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Tag:Winnipeg Jets
Posted on: February 12, 2012 12:18 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2012 12:21 pm
 

The value of Jordan Staal



By: Adam Gretz


The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to get one of their injured centers back this weekend, and while Jordan Staal's absence didn't have quite the same impact, intrigue or uncertainty of his teammate, Sidney Crosby, that doesn't take away from how important he has been on the ice for Pittsburgh, or how important his return to the lineup will be going forward.

Over the past month, since Staal was injured in a game against the New York Rangers during a colission with Mike Rupp, the Penguins were getting by with Evgeni Malkin carrying the load at center, and what was basically a patchwork group at the position behind him, a situation that has become all too familiar for a team that is built on the strength of its centers (when all are healthy) over the past two seasons.

That resulted in Malkin seeing a lot of assignments against other teams top lines and, honestly, required his line (along with James Neal and Chris Kunitz) to provide almost all of the offense. With Staal back, the Penguins once again have the player in their lineup that does a lot of their heavy lifting when it comes to drawing the toughest assignments, which can possibly help to free up Malkin's line even more and take some of the pressure off of them.

"Especially on the road there have been situations where it's been head-to-head for Malkin with the other teams top line," said coach Dan Bylsma before Pittsburgh's 8-5 run-and-gun win against Winnipeg on Saturday.

"Now with Jordan in the mix and his line, especially with [Matt] Cooke and [Pascal] Dupuis getting the opportunity to match up against other teams top lines, for the most part, it will free up Evgeni a little bit. Also, I think it's a tough matchup against Jordan as well, which can lead to situations where it might be advantageous to get Malkin's line up against different pairings and different people. Jordan brings a lot in that regard, he's going to be bring a big responsibility against the other teams top line, and it should be helpful in the match-ups and situations Geno's line can find themselves in."

And that's the beauty of Staal's role.

If you look back at his career with the Penguins, especially over the past three years, he's always been the center -- even when you include Crosby and Malkin -- that seems to draw the toughest matchups (using Behindthenet's Corsi Relative Quality of Competition), and this season has been no different. Even though he typically draws the most difficult assignments on the team, his line usually ends up coming away with the upper hand, not only in terms of goals for/goals against, but also in terms of controlling possession of the puck and keeping it in the offensive zone.

Looking at something as simple as On-Ice Corsi, which is simply the total shot-differential (goals, saves, missed shots, blocked shots during 5-on-5 play -- it's basically a way of measuring puck possession and offensive zone time) when a player is on the ice, Staal entered the weekend third in the NHL among players that have played at least 30 games this season, and he's been a positive player in that area in each of the past four seasons. And he's been able to do that while playing against top competition and starting a large percentage of his shifts in the defensive end of the rink.

In other words: When Staal's line is on the ice, the Penguins are keeping the other teams best players bottled up in their own end, which is a pretty good way of making sure they're being shut down. That's an extremely valuable role, and it's one that Staal has excelled in. He's become a big-time player, even though he's never been one that puts up huge numbers offensively.

His return to the lineup gives the Penguins another top-center to pair up with their MVP contender (Malkin) which could make them one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference come playoff time, even if they don't get Crosby back anytime soon.

(Corsi and Quality of Competition data via BehindTheNet.ca)

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
 

Weekend Preview: Jets look to carry 'mo' to Pitt

Winnipeg is only three points behind Florida and Washington in the Southeast. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Weekend Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

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.

Chicago blues

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.

Mr. 1,000

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."

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

Posted on: February 9, 2012 10:37 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2012 11:03 pm
 

Jets finally find luck on Byfuglien goal in win

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- The Winnipeg Jets were pretty much left for dead. Down 2-0 with three minutes to play and unable to solve Tomas Vokoun of the Capitals, it appeared a huge four-point swing wasn't going to be in their favor.

Then a funny thing happened. A couple of funny things actually.

With some shall I say fortunate breaks going their way in terms of officiating, the Jets found themselves with almost a minute of 5-on-3. With so little time left, coach Claude Noel elected to make it 6-on-3, pulling Ondrej Pavelec to the bench. The Jets then broke through with an Evander Kane rebound goal. It snapped Vokoun's scoreless streak of more than 130 minutes. More importantly it pulled the Jets within one, a whole new game as they like to say.

The the really funny thing happened. Still on the power play, Dustin Byfuglien stepped to center ice and hammered the puck into the zone. Instead of going to the right of the net where Vokoun was sliding, it deflected of Karl Alzner's stick and shot straight for the cage. It went in and the game was tied, just 12 seconds after the Jets had finally scored one they had scored two.

"I wouldn't say it was the way it was scripted," Noel said.

Talk about a good bounce.

"Oh I definitely think so," Byfuglien said when asked if the team was due for a break. "What a team always needs is some good luck and some bounces. I thought we've worked hard lately. We got a nice bounce, luckily we got it tonight."

"A little bit of a fortunate play, that was ... I saw the whole thing. It hit the stick. I didn't realize that it took a little bounce over his pads," Noel said. "We were a little bit fortunate on a play like that but we haven't had a lot of luck lately, we haven't been that fortunate. So for us we'll take that and we'll run with it."

Alzner meanwhile didn't have a lot to say. It was just one of those "hockey plays," as Caps coach Dale Hunter put it.

"There’s really nothing," Alzner said. "If I get out of the way earlier than that he just skates in. If I try and block the dump in who knows what happens? Just one of those that caught Vokey trying to stop the dump in so we could turn it up and [he was] a little bit out of the net."

Perhaps the best view of the play came from Pavelec, the compatriot of Vokoun on the opposite end of the ice. He wasn't going to feel too bad for Vokoun, but you could tell he did have a slight bit of compassion for a fellow netminder.

"I saw it, I was on the line. I can tell you, it's really hard for the goalies," 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."

The swing in the division was huge. The Jets would go on to win the shootout and take a critical two points from the Caps. The only downside is the Caps got one point. But it sure beats the alternatives of no points at all.

"A team like Washington, they're up four points on us with three games in hand," Kane said. "I think it was really big that we made sure we tied that game up and grabbed the extra point to move a little bit closer to them."

It certainly can prove to be a springboard win for Winnipeg, still hanging around in the Southeast race.

"We'll take them any way we can get them," a Jets executive said to me. Just as Rihanna's song that was blasting in the joyous locker room was saying, I'll drink to that.

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

Posted on: February 4, 2012 9:57 am
Edited on: February 4, 2012 9:25 pm
 

The Scott Gomez goal slump: by the numbers

By: Adam Gretz

At no point in his career has Scott Gomez ever been considered to be a great goal-scorer. Even when he was at his peak, playing his best hockey, he was always more of a playmaking center and a set-up man, having reached the 20-goal mark just once in his 11-year career, scoring 33 during the 2005-06 season as a member of the New Jersey Devils.

Still, he's never gone through a goal slump like the one he's been on dating back to last season, having not found the back of the net since Feb. 5, 2011, against the New York Rangers when he beat backup goaltender Martin Biron. He enters Sunday's game against Winnipeg having gone a full calender year without a goal (some fans already have a celebration planned), which almost seems impossible for any player in the NHL, especially one that has a pretty solid amount of talent like Gomez does. And one that is the 18th highest paid player in the NHL this season in terms of salary ($7.5 million) ... and carries the 11th largest salary cap hit ($7.3 million). But here we are, at the point where high expectations, an angry fan base, a struggling player and even a little bit of bad luck all meet at the same place.

That place is called Scott Gomez.

What has to make it even more frustrating for Canadiens fans is that along with the lack of production and huge salary is the fact the team also gave up defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the trade that brought Gomez to Montreal in the June, 2009 trade. McDonagh, of course, has since gone on to become one of the NHL's top shutdown defensive defenseman at the age of 22 and is playing a huge role for the first-place Rangers.

Canadiens fans have, naturally, grown frustrated, and even started to write parody songs, including this one titled, "Scott Gomez Can't Put Anything In."



Just how long has it been, including the playoffs, since Gomez last scored a goal? Some numbers.

58: The number of games Gomez has appeared in for the Canadiens, including 22 this season.

1,277: The number of shifts Gomez has skated since his last goal.

122: The number of shots on goal Gomez has recorded during his slump. This really makes it amazing. You would have to think that in 122 shots an NHL player, any NHL player, pick one at random, would score at least one goal, even by accident. Look at it another way: there are 93 players in the NHL this season with at least 120 shots on goal. Those 93 players have scored an average of 15 goals. Only 17 of them have scored fewer than 10, and 12 of them are defensemen. If he had maintained his career average shooting percentage of 7.8 percent during that stretch he would have scored eight goals. A player that shot at the league average mark of nine percent would have scored 10 goals.

22: The number of assists Gomez has been credited with during his goal drought, which would put him on a pace for 31 over the course of an 82-game season. It's also the exact number he recorded last season in 80 games.

Again, there is no doubt that Gomez is no longer the player he was seven or eight years ago, and there have been some injuries during this run, but there also has to be some bad luck, too, to keep him from scoring even a single goal over this rough stretch.

He's going to score again. He almost has to.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 2, 2012 10:45 pm
Edited on: February 2, 2012 10:48 pm
 

Winnipeg is still in the playoff race

ByfuglienBy: Adam Gretz

Believe it or not, but the possibility of the Winnipeg whiteout making a return to the NHL playoffs this spring is still alive. For now.

Including their 2-1 overtime win in Tampa Bay on Thursday night, the Jets have won just five games since Jan. 1 and for the season have earned just 54 points in the standings, a total that only 10 teams in the league have yet to reach. The amazing thing about that is following their win on Thursday they are just three points out of the top spot in the Southeast Division and what would be a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference due to the current NHL playoff format.

The Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers have been involved in a back-and-forth race since the start of the season, and on any given night either one of them is in a position to drop from third place to ninth place, as was the case following Wednesday's game in Florida, a game the Panthers won by a 4-2 margin and went from being on the outside of the playoff picture to one of the top spots in the conference.

All of the attention has focussed on them, but quietly -- very quietly, as it turns out -- the Jets have found a way to, shockingly, hang around in the race.

Of course, while the Jets trail the Capitals by just two points and the currently first-place Panthers by three, it needs to be pointed out that those two teams both have games in hand on the Jets. Florida has played three fewer games than Winnipeg, while Washington has played two fewer, so there is an opportunity for them to increase their leads as the schedule balances out. But the Jets are also going to have their own opportunity to continue to close in on them with six games remaining against their divisional rivals, including Friday night in Florida, a game that suddenly has some significance when it comes to the playoff race.

The Jets aren't playing great hockey, but the Panthers and Capitals haven't done anything to run away with the division. Florida has lost 14 of its past 21 games and Washington's offense has all but disappeared since replacing Bruce Boudreau with Dale Hunter.

There is a good chance the division will provide just one playoff team this year, and right now it's a pretty wide open race. The geography and travel may be an issue for the Jets having to play in the Southeast, but the overall mediocrity of it has also given them an increased opportunity to actually make the postseason, something that probably wouldn't exist in any other division.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 26, 2012 7:45 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 7:45 pm
 

NHL playoff race at the All-Star break

NHLPlayoffRaceAllStarBreakBy: Adam Gretz

Back in December I looked at the teams you could probably consider as being out of the playoff race at that point in the season, and how difficult it would be to overcome a slow start, even a quarter of the way through the schedule. Obviously, as you get deeper into the season teams that are on the outside of the playoff picture have an even more difficult time climbing back into it. Those points are tough to make up, and by the time you reach this point in the season you start to get an idea as to which teams are good, and which teams are not.

As we head into the All-Star break this weekend, we're a just passed the halfway point in the season, and in the Eastern Conference there are probably only two teams that currently sit outside of the top-eight that can still be considered to be in the playoff face: Toronto and Winnipeg.

The Maple Leafs are currently in a three-way tie with New Jersey and Florida with 55 points, but lose out on a tiebreaker. The Jets are barely holding on to their slim postseason hopes, trailing both the No. 8 seed, as well as the top spot in the Southeast Division, by five points.

The other teams in the East? See you guys next season.

The Western Conference has a few more teams still in contention as Colorado, Dallas, Calgary and Phoenix are all within three points of the current No. 8 seed, the Minnesota Wild. But even though some of those teams are still within striking distance, the bottom of the playoff picture in the west has a logjob of six teams (Los Angeles, Minnesota, and the four teams mentioned above) fighting for just two spots.

It's not just the fact you have to make up the points, but that you also have to jump over a number of teams, as well.

To get an idea as to how difficult a point deficit of even three or four points is to overcome at this point in the season, I went back over the standings at the past three All-Star breaks (not counting the 2010 season, as there was no All-Star game that year due to the Olympics). Of the 48 teams that held a top-eight spot at that point in the season, 40 of them went on to make the playoffs.

Of the eight teams that worked their way into a playoff spot over the remainder of the season, only two of them overcome a deficit of more than two points -- the 2010-11 Sabres, which overcame a six-point deficit, and the 2008-09 St. Louis Blues, a team that was nine points out at the break. Four teams overcame one point deficits, and two overcome two point deficits.

The race in the east this season has a pretty similar look when compared to last season's, not because of the teams involved, but in the sense that we have a pretty good idea as to which teams are going to represent the conference. Last year the Atlanta Thrashers held the No. 8 spot at the break (yeah, they had a great first half) but were replaced by the Sabres by the end of the season.

The Western Conference is a little bit cleaner this season, as last year's playoff race at the break had every team with the exception of the Edmonton Oilers within at least five points of a playoff spot. The Sharks and Kings, both one point out at the break, ended up making the playoffs, while the Dallas Stars let a six-point lead in the Pacific Division at the break slip away by losing 20 of their final 32 games.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 21, 2012 2:23 pm
Edited on: January 21, 2012 2:56 pm
 

Evander Kane has a concussion

By: Adam Gretz

The NHL's concussion list continued to grow on Saturday with the news that Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane will be sidelined with a concussion, according to head coach Claude Noel.

The injury supposedly happened at some point during the Jets' 4-1 win over the Sabres on Thursday, but it's not known at what point in the game it occurred. Obviously, he's not going to play on Saturday night when the Jets host the Florida Panthers.

If he misses an extended period of time it's going to be a big blow to a Winnipeg team that is not only still fighting for a playoff spot, entering the weekend in the No. 10 spot, but also, surprisingly, still has an outside shot at winning the Southeast Division at the present time, trailing the Panthers and Washington Capitals by just three points. If the Jets are able to beat the Panthers on Saturday, they will move to within one point of the top spot in the division.

In 46 games this season Kane leads the Jets with 18 goals, and his 31 points are second on the team trailing only Blake Wheeler's 33.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 15, 2012 4:06 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2012 5:24 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Do you believe in the Sens?

By Brian Stubits

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.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories

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

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