Elliott back in net for Senators as carousel continues

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Elliott.jpgThe Ottawa Senators have some issues. For a team that sat in third
place in the East coming out of the Olympic Break, they’re certainly
facing a series of problems that proves just how improbable it was they
were winning so much. Ottawa cannot score (three goals in three games)
and the goaltending is becoming a bit of a concern.

Pascal
Leclaire, who was so good for the Columbus Blue Jackets just two years
ago is having an extremely sub-par season this year. The Senators
starter for much of the season, Brian Elliott, won nine straight games
in January and February but has allowed 15 goals in his last four
starts.

Neither goaltender has been able to stay in net for very
long, with both being pulled once in the past three games for the
Senators; Leclaire especially has struggled, allowed two goals on five
shots in the first six minutes against Carolina before being pulled.

So
now we have a team with aspirations of going deep into the playoffs,
yet cannot figure out just what the heck to do in net. Forget about the
Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Capitals issues in net; they have
the offense to cover up for goaltending mistakes on most nights. The
Senators have no such luck: their offense is certainly not horrible but
nowhere near the powerhouses those two teams possess.

The Senators
are now switching back and forth between goaltenders, with Elliott
starting tonight against Edmonton
despite Leclaire actually putting a
decent game together in his last outing. But the team is struggling and
sliding down the standings and they need to find some combination in net
that can be relied upon. Elliott certainly has shown to be the better
option for most of the season, but he’s struggled lately.

Copper & Blue breaks it down further, and says it’s much more than just an issue with the goaltending:

Even though they are mired in goaltending problems, Ottawa has other
troubles.  Ottawa’s big money players are facing the tough minutes and
being slightly outshot and outscored at even strength.  The bottom of
their lineup is outshooting the opponents, and except for Nick Foligno’s
outstanding goalie luck, being outscored at even strength.

Silver Seven blames Spezza a bit as the article said “Spezza’s game
seemed to decline until fairly recently, when he finally realized he
could shoot the puck.”
but in reality the Senators are flawed from
top-to-bottom.  The goaltending is bad, the defense is thin and
the best forwards on the team can’t handle tough minutes, even in the
East.

The
Senators will play both goaltenders on their current three-game road
trip. So much for stability in net headed into the playoffs.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.