All of a sudden, the Pittsburgh Penguins are only two points – both overtime or shootout loss related – behind the Atlantic Division leading Philadelphia Flyers (more on them later).
If you can attribute the six game winning streak to two players, it would be Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury, the latter player getting this afternoon’s game off in favor of efficient backup Brent Johnson. Crosby scored a hat trick in today’s game against the Calgary Flames, which moves his 2010-11 goal total to 18 and gives him the league lead in points with 40. (Steve Stamkos is now in second with 38, but he plays tonight against the Florida Panthers and also has two games in hand.)
Pittsburgh 4, Calgary 1
Crosby is currently on one of the best runs of his already impressive six year career. He scored at least a single point in the last 12 games, scoring 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in that amazing span.
Fleury and Crosby aren’t the only stars who are shining in Pittsburgh, though. Kris Letang ranks among the highest scoring defenseman in the league as he added three assists to bring his season total to 22 points (four goals, 18 assists). That’s nearly identical to Evgeni Malkin’s season so far (eight goals, 14 assists).
Johnson also had a nice game in relief of Fleury. He stopped 30 out of 31 shots for his seventh win in 10 games played. He’s only allowed 20 goals in 10 appearances this season.
Meanwhile, the best player on the ice for the Flames was probably Miikka Kiprusoff. He didn’t get to sweep his Pennsylvania opponents this weekend, but he did stop 39 out of 42 shots against the Penguins.
Rene Bourque is another strong performer this season for Calgary, as he scored the lone Flames goal to push his season total to 11.
So the Penguins find themselves only two points behind the Flyers in the Atlantic while the Flames are the second worst team in the West, only in front of the lowly Edmonton Oilers.
Overall this season the New York Islanders have really struggled away from the Barclays Center, a point of concern when you consider how many road games they have down the stretch as they try to overcome their miserable start to climb back into the playoffs.
Their current nine-game road trip is off to a promising start with wins in the first two games, including a 3-0 shutout win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night to improve their record to 12-4-2 under new coach Doug Weight.
The Islanders received goals from Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee and John Tavares in the win, while Thomas Greiss stopped all 24 shots he faced to record his third shutout of the season.
With the win the Islanders hold sole possession of the second wild card spot in the East for the time being, two points ahead of Florida and Boston (the Bruins are in action right now) and continue their stunning second half turnaround.
But while things are going great for the Islanders right now, the struggles in Montreal continue.
With their loss on Thursday they failed to put any extra distance between themselves and the rest of the Atlantic Division that has suddenly closed the gap on them. They remain just two points up on Ottawa and only four points ahead of Toronto. The loss also continues what has been a particularly brutal stretch over the past couple of months that has seen the team win just seven of its past 20 games.
It’s probably too early to start fully panicking in Montreal, but given the way the end of last season went this can’t be a promising development for Canadiens fans.
After taking just four shifts in in the first period of Thursday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson had to leave Thursday’s game with an unspecified injury.
The Blackhawks did not offer any update on what forced Hjalmarsson out of the game, only to say he would be out for the remainder of the evening.
Fortunately for the Blackhawks they dressed seven defensemen for the game when Michal Rozsival drew back into the lineup, so they still have a full lineup of defenders to finish the game. Surprisingly, Rozsival scored his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period, breaking what had been a 3-3 tie following a wild first period that saw the teams combine for six goals.
In 59 games this season Hjalmarsson had five goals and nine assists while playing more than 20 minutes per night, mostly on a pairing with Duncan Keith.
The first period of Thursday’s Blackhawks-Coyotes game had just a little bit of excitement as the two teams combined for six goals, including two by the Coyotes in the final three minutes of the period to erase what had been a two-goal deficit.
All of the action started just 37 seconds into the game when Nick Schmaltz, playing on his 21st birthday, scored his sixth goal of the season (shown above) on a feed from a still white hot Jonathan Toews.
Seven minutes later, Coyotes rookie defenseman Jakob Chychrun scored his second goal in his as many games to get things even at one.
That is when the chaos started to break out. The Blackhawks quickly struck for two more goals when Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane scored six minutes apart to give the Blackhawks what would end up being a very short-lived 3-1 lead. Just one minute after Kane’s goal Ryan White netted his seventh of the season to bring the Coyotes back to within one, a goal that was followed by Radim Vrbata‘s 13th of the season just one minute after that.
Here are the two Coyotes goals that tied it.
Chicago came into the game on Thursday on a goal scoring tear, scoring at least four goals in seven of their past eight games. They are off to a great start when it comes to reaching that mark again on Thursday.
Trouble is, they can not seem to keep the puck out of their net on Thursday.
Winners of seven of their past eight, the Chicago Blackhawks are back home on Thursday night to take on the Arizona Coyotes.
The Blackhawks have been on a roll lately, especially offensively, scoring 34 goals in their past eight games. They have scored at least four goals in seven of those games. Captain Jonathan Toews has been doing a lot of the work offensively lately and is having a huge second half after a disappointing start to the season offensively.
On Thursday they host a Coyotes team that has shown a lot of improvement in recent weeks, putting together an 8-4-1 record since Jan. 20.
Puck drop for Thursday is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET and you can catch all off the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.
Click here for the Live Stream
Preview: Jonathan Toews looks to stay hot against Coyotes