Sidney Crosby joins Thrashers Ondrej Pavelec and Dustin Byfuglien as NHL’s three stars of the week

Beyond being a nice achievement for a small sample of games, the NHL’s weekly three stars awards can be a solid snapshot for teams (and most specifically players) who are hot at the moment.

Perhaps it makes sense, then, that two of the hottest teams in the East are represented (and before you shout “East Coast bias!” last week featured a West-only group including Rick Nash): the Pittsburgh Penguins and Atlanta Thrashers. The Penguins – represented by Sidney Crosby – are on a six game winning streak while the Thrashers (represented by Ondrej Pavelec and Dustin Byfuglien) have won five in a row themselves.

So let’s take a look at the weeks enjoyed by those three players, with blurbs from the league’s press release along with observations of our own.

1. Pavelec

If you want to be inspired, just look at Pavelec: the young goalie went from that frightening incident in which he suffered a concussion after collapsing during his team’s opening night game to becoming one of the hottest goalies in the NHL.

Pavelec stopped 97 of 99 shots in backstopping the Thrashers (12-9-3) to three consecutive home victories as the Southeast Division’s hottest club extended its winning streak to five games. Pavelec began the week by turning aside 32 of 33 shots in a 5-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 24. He made 25 saves for his fourth career NHL shutout as the Thrashers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Nov. 26 and posted a season-high 40 saves in a 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins Nov. 28.

He’s only allowed three goals during Atlanta’s five game winning streak, including two shutouts. Yup, that sounds like number one star of the week material to me.

2. Byfuglien

When the Thrashers traded for Byfuglien, it seemed like a desperate (perhaps loyalty/familiarity-based) decision made on a player whose focus seemed scattered at best. Now, the only real question about the forward-defenseman hybrid is if this is happening mainly because he has the monetary motivation of a contract year.

You’d have to be virulently anti-Byfuglien to question his legitimacy at this point, as he scored nine goals and 16 assists for 25 points in 24 games this season … as defenseman, by the way.

Byfuglien played a key role in the Thrashers’ surge last week by leading all defensemen in scoring with six points (two goals, four assists), including his League-leading fifth game-winning goal of the season.

The highlight of his week was a one goal, three assist performance on Sunday against the Boston Bruins.

3. Crosby

Say what you will about Crosby, he (along with his media counterpoint Alex Ovechkin) tends to deliver under intense pressure and scrutiny. His 40 points in 25 games averages out to a rate of 1.60 points per game. If he keeps up that 131-point pace, he’ll put together the best point scoring season of his already impressive NHL career. (His career high is 120 in 79 games played, a 1.52 ppg rate.)

Crosby climbed to first place in the NHL scoring race by recording seven points (four goals, three assists), helping the Penguins (15-8-2) post four consecutive victories and close within two points of first-place Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division.

Ovechkin shrugs off Caps’ Game 1 loss in very Ovechkin way

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You know, it happens. Maybe not always in those exact words.

The Washington Capitals carried the play during portions of their 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and even down 1-0 in the series, just about every player seemed happy with their overall game.

(Granted, Braden Holtby picked apart two of the three goals he allowed, and so on.)

Still, Alex Ovechkin shrugged off the disappointment in a way that wasn’t quite Rated R, but probably ranks in the PG-13 range:

The penalty element is interesting, though.

When asked after the loss about the lack of power plays, Matt Niskanen merely offered a “no comment.”

The Penguins experienced some sprawling moments, yet they avoided taking a penalty each time. Often, when a team carries long sequences of play, they’ll go on the PP (especially with home-ice advantage) … but not the Capitals in Game 1.

via Natural Stat Trick

It’s a situation to watch as the Capitals hope to even the series against the Penguins with Game 2 coming on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. (You can watch online, via the NBC Sports App and follow the livestream here).

Holtby takes blame for two big goals in Caps’ loss to Pens

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It’s just about a consensus that the Washington Capitals believed that they generally played a strong game despite falling 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Braden Holtby‘s teammates likely wouldn’t agree with his assessment that the Game 1 loss is on his shoulders, but the perennial Vezina candidate took the blame for Sidney Crosby‘s first goal of the night and Nick Bonino‘s game-winner.

Noting that the Penguins are a dangerous rush team – making them a different threat than the Toronto Maple Leafs – Holtby believes that he should have had his glove in position to stop the 1-0 goal. He said he’s capable of making such a stop and “will next time.” Check out Crosby’s two goals below, with Holtby having a beef with the first one:

It’s really difficult to place too much blame on Holtby for giving up Nick Bonino’s game-winner, as it seemed like a great rush play that few goalies would be able to stop.

Judge for yourself in the highlights:

The Penguins were ultimately able to take a 1-0 series lead, but the Capitals seem capable of shrugging off questions about frustrations, even with naysayers starting to gain confidence in claiming that there will be more than the same.

If Washington’s going to get over this big hurdle, Holtby is likely to be a big part in doing so.

Fleury, Penguins hang on for Game 1 win against Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a 3-2 Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals, but Thursday’s thriller probably prompted a sigh of relief.

(Washington, meanwhile, might have uttered a sigh at such unpleasantly familiar feelings.)

The first period ended 0-0 in part thanks to Jake Guentzel‘s sprawling “kick save.” Business really picked up in the second after Sidney Crosby raced off to two quick goals, only for Alex Ovechkin to give Washington a shot thanks to a booming goal and some physical play.

It sure felt like this one might head to overtime, especially after Evgeny Kuznetsov was tying things up and flapping his arms like wings. That was not to be, however, as Nick Bonino took advantage of a pretty area pass to beat Braden Holtby for the decisive tally.

Now, it was only decisive because Marc-Andre Fleury was at the top of his game. Oh, and also because the Penguins did a collective Guentzel impression in frantically denying a tying tally.

Makes you want to wipe some sweat from your brow, eh?

The Capitals dominated by just about every statistical measure … except, of course, goals on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh will gladly take that 1-0 series lead, then.

Expect a desperate Washington team in Game 2, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

Karlsson makes difference for Senators vs. Lundqvist, Rangers

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Swedish superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson were both stupendous in Game 1 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

Still, it was Karlsson’s game-winning goal (from a seemingly impossible angle) against Lundqvist that made the difference as the Senators beat the Rangers 2-1 on Thursday. With that, the Senators are up 1-0 in the series.

That Karlsson goal really deserves a special look.

Whether you blame that 2-1 tally on Lundqvist or not, the Rangers would be foolish to do anything but praise their red-hot franchise goalie. He stopped all 21 Senators shots in the first period and ultimately made 41 out of 43 stops in defeat.

Craig Anderson was strong in his own right, mind you, stopping 34 out of 35 shots (including all 28 at even-strength) to help Ottawa take that tight contest.

Anderson’s strong play highlights the fact that Rangers – Senators doesn’t merely come down to Lundqvist vs. Karlsson … but even so, both Swedish superstars really did stand out in this one.

Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream link.