Tuesday night seemed like a day in which “the establishment” put down a few puck-based insurgencies. The Boston Bruins won their second game a row against their biggest bubble threat, the Ottawa Senators widened what was once a shrinking lead for fifth place in the East and the San Jose Sharks seemed to reestablish reason by taking back the Pacific.
First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference scenario (apologies for my lack of technical grace):
Boston 4, Atlanta 0
The bad news for Atlanta and the other East underdogs is that Boston keeps moving away from that pack. The Thrashers might actually want to cast their net wider, now, because Philadelphia or Montreal might end up being easier targets than the Bruins. Could one of Boston, Montreal or Philadelphia falter enough to allow the Thrashers to sneak into the post-season?
Ottawa 2, Philadelphia 0
The Senators outlasted the Flyers in a notably rugged affair last night. So far Ottawa looks like they are in the driver’s seat to take the fifth spot, which is essentially turning into the right to play whomever turns up second in the Atlantic division. (Then again, I might prefer to test my luck against Buffalo than take on either Pittsburgh or New Jersey. That’s just me, though.)
New Jersey 6, Columbus 3
The Devils are once again positioned nicely for an Atlantic division title. They simply keep doing things their way. It might not always be sexy, but it works exceptionally well.
Western Conference scenario
Chicago 2, Phoenix 0
The Blackhawks grabbed a nice hold of first place in the Conference while Phoenix relinquished their Pacific division lead to the Sharks. Some might wonder if Antti Niemi is “the answer” in net for Chicago after a performance like this.
San Jose 4, Minnesota 1
The Sharks took advantage of lowly Minnesota to re-gain their lead in the division. Can they hold off the hungry Coyotes?
Calgary 3, Anaheim 1
The Flames’ playoff hopes are dwindling right now, but they’re still making things stressful for Detroit by keeping up a steady pace. They need to finish the season strong to make the playoffs, though, there’s no doubt about that.
With the start of the regular season just around the corner, it looks like Robby Fabbri will not only make his NHL debut on Thursday, but also get meaningful minutes.
During Sunday’s practice the 19-year-old forward played alongside Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz. Nothing is set in stone, but that combination did gel.
“I think we want to look at what the combinations look like now rather than do it at the start of the season,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re looking at a hard match line and we’re also looking at taking advantage of speed and skill off the rush.
“I really liked what I saw today. I really liked Lehtera’s line, they looked very dynamic off the rush.”
The top line of Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, and Vladimir Tarasenko seems like a good bet to play together for the time being. Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz will stick together on the second line while Dmitrij Jaskin and David Backes can expect to be regular partners on the third unit. The X-factors will be Fabbri and Troy Brouwer as Hitchcock has left the door open to alternating between the two of them on the second and third line depending on the opponent.
Fabbri was taken with the 21st overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and is looking to make the leap after a brief stint in the AHL last season. At the OHL level, he’s been a dominate force with the Guelph Storm, scoring 25 goals and 51 points in 30 games in 2014-15.
Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.
Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.
“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.
The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.
Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.