoring three of them himself and assisting on the other two) and only one power play goal against. There are only seven other players with a minimum of 30 games played in the NHL this season that are "plus" players during 4-on-5 play, and only one of them (Pittsburgh's Kris Letang) has played more than 23 minutes of total shorthanded ice time this season.
I don't know if a 15-year contract like the one New Jersey signed Kovalchuk to prior to last season is always the right investment for a team, but with the way his game has evolved in a short period of time, he should continue to be the franchise building block the Devils expected when they acquired him.
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 10, 2012 1:30 pm
Edited on: February 10, 2012 3:43 pm
WASHINGTON -- Here we are in mid-February and the Winnipeg Jets are still lingering right there in the playoff picture, just outside the East's top eight (even closer to the Southeast Division lead). That's how crucial Thursday night's Houdini act was in Washington, to take two points from a game that was seemingly lost.
The next question becomes how they can follow that up?
Winnipeg finishes off a travel-heavy stretch this Saturday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. It will be their eight road game in their last nine overall, a crucial stretch in their season that many thought would bury their playoff hopes. I admit, myself included.
Instead, they were given a golden opportunity with a lucky bounce to pick up some serious steam for a playoff push.
"We have a big game in Pittsburgh," forward Bryan Little said on Thursday after the 3-2 win in D.C. "If we get a couple points there it would be a great road trip for us."
And it would bring them some strong momentum into a home-heavy stretch they are about to hit.
"We've been playing well at home all season, so we'd be really pumped with that," Little said.
That's why the game against the Pens is so big. It would more or less signify that the win in Washington was a springboard to launch them into their homestand. But any sort of momentum gained from it is for the most part lost with a flat showing in the 'Burgh.
"We've won two in a row now," said Evander Kane, who has played two games since returning from a concussion. "We have to be able to put together strings together and long winning streaks because that's how you're going to make the playoffs."
That's the goal, obviously, bring the playoffs back to the 'Peg. Maybe the White out too. So what better way to head into a stretch where nine of their next 10 are at the friendly confines of MTS Centre than a win in Pittsburgh?
They'll be taking on a Penguins team that will get a lift courtesy of a returning player. No, not Sidney Crosby, but instead Jordan Staal. Coach Dan Bylsma announced on Friday that Staal will be back in the lineup after dealing with a nagging knee issue.
So it's up to you Jets, make that win in Washington really count.
What the Devil has gotten into them?
The New Jersey Devils aren't just hanging around in the playoff race like the Jets, they are climbing into the conversation for home-ice advantage in the first round.
In a rarity, the Devils actually lost in a shootout on Thursday night to the St. Louis Blues. It brought an end to New Jersey's five-game winning streak but extended their points streak to eight games.
The catalyst in the run has been not only the stellar play of Ilya Kovalchuk, but Zach Parise's outburst. With his name being talked about as a possibility in trade discussions, Parise has only shown why teams would love to have him -- including the Devils, of course. In the last six games he has six goals and two assists. Not too shabby.
In case you haven't checked the standings in a while -- here's our nifty Playoff Race -- the Devils have jumped over the Penguins for the time being in the Atlantic Division race and are just three points behind the Flyers.
You have to like the odds of their points streak being extended to nine on Saturday. That's when they'll play the Florida Panthers at the Rock, the fourth and final meeting between coach Peter DeBoer and his former team from Florida. Seeing how the Devils have looked strong in winning two of the three from the Cats and would have taken the other if not for a complete meltdown in the third period, it doesn't seem like this is the time they will be stopped in their tracks.
Add in Florida being 1-6-4 in its last 11 road games and, well, you can see where this is going.
It's high time the Blackhawks find themselves again. They are mired in a stretch that could be too difficult to overcome when it comes time for seeding in the Western Conference, especially if it continues.
In the midst of a nine-game road trip that still has five more stops to go, the Blackhawks are reeling. They've lost six in a row, picking up a point in only one of those losses. You wouldn't figure the next four games being in San Jose, at Phoenix, in Nashville then at the Rangers will make it much easier, particularly with the Sharks and Coyotes coming back-to-back this weekend.
It seems preposterous, but a couple more games and all of a sudden the Blackhawks are going to find themselves in a serious fight for a playoff spot period, let alone the seeding.
As big as the one Friday night in San Jose is, that game in Phoenix will be particularly big as the Coyotes have made a little surge in recent days and have climbed into the eighth spot in the West. It could pull Phoenix to within three points of Chicago if their skid continues.
Fifth time's the charm?
The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers will have their fifth of six meetings this season on Saturday in Philly, a little matinee.
Despite it being their fifth game of the series, it's actually the first that will be played at Wells Fargo Center. So maybe that will be what the Flyers need to get off the Rangers schneid. They have been on the losing end of all four games so far.
There likely won't be any Ilya Bryzgalov in net again, though. And that's not because he's being benched, enjoying some nice tea in his thermos. Instead, he's enjoying some tea in his thermos because he's ill and, you know, people suggest you drink tea.
Obviously it hasn't mattered who has been in net for the Flyers this season, they haven't been able to figure out the Rangers yet. A game like Saturday's is huge for confidence, if not the standings.
Oh, and if you like fights, this might be your game. Last weekend's matchup broke out into an MMA show.
It feels like we've had a lot of players hitting the 1,000 game milestone this season, doesn't it? On Thursday night Chris Neil of Ottawa celebrated entering four-digit territory. On Friday night it will be Tomas Holmstrom's turn.
The longtime Swedish Red Wings forward has obviously seen some good times in Detroit throughout his career. That tends to happen if you stay in a Wings uniform long enough. He'll be honored for that when the Ducks visit the Joe.
On the ice, this is actually quite the matchup. The Wings are still riding this ridiculous home winning streak, up to 18 games now. The Ducks, meanwhile, have come flying up from the basement and are now within eight points of a playoff spot in the West, still a long way to go but better than before. They are 11-2-2 in the last 15.
So don't be surprised if this is the team that's finally able to upset Detroit in Detroit and spoil the fun of Holmstrom's night.
We're going streaking!
Here is a look at the streaks -- both good and bad -- heading into the weekend.
Montreal Canadiens: Yes, that's right, the Habs are on a winning streak. They take a three-game run to their rivals in Toronto.
Vancouver Canucks: Remember when they were behind Minnesota in the Northwest? Me neither. They have a 15-point lead and carry a three-game win streak into Calgary on Saturday.
Coyotes: I said they've been on a run lately and that means they have a league-high four straight wins. Only Chicago awaits this weekend.
Blackhawks: See entry above: Six straight losses. Will they keep counting? Trips to San Jose and Phoenix on the docket.
Minnesota Wild: They have slipped out of the top eight in the West now having lost three consecutive games. A visit from Columbus is next on Saturday.
Ryan Miller: OK, I never put players on here, but Miller deserves a spot. The Sabres goalie has been much-maligned but he has turned a corner of late. He's on the run of his career. No, really. From Mike Harrington at the Buffalo News.
"Ryan Miller's 0.95 GAA and .969 save percentage over the last five games are the best in his career for any five-game stretch."
Tags: Anaheim Ducks, Brian Stubits, Bryan Little, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Dan Bylsma, Detroit Red Wings, Evander Kane, Florida Panthers, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jordan Staal, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Peter DeBoer, Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Miller, San Jose Sharks, Sergei Bobrovsky, Tomas Holmstrom, Vancouver Canucks, Weekend Preview, Winnipeg Jets, Zach Parise
Posted on: February 8, 2012 10:01 am
Edited on: February 8, 2012 10:16 am
There was a time that Evgeni Malkin wasn't very good in the shootout. His success rate was low despite the abundant skills that he shows on the ice during games. There's a reason why fans criticize the shootout, and it's largely because it is unlike the rest of the game. There is no team aspect. It appeared Malkin was just a guy whose skills showed better when working in-game.
Either that or he just needed to expand his skillset. Yea, that's probably it.
The Penguins lost a shootout in Montreal on Tuesday night but it was no fault of Malkin's. The favorite for the Hart Trophy this season, Malkin scored one beauty of a goal in the tie-breaker.
Maybe it's the whole Russian/former USSR connection. Everybody knows they tend to have a bit more flair to their games. Perhaps Geno decided to expand the moves by talking to Belarussian Mikhail Grabovski who has pulled the spin-o-rama off on a couple of occasions in his career with the Leafs. Then again, Jason Blake has pulled the same move a couple of times and, well, he's not from the old East Block.
The success rate of the spin-o-rama seems to be on the high side to me without having an official tracker or anything. It's a wonder more guys don't give it a whirl.
Posted on: February 4, 2012 4:35 pm
Edited on: February 4, 2012 10:18 pm
By: Adam Gretz
After jumping out to a six-goal lead early in the second period the New Jersey Devils had to hang on for a 6-4 win in Philadelphia as the Flyers put together a spirited third period rally, scoring four goals and out-shooting the Devils by a 24-1 margin over the final 20 minutes.
In the end, though, the Devils fast start was enough to earn the two points in the standings, and it was a big day for forward Ilya Kovalchuk, on what was the two-year anniversary of the trade that sent him to New Jersey from Atlanta.
He celebrated the day by scoring his 21st goal of the season, picking up two assists and completing his first career Gordie Howe Hat Trick by fighting Philadelphia's Brayden Schenn, and dropping him with a huge punch midway through the third period.
It all started after Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo tripped Devils captain Zach Parise with a slew foot (that he would receive a fine for from the league) after the whistle had already blown. Here is a look at the entire sequence.
Schenn, of course, missed time early this season with a concussion, so watching him throw his helmet off and take part in a fight that ended with a punch like that probably wasn't the ideal situation for him to be in.
It was announced on Saturday night that Rinaldo has been fined $2,500 for the slew foot, and also received another $2,500 fine for a late hit on Jacob Josefson in the second period.
But how about the day for Kovalchuk? His goal came with his team shorthanded, and his role as a penalty killer for the Devils continues to be one of the biggest surprises of the season. He is not only a regular on what has been the best PK unit in the league, but he also done a fine job in that situation, already scoring three shorthanded goals this season. Perhaps even more impressive is that he has only been on the ice for one goal against during 4-on-5 situations.
A Gordie Howe Hat Trick and a shorthanded goal from Kovalchuk all in the same game? Strange times in the NHL.
Previously at Eye On Hockey
Kovalchuk's role as a penalty killer
NHL Discipline news
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 28, 2012 5:00 pm
Edited on: January 28, 2012 5:03 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The video above features Mike Ribeiro of the Dallas Stars scoring an absolutely insane shootout goal against the Colorado Avalanche a couple of years ago. It's a pretty amazing goal, leaving then-Avs goalie Peter Budaj completely confused. Throughout his career, Ribeiro has made a habit out of scoring highlight reel goals during the regular season skills competition that is otherwise known as the shootout.
He seems like he would be the type of player that would excel in the All-Star skills competition, particularly any of the breakaway challenges. But because he's not an All-Star this year, we don't get an opportunity to see what he's fully capable of when the spotlight is on. The NBA brings in players that aren't on the All-Star rosters to take part in their skills competition, and I wouldn't mind seeing the NHL try something similar.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at some of the players not in the All-Star game this season that could be favorites to win the various events, or at the very least, put up a solid showing.
1. Darren Helm, Detroit Red Wings
2. Andrew Cogliano, Anaheim Ducks
3. Mason Raymond, Vancouver Canucks
Cogliano has actually already won this event, taking it back in 2009 with a time of 14.31 seconds, but I would put Helm up against any other skater in the league in terms of pure speed. He doesn't score much, but everything he does on the ice, including his penalty killing, seems to be a complete blur.
1. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils
2. Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals
3. Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres
Kind of a tough one to figure out, and it's not as easy as simply looking at a players shooting percentage because that doesn't necessarily mean a player with a high number is an "accurate" shooter, but Kovalchuk and Semin are obvious snipers that can pick their spots and hit the corners from anywhere in the offensive zone.
1. Sami Salo, Vancouver Canucks
2. Jason Garrison, Florida Panthers
3. Sheldon Souray, Dallas Stars
Jason Garrison has more goals than any other defenseman in the NHL this season with 13, and eight of them have come by way of his booming slap shot, more than any other player in the league. I don't know if he has what it takes to challenge Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber, but I imagine he could put up some impressive numbers, and the same could be said for Salo. At the Canucks team skills competition earlier this week he hit 102 MPH, which would have been harder than any other participant in last year's event with the exception of Chara and Weber.
1. Mike Riberio, Dallas Stars
2. Todd Bertuzzi, Detroit Red Wings
3. Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets
We already addressed what Riberio can bring to the table, but when the Red Wings are involved in a shootout they tend to be quality entertainment, not only because of the presence of Pavel Datsyuk, always a human highlight reel, but also because of Todd Bertuzzi, who has some pretty underrated skill. It's not uncommon to see him bust out the spin-o-rama move, but he has quite a few additional tricks up his sleeve as well. And don't underestimate the skill and hands that Rick Nash has for a big, power forward.
Any other players that didn't participate this season that you would like to see?
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Tags: 2012 All-Star Game, Adam Gretz, Alexander Semin, Anaheim Ducks, Andrew Cogliano, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Darren Helm, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Garrison, Mark Streit, Mason Raymond Vancouver Canucks, Mike Riberio, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Pavel Datsyuk, Sami Salo, Sergei Kostitsyn, Shea Weber, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, Zdeno Chara
Posted on: January 15, 2012 4:06 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2012 5:24 pm
As the Monkees once sang, I'm a believer.
It has taken more than half a season, but I'm ready to buy stock in the Ottawa Senators. Now I don't think I'd like them to do much beyond make the playoffs at this point, but considering preseason expectations, that's a minor miracle in and of itself.
Before the season began, I remember seeing Senators GM Bryan Murray saying he thought his team could make the playoffs this season contrary to about everybody's prediction of the team's outlook. I also remember my reaction to it was to laugh.
My laughing has stopped.
The Senators pretty much dispelled any notion that this has been a fluke. Their 46 games played are enough to convince you otherwise.
Something else I personally was laughing at was their trade for Kyle Turris. Based on a few seasons of minimal production in Phoenix, I was of the mind that Kyle Turris wasn't as good as his draft position a few years ago indicated, that he was still living off a "potential" tag that wasn't going to materialize the way everybody hoped. In short, I saw Turris as being overrated.
So here's an "oops" on a couple of accounts.
The match of Turris and the Senators has been one forged in heaven. Or something like that. Since Murray shipped defenseman David Rundblad to the Coyotes (who has since been sent down to the AHL) in exchange for Turris, it's been a win for the Senators. A lot of wins.
With Turris in their lineup, the Senators are a sensational 12-2-2, including four consecutive wins after the prevailed over the Canadiens in a shootout on Saturday. Turris has contributed two goals and seven assists in that time.
They have come a long way since that 1-5-0 start to the season.
On the sobering side, they still give up way too much. Their 3.13 goals against per game clocks in at 27th in the league, ahead of only the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and Lightning. Just check the standings to see how those teams are faring by giving up so much.
But the Sens can score. You can nit-pick their four All-Star selections, but none of them is completely undeserving. In a game that values offense, the Sens have that covered. Between Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and the venerable Daniel Alfredsson (as well as Erik Karlsson on the blue line) you see how Ottawa is where it is.
Now you have to account for some inflation here. The Senators have played more games than any of the other contenders in the East, so everybody has games in hand on them. But fact of the matter is they have put themselves in a good position to withstand the tide turning back toward other teams in the games-played department.
This is a big stretch for the Senators, playing nine games out of 10 on the road and so far they are three for three.
Feel free to believe.
Home sweet home
The game of the weekend got Saturday started off right with an early faceoff in Detroit. The Red Wings and Blackhawks met for the third time this season, and for the third time it was a 3-2 final. Talk about great hockey.
Considering the game was at the Joe in Detroit, you should have no problem correctly guessing who prevailed. It was an OT tally from Todd Bertuzzi that gave the Wings the second point on the day, an overtime that was completely controlled by Detroit.
The Red Wings have a great history. You all know that. They have become the definition of a playoff staple. So it's saying something about this year's team when you consider they just captured their 14th consecutive win on home ice to tie a team record. That goes all the way back to 1965.
"Even though we're in the thick of a tight race, it is something we can be proud of as a team," defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "This franchise hasn't done this since the 1960s, so it says a lot that we've been able to do it."
That's why the Central Division race is going to be so critical this season. If the Red Wings can get the division title, they are guaranteed to have home ice for at least one series come playoff time. In a division as tight as the Central.
The devil inside
One question I've heard a few times in the press box this season is if the New Jersey Devils are for real. My answer: no doubt.
They aren't without their concerns, for sure. Their goalie situation isn't ideal these days with Martin Brodeur and as good as their power play can be with the skill they have, they have a little problem allowing short-handed goals.
But the thing with the Devils that people forget is that last season was the anomaly. The expectations weren't high because of the miserable first half they endured last season, partly due to salary cap constraints, partly due the absence of Zach Parise.
Bring back a healthy Parise and the rookie Adam Henrique and you have the Devils playing good hockey this season. They were able to do what very few teams have been able to on Saturday night and that was to go into Winnipeg and come away with a victory over the Jets at the MTS Centre thanks to two third-period goals. The winner came from Patrik Elias, his 16th.
Therein lies one of the things I like about any staying power for the Devils, they are more than Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Henrique. They have some second-level scoring to fill in.
Plus, they don't lose in shootouts or overtime much at all. That doesn't help when the postseason comes around but it can help them get there.
They needed that
It sounds like hyperbole, but this really might have been the biggest weekend of the season for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They were struggling bad, having lost six games in a row for the first time in years. Then there was the drama about some possibly internal strife and the idea that the Penguins might name a captain in Sidney Crosby's absence.
The team debunked any of that talk on Friday when they took to the ice in Sunrise, Fla. for their morning skate with everybody wearing a C on their sweater (except for Evgeni Malkin who wore a K). The media scrutiny of them and their captain was apparently getting to them so they fought back.
And then they fought back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, too. They came out against the Panthers on Friday night and assaulted the Southeast Division leaders (not for much longer) on their way to a slump-busting 4-1 win. Making sure not to follow it up with a thud, they jumped on the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Sunday and held on to give the Bolts a seventh straight loss.
To put in perspective how dominating they were, the Pens outshot the Panthers and Lightning by a combined 85-46 and won each game by three.
That was a weekend that was sorely needed. The team appears to be galvanized by the whole episode, playing some great hockey in Florida. Either that or the feel of a vacation in the Sunshine State did the trick.
Quote of the weekend
"That should suggest to this whole locker room that we're not far off." -- Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison.
That came after the Hurricanes pulled off the "say what?" moment of the weekend by doubling up the Bruins in Carolina 4-2 on Saturday night.
They might believe they're not far off as far as putting it all together, but they're still very far off when it comes to the standings. However three wins in a row has done something for them in the standings, take them out of the Southeast cellar thanks to the Lightning's skid.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Adam Henrique, Boston Bruins, Brian Stubits, Bryan Murray, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Daniel Alfredsson, David Rundblad, Detroit Red Wings, Erik Karlsson, Evgeni Malkin, Florida Panthers, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Spezza, Jay Harrison, Kyle Turris, Milan Michalek, New Jersey Devils, Nicklas Lidstrom, Ottawa Senators, Patrik Elias, Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Tampa Bay Lightning, Weekend Wrap, Winnipeg Jets, Zach Parise