Tag:Winnipeg Jets
Posted on: February 23, 2012 10:01 am
Edited on: February 23, 2012 10:40 am
 

Morning Skate: Playoff ramifications galore


By Brian Stubits

The Morning Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

In this day and age with only two teams -- two! -- in the entire NHL being more than 10 points out of a playoff spot, it's hard to find a game on the schedule that isn't carrying a huge impact on the playoff picture. Save for Edmonton playing Columbus, they all have an impact.

That holds even if you have two teams hanging on by life support. Which is just what is on the schedule on Thursday night.

7 ET, Anaheim at Carolina: This is pretty much hockey's equivalent of a loser leave town match. The Hurricanes are eight points back of a playoff position, the Ducks are six back. So, you know, you can't lose this game if you want to stay in the conversation.

To be sure, both face very long odds. More specifically, the 'Canes have a 2.94 percent chance of seeing the postseason according to sportsclubstats.com while the Ducks have a 5.52 percentage.

For Anaheim it brings an end to one hellacious road trip that has been going since what feels like the All-Star break. And they've done very well on it until their last momentum-killing game, a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And Carolina? Well they are actually starting to brim with confidence. They just smacked down the Capitals 5-0 -- then again, who isn't these days? -- and are finally getting the expected production from Eric Staal.

So we have two teams near (or at, in Carolina's case in the East) the bottom of the standings playing some of the best hockey in the league. The game is make or break for both. Should be fun.

7 ET, San Jose at Toronto: The Maple Leafs are still in the thick of the futility battle that is the race for eighth in the East/the Southeast Division. It's like everybody has hit a slump together, giving hope to teams that once appeared on the outs. Toronto is no different.

The goaltending was looking good not long ago. Now Leafs fans are begging for help. They are 1-5-1 in the last seven games. In the last six games -- one OT win in there -- they have yielded 27 goals. That's 4.5 per game. They need to take advantage of the home games they have left, starting tonight.

The Sharks, meanwhile, find themselves actually in a battle for the Pacific Division crown. As of now, they are tied with the surging Coyotes. Now the Sharks do have two games in hand on Phoenix, but those do you no good if you don't win them.

On their own whirlwind road trip, the Sharks are riding a four-game losing streak, three in a row without points. Apparently they think the race for eighth looks so interesting they thought they might play their way into it. As of now, they are only three points up on that eighth spot, but again, have games in hand.

7:30 ET, Vancouver at Detroit: Here's the game of the night without a doubt. Neither team is fighting for their playoff lives, instead they are fighting each other for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Oh, and there is something about a 23-game home winning streak being on the line for the Red Wings? I suppose that might garner some interest here too.

But in reality this game is massive on many levels. In addition to the two-point discrepancy between the teams in the standings, it would do the Canucks a world of good to knock off Detroit at the Joe, prove to themselves that they can do it in case it comes up again at playoff time.

Unfortunately for the Wings -- and fans -- Pavel Datsyuk won't be in the lineup for the Wings, sitting out a couple weeks after having his knee scoped.

9 ET, Phoenix at Calgary: This is the West battle being waged in Calgary right here. The Coyotes have been on fire, winning eight of their last nine games and shooting into not only seventh place in the West but in a tie with the Sharks in the Pacific. And they just added Antoine Vermette.

If Phoenix takes two points tonight, you start to wonder if they can prepare for some playoff games in the desert again. Of course that's no guarantee, but they'd be in one good position for it.

But don't sleep on the Flames. They enter the day in ninth place, one back of the Kings and this will be their one game in hand. Here's what makes the Flames a real threat for a playoff berth, if you can believe that. They have 22 games remaining, 14 of them come at home. That's as favorable as any playoff hopeful down the stretch run.

Also worth watching: The Panthers host the Wild with Florida still clinging to the Southeast lead and Minnesota still clinging to their playoff hopes.

The Blues and Predators renew acquaintances in their continued battle for that crucial fourth seed in the West. The Preds have just owned the Blues this season.

The Stars visit the Blackhawks where Chicago has reeled off four in a row after the nine-game losing streak. Dallas is another team that's hanging within striking distance in the West.

The Lightning visit the Jets with Winnipeg entering in a tie for both the Southeast lead and the eighth spot in the East. They need to win these games since they've played more than any team. But the Lightning are still clawing, hanging five points back of the playoffs.

Your promised miscellany

  • Capitals coach Dale Hunter was hard on goaltender Tomas Vokoun after Washington's second big loss in a row on Wednesday. Of course, without Vokoun, there's no telling how low the Caps would be this season. He's been good for them the majority of the season. (Washington Times)
  • Here's a good read from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun about the always interesting P.K. Subban of the Canadiens. (ESPN.com)
  • Now this is entertaining. Check out Maxime Talbot of the Flyers taking on a fan in a Just Dance 3 challenge at the team's recent fair. (Puck Daddy)
  • While Milan Michalek scored one very pretty goal against the Capitals, Mathieu Perreault had one ugly goal that tried to make him ugly (the puck went in off his face). Guess what? They both counted as one score.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 22, 2012 11:23 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:19 pm
 

Bryzgalov enjoyed the taunting cheers in Winnipeg

By Brian Stubits

I'm not a Philadelphia Flyers fan, so it's easy for me to say this: Ilya Bryzgalov is my favorite player in the NHL. He won me over on HBO's 24/7 and he hasn't lost me since. You had me at Universe, Bryz. You had me at Universe.

The folks in Philly, though, wish they were able to share my sentiments. They'd love nothing more than to have a goaltender they could proudly call their own. But Bryzgalov's .898 and 2.82 save percentage aren't going to win over fans in Philadelphia, especially after he received a nine-year, $51 million contract.

But he has found some fans that will cheer for him. Since making comments about not wanting to move to Winnipeg while still with the Coyotes and about the 'Peg not having any parks, he became a target for Jets fans. On Tuesday night they finally had a chance to see him play at MTS Centre and unloaded taunting chants of "Ilya! Ilya!" on him throughout the game.

Always the humorist, Bryzgalov took it more than in stride.

As usual, we will share what he said in the video for anybody who might have video/audio problems. Courtesy of CSN Philly, here are Bryz's comments.

“You know, I like it,” he said. “It’s great atmosphere. I wished every building was going to be supportive like that. They going to support me like here. It was nice to hear cheering, ‘Ilya, Ilya.’

“I never heard that before anywhere. When 15,000 people support you, it’s [very impressive].”

Just like Philly, huh?

“No,” Bryzgalov replied. “Here there is cheering. In Philly, they boo me.”

What can I say, I'm a sucker for self-deprecating humor and this guy, he has it down pat.

More from Eye on Hockey

Bryzgalov not interested in going to Winnipeg
Bryzgalov steals HBO show

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 21, 2012 11:52 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:55 am
 

Winners & Losers: Coyotes, Jackets, Flames

By: Adam Gretz

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

1. Phoenix Coyotes: A 3-0 deficit against Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings seems like like it might be impossible to overcome with the way this season has progressed. Not the case for the Coyotes on Tuesday night as they continued their winning ways with a come-from-behind, 5-4 shootout win. It was their eighth win in the past nine games, and their ninth straight game with at least a point in the standings. It also moves them into a tie for first place in the Pacific Division with the San Jose Sharks, a team that had their lunches handed to them by our next winner, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

2. Columbus Blue Jackets: In what has become a lost, disappointing season, the Blue Jackets had their most complete and impressive performance of the year on Tuesday night with a 6-3 win over the Sharks. R.J. Umberger completed his first career Gordie Howe Trick scoring a goal, assisting on another and dropping the gloves … all in the first period. And it took him just 4:11 of ice-time to accomplish it. Talk about efficiency.

3. Another high-scoring Jets-Flyers game: Somehow, the Winnipeg Jets had a chance to move into the top spot in the Southeast Division (and the third spot in the Eastern Conference) with a regulation win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

They didn't win, but they still managed to gain a point with a 5-4 overtime loss and move into a tie with the Panthers, which is still pretty amazing. Are the Jets buyers? Sellers? A team that does nothing? Who knows at this point, but they're still in it thanks to the collective mediocrity that is the Southeast Division. But the most entertaining thing here is the Jets and Flyers played another high-scoring, back-and-forth game. In their four-game season series this year the two teams combined for 38 goals. That's an average of 9.5 goals per game in a league where the average game features just 5.46.

It's like 1985 all over again when these two teams get together, and as of now, a first-round playoff matchup isn't entirely out of the question.

We can only hope.

Losers

1. The Anaheim Ducks playoff chances: Much had been made of the fact the Anaheim Ducks were only five points out of a playoff spot entering Tuesday night, but here is why it's going to be next to impossible for them to catch up: Even with one of the best stretches in the NHL they're still back to being six points out and are still in 13th after Tuesday. Their best two-month stretch of the season has seen them gain four points and move up one spot in the standings since early December. Those points are just too hard to make up, and a 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay doesn't help.  They have no margin for error, and losing to a team that's in selling off players every other team and makes the hole they're in even deeper.

2. Calgary Flames: There was one team on the ice on Tuesday night that looked like it was fighting for its playoff lives, and it wasn't the Calgary Flames in a 6-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. These are the points that the Flames need if they're going to earn one of the top eight spots in the West, and this one was a clunker.

3. The New Islanders slow starts: Scoring first is a big deal in the NHL, and no team seems to get off to slower starts on a nightly basis than the New York Islanders. They were down 2-0 just three minutes into Monday's game, and then on Tuesday against Buffalo they fell behind just 1:12 into the first period of their 2-1 loss to the Sabres. It's tough to win games when you're spotting the other team a one-goal lead almost right off the opening faceoff every night.

Goal of the Night: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins.

New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella said this goal by Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, his 33rd of the season, was the result of "a dumb play by Michael Del Zotto." His turnover may have led to it, but it's still a big-time move on a play that involved two of the NHL's MVP favorites going one-on-one.



For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: February 15, 2012 1:15 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2012 1:43 pm
 

Should the Jets be buyers?

JetsBy: Adam Gretz

As one of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL, averaging just 2.3 goals per game (25th in the league as of Wednesday afternoon) it's not a surprise that Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd would like to see some additional offense added to the team, especially after dropping a crucial 3-1 decision to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.

The Jets have scored more than two goals in a single game just six times since January 1 (they've actually lost four of those games, for whatever that's worth) and are one of just two teams in the NHL that doesn't have a single player with at least 40 points this season (the Columbus Blue Jackets being the other). Blake Wheeler is currently leading the team with 38 points (10 goals, 28 assists). 

Following Tuesday's game in Winnipeg, Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun asked Ladd about the Jets needs as the trade deadline approaches, and the captain offered a little hint as to what he would like to see coming into the locker room.

“With the troubles we’ve had scoring, if it’s not going to come from within this room, we probably could use some help there,” said Ladd, via the Sun. "We’ve got a great goaltender, we’ve got D that can move the puck and play both ways.”

Obviously, it's a reasonable request from a player -- and the captain -- that's putting everything he has on the line every night and isn't ready to give up on the season.

But how much sense does it make from a front office standpoint to look for trade deadline rentals in what appears to be a rather thin market when it comes to goal-scorers? Especially for a team that still has a tough fight just to get into the playoffs.

The Jets are four points out of a playoff spot as of Wednesday, and even though that doesn't seem like a huge gap, it's not exactly promising, either. As we pointed out earlier on Wednesday, the Jets might need to finish somewhere in the neighborhood of 17-5-3 to reach the 95-point mark that it usually takes to make the playoffs. Is there a player (or players) available to them via trade that would give them enough offense to push a team that's won just seven of its past 20 games to that level? Rick Nash might be that sort of player. But is that a realistic target? Once you get past him you're looking at guys like Ales Hemsky and, well ... that's about it on this trade market when it comes to top-six forwards.

The only way a pre-deadline deal that has the Jets adding something to their NHL roster makes any sense is if it's a younger player that's under contract for future seasons and will be a long-term part of the team. A deadline rental that probably still won't be enough to reach even the No. 8 seed isn't what this team needs to be using its resources and assets on right now.

Latest NHL Trade Rumors and News

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 15, 2012 12:08 pm
Edited on: February 15, 2012 12:20 pm
 

A look at the NHL playoff bubble

Can the Islanders pull off a miracle run? (Getty Images)

Pucks and Numbers:
a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the playoff bubble and what the teams on it need to do to make the postseason


By: Adam Gretz

Recent hot streaks by the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning have sparked some playoff hope for their respective fan bases. On the other side, a recent slump that's come in the form of a 9-game losing streak has left some wondering if the Chicago Blackhawks could, amazingly, find themselves on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture when the regular season comes to a close.

Anything is possible, but even though there appears to be a large number of teams that are still "in" the playoff race, the harsh reality is that even a two or three-game deficit (four or six points in the standings) is a lot to overcome. It doesn't seem like it should be, but it is.

A couple of months ago I looked at how a slow start is extremely damaging to a teams playoff chances sooner than you might realize, and as the days of the regular season start to fall away those deficits become even more daunting. I mentioned on Twitter earlier this week that since the start of the '05-06 season there have only been two teams that managed to overcome a 5-point deficit this late in the season (the '06-07 Rangers and the '08-09 Blues) to qualify for the playoffs.

Ninety-five points is usually a safe bet to get your team into the playoffs, so with that in mind, let's take one more look at what each of the bubble teams will need to do over their remaining games to reach that level. Of course, it is possible for a team to make the playoffs with fewer than 95 points, and that may in fact happen this season, especially in the East, but I'm simply going with the number that tends to be a near automatic playoff berth.

Let's start with the Eastern Conference...

Eastern Conference Playoff Race
Seed Team Games Remaining Pts Needed Record Needed
7 Ottawa Senators 23 29 13-7-3
8 Toronto Maple Leafs 25 33 15-7-3
9 Washington Capitals 26 34 15-7-4
10 Winnipeg Jets 25 37 17-5-3
11 New York Islanders 26 39 17-4-5
12 Montreal Canadiens 25 40 18-3-4
13 Tampa Bay Lightning 26 41 18-3-5
14 Buffalo Sabres 26 41 18-3-5

Incredibly, Washington and Winnipeg still have an outside shot (at this point, a very outside shot) at winning the Southeast Division, which speaks more to the quality (or lack of it) of the division than anything else, but that hope of a Division title gets smaller with each loss. Once you get past Washington in the No. 9 spot the remaining teams have almost no margin for error.

The Canadiens? Better start praying. The Islanders, for example, have been playing some pretty great hockey recently, especially veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, but does anybody believe they have a 17-4-5 finish in them?

Even if it only took 90 points to reach the playoffs, they would still need a 15-7-4 finish.

Now, a look at the Western Conference...

Western Conference Playoff Race
Seed Team Games Remaining Pts Needed Record Needed
6 Chicago Blackhawks 25 30 15-10-0
7 Los Angeles Kings 25 30 15-10-0
8 Phoenix Coyotes 25 32 15-8-2
9 Calgary Flames 25 33 15-7-3
10 Colorado Avalanche 25 35 16-6-3
11 Dallas Stars 26 36 17-7-2
12 Minnesota Wild 26 37 17-6-3
13 Anaheim Ducks 26 40 20-6-0

When you look at in terms of how many games these teams need to win the rest of the way, the playoff races may not be as deep as they appear to be. When you get right down to it, there might only be four teams (Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Calgary) in the West fighting for three playoff spots.

Minnesota would need to play almost as well as it did in October through December to get back into the top-eight, which shows just how far that team fell over the past month-and-a-half. After 30 games the Wild had the best record in the league. Just 26 games later they're going to need to play like the best team in hockey for the remainder of the season just to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Bruce Boudreau has certainly helped get Anaheim going back in the right direction, but he's going to need to turn water into wine to get Anaheim, as well as its played in recent weeks, into the playofs this season.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 14, 2012 1:42 am
Edited on: February 14, 2012 1:55 am
 

A Caps goalie beaten from center ice ... again

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- The scouting report is out on the Washington Capitals. It doesn't matter which goalie is in net, just fire the puck from the red line. Chances are you are going to score.

For the second time in as many home losses -- 5-3 to the Sharks -- an opponent scored from center ice. Well that's not entirely accurate from Monday night, Dan Boyle's shot was deflected by Joe Pavelski around the blue line and bounced toward Braden Holtby, starting for the first time this season with Tomas Vokoun under the weather.

Holtby was left looking more like a first baseman picking a short hop than a goaltender.

"Just tried getting my stick out," Pavelski said. "You see it bouncing and you hope when you're that far away that something stupid happens."

Something stupid happened.

"I don't think I've ever been a part of anything like that," Boyle said. He's played in more than 900 NHL games so that's saying something.

"You could probably change a few things," Holtby said of the goal. "I'd probably liked to have been out further, but at that point I'm trying to make sure I'm in the right position, in case he rims it I [can] go and stop it. It happend pretty quickly to me, I wasn't expecting that so I'm not really sure what my positioning was."

It's just going that kind of way for the Caps right now.

Go back a few days when the Winnipeg Jets were at Verizon Center. They were trailing the Caps in the closing minutes 2-1. Just 12 seconds after scoring their first, Dustin Byfuglien hammered the puck into the offensive zone, only the puck went off Karl Alzner and Vokoun couldn't recover in time.

"I saw it, I was on the line. I can tell you, it's really hard for the goalies," Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. "It hit the guy's stick -- absolutely no chance for Vokey there. Absolutely no chance. I saw it. It's just bad luck, hit the guy's stick and goes straight to the net. Buff did a good job, shot the puck as hard as he can and the puck find a way."

That's two goalies. What about the third, backup Michal Neuvirth? Yes, he has been victimized in recent weeks by the red line shot, too.

His came in one of the month's critical matchups against the Florida Panthers and Mikael Samuelsson.

Three goalies, three red-line goals.

What do they say? Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend? Well we're not going to call this a trend. It's not like teams are going to begin launching shots from the red line all the time on the Caps. It's not exactly a fool-proof strategy.

But it has made the Caps goalies look a little like fools, even if they weren't the easiest saves in the world to be made.

More from Eye on Hockey

Is Caps' season slipping away?
Recap: Sharks 5, Capitals 3
NHL Trade Deadline rumor mill
NHL Playoff Race

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 13, 2012 1:10 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2012 1:16 pm
 

Goal differential and the Southeast Division

SoutheastBy: Adam Gretz

Even though there are still three teams fighting for the top spot in the Southeast Division (yes, Winnipeg is still "in it" … barely) it's probably the worst division in the NHL, and there is a very real possibility that only one team will represent it in the postseason.

None of the teams have done anything to separate themselves from the other, and the team currently occupying the top spot, Florida, has fewer points than five other potential playoff teams in the conference as of Monday.

Also of note: every team in the division, again as of Monday morning, is on the negative side when it comes to goal-differential, with every team, including the currently first-place Panthers, having been outscored by their opponents over the course of the season.

Florida is at minus-11, Washington at minus-2 and Winnipeg at minus-22.

Of course, this isn't a good thing because, as common sense should tell you, good teams tend to score more goals than their opponents. A lot more. Since the NHL went to the three division alignment in the 1998-99 season, the average division winner (72 of them) has finished the regular season with a goal-differential of plus-45. Thirty-two have been plus-50 or better.

As the numbers above show, all three teams in the Southeast this season would have a hell of a long way to go  and need quite a few blowout wins over the final 25-or-so regular season games to reach that average mark. The Capitals having to spend so much time this season without two of their best players, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, has certainly impacted their numbers and on-ice performance, and the season has seemed to really fly off the rails since Backstrom went down with his concussion, pretty much eliminating whatever center depth they had. Still, how much of a threat would any of these teams as currently constructed be in the playoffs?

No division winner over the past 12 years has finished the season with a negative mark, and only five have finished with a mark worse than plus-10. Since it seems entirely possible that the winner of this division is going to post one of the worst goal-differentials for a division winner in recent NHL history, let's take a look at how the division winners with the five worst goal-differentials over the past 12 years did in the playoffs.

Interestingly enough, four of them also called the Southeast Division home.

2001-02 Carolina Hurricanes: 217 goals for, 217 goals against (even)

The Hurricanes finished the regular season with 91 points, fewer than six of the seven other playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. Amazingly, the Hurricanes went on an improbable playoff run and ended up winning the East before losing to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. Perhaps showing that playoff run was a total fluke, the Hurricanes not only failed to make the playoffs the following season, they finished with the worst record in the league.

2006-07 Atlanta Thrashers: 246 goals for, 245 goals against (plus-1)

The only playoff experience in the Atlanta/Winnipeg existence, and it was a brutal one. The Thrashers not only failed to win a playoff game, they were outscored by the No. 6 seed New York Rangers by a 17-6 margin in the four games. Like the '01-02 Hurricanes, they failed to make the playoffs the following season, finishing with the third-worst record in the NHL.

2007-08 Minnesota Wild: 223 goals for, 218 goals against (plus-5)

Minnesota's last playoff team, the Wild narrowly edged the Colorado Avalanche for the top-spot in the Northwest Division and ended up facing off against their divisional rivals in the opening round of the playoffs. The Avs ended up taking the series in six games, owning a 17-12 edge on the scoreboard, with Minnesota's only two wins in the series coming in overtime, meaning they were just a couple of breaks or bounces away from being dismissed in four games. Minneosta hasn't been back to the playoffs since (and has a fight on its hands to get back in this season).

1998-99 Carolina Hurricanes: 210 goals for, 202 goals against (plus-8)

The worst playoff team in the Eastern Conference during this season, and not surprisingly, the only one from the Southeast Division. The Hurricanes finished the regular season with just 86 points in the standings, four fewer than any other Eastern Conference playoff team. The Bruins team they played in the first round, for example, finished the season with 91 points and had a goal-differential of plus-33. Not surprisingly, Boston won the series in six games and outscored the Hurricanes 16-10. Carolina followed this season up with a nearly identical 84-point campaign (with a plus-1 differential) in 1999-00 and missed the playoffs.

2002-03 Tampa Bay Lightning: 219 goals for, 210 goals against (plus-9)

After knocking off another Southeast team (Washington) in the first round, Tampa Bay dropped its second round series to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils in the second round. Tampa Bay came back the next season won the Stanley Cup.

Photo: Getty Images


For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 12, 2012 3:35 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2012 6:32 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Callahan, Rangers keep rolling

Callahan had four goals in the Blueshirts' two weekend wins. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

At this point I'm wondering what the New York Rangers have to do to convince everybody they are this good. I'm already there but I still find a lot of skeptics.

They do everything well enough. Some things they do exceptionally well, like stop pucks from going in the net. You can thank Henrik Lundqvist for that largely, but it's a team effort. There might not be a tougher team to get shots through the defensemen than the Rangers. They are physical, evidenced by their league high fighting majors. Now they are scoring just enough to support Lundqvist.

And they have passed pretty much every test thrown at them this season, including this weekend. Back-to-back against the Flyers and Capitals? No problem. They took all four points possible, including a fifth win in five chances against Philly on Saturday, 5-2 at Wells Fargo Center. That featured a Ryan Callahan hat trick.

Captain Cally kept it up with the first goal of the Blueshirts' 3-1 win on Sunday over the Caps. Go back to Thursday night win over the Lightning and that's five goals for Callahan in his last three games.

To give it a little more significance with a much larger sample size, Dave Lozo of NHL.com did some quick math today: using Callahan's last 113 games, he has averaged 32 goals per 82 games, a full season's worth. Not bad for a guy who has a career high of 23 set last season (which he is one away from breaking this season).

That doesn't even factor in the shots that he blocks. He is the epitome of John Tortorella's Rangers: hard-nosed, two-way player who will throw his body in front of anything and give the team all he has. Basically he has all the intangibles you love in a player while actually possessing many of the tangibles, too.

If you have any doubt, check out the goal he scored on Sunday. It was ugly but beautiful all at the same time.

At this point, the Rangers are atop the NHL standings in points (depending on Sunday's result in Detroit). Even if they aren't there at the end of the day, their points percentage is tops in the league. They have 77 points in 54 games, the Wings have played two more games (three more by the end of the night.

New York is actually pulling away from the rest of the East in the race for home-ice throughout the conference playoffs. They are up seven points now on the Boston Bruins.

The thing that gets me was on display this weekend. They have been just as good on the road as they have been at Madison Square Garden. They won both games this weekend despite one being in Philadelphia. Overall, they are 18-6-2 at MSG, 18-7-3 away from it. That's pretty remarkable. Winning on the road is crucial, especially when it comes to postseason success.

It all has people dreaming of the summer of 1994 again, another summer parade down Broadway.

Personally, I've run out of reasons to think it can't happen.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories
More Eye on Hockey

Blackhawks (falling) down

While they aren't pressing it yet, I get the sense that a lot of Blackhawks fans are digging through their things looking for that big red button. No, I don't mean the tchotchke Staples easy button.

With a sweep on their weekend visits to San Jose and Phoenix, including a 3-0 blanking by the Coyotes on Saturday night, the Blackhawks have lost eight consecutive games. Eight! They have earned just one of the last 16 points available.

Their place in the Central Division race is all but gone. They trail the division-leading Red Wings by 11 points. With two teams in between them (the Blues and Predators) the hope of winning the division is all but gone, especially with the Wings not leaving Detroit often for the rest of the season.

More importantly, they have to watch their playoff spot. With the loss to Phoenix, the 'Hawks are only three points up on eighth place, five ahead of ninth-place Calgary. And that could diminish further as the Blackhawks still have three more games on this extended road trip.

Playing a little game I'll call fun with Twitter, the Eye on Hockey account (follow it here!) asked if this was the bottom for the Blackhawks, if they had really hit the floor yet. One fan -- @therudeinshrewd -- didn't think so. "No, something tells me the #blackhawks haven't bottomed out yet. i think the road trip will be winless. THAT will be bottom."

It's gotten to the point that Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times is wondering if coach Joel Quenneville's seat isn't hot. The defense has some serious issues, coming in 27th in the league in goals against per game with an even 3.00. Their goal differential is down to plus-3 thanks to their high goals for (174 to 171).

This can't be too far from the bottom you'd figure with a team that has this type of talent, but it's getting close to desperate in Chicago.

Just give him the Hart

Evgeni Malkin has been absurd -- in a good way -- for the Pittsburgh Penguins, especially in the past two months.

For the third time since Dec. 17, Geno had himself a five-point game this weekend in Pittsburgh's 8 -5 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. Unlike the previous two five-pointers, this one didn't come with a hat trick. He was in a much more giving mood this time scoring a goal with four assists.

The outburst gave him a little separation from the points pack as he moved five up on Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux with 67.

But considering the injuries the Penguins are dealing with again this season and their position of still being solidly in the East's playoff picture, Malkin is separating himself from the rest of the Hart candidates, too. Barring injury, it seems a safe bet that he'll take the "MVP" award home -- unless the aforementioned Lundqvist doesn't take it.

While we're at it ...

Might as well just hand Stamkos the Richard Trophy now too.

Scoring is down in the NHL, colleague Adam Gretz explained that in his most recent edition of Pucks & Numbers (a must-read weekly piece, hockey fans), yet Stamkos isn't stopping.

The 22-year-old is now up to 37 on the season after potting one in a 2-1 Lightning win in Buffalo on Saturday. That puts him seven ahead of Malkin and Phil Kessel in the goals department, a very comfortable lead with less than 30 games to go.

Like Malkin and the Hart, it's really hard to imagine at this point that Stamkos won't win the Richard barring injury.

Goals not so plentiful here

The Los Angeles Kings might be solely responsible for bringing down the league's scoring total mentioned above. Even with the coaching change from Terry Murray to Darryl Sutter, the Kings are still at the bottom of the league in that category, averaging just 2.07 goals per game.

That ineptitude was on display at the Islanders on Saturday. For the second straight game on their current road trip the Kings scored only one goal. The good news for them is that the Islanders only scored one goal in the first 60 minutes too before winning it in OT. So at least the Kings got a point.

But when you are fighting hard for a playoff berth in the Western Conference, scoring one goal in games isn't going to help you get to your end. The Kings are right now holding onto the seventh spot in the West after their league-high (tied with Florida and Carolina) 11th OT loss this season. Those extra points will be awfully important at season's end.

You have to think the Kings will be one of the more aggressive teams in the hunt for that elusive scoring forward at the trade deadline.

Quote of the weekend

For the visually/audio impaired ...

"I'm a little disappointed at the effort, the emotional level, a top team in the conference and league and to be honest. We got half the guys going and half not.

"That was my opinion. You might see differently, but that is what I saw. It’s a big game for us and I was expecting more. It was tight game, they got three power play goals, we didn’t score any.

"They play the same way every night. There's no surprises and if there is a breakdown their goalie makes the save and they block a ton of shots. Somehow they get the job done. They work hard. They play the same system every night and their goal plays really well every night.

"You have to bring it every night. I don't care who you are ... Every game matters. You have to bring it!"

-- Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen (from CSN Philly) on Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Rangers.

Sounds like those five losses to the Rangers this season (seven in a row) are really starting to take their toll.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com