Ondrej Pavelec

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.

Game on: Penguins even series with rival Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins will head back home with a split of their second-round series with the rival Washington Capitals.

Former Capitals forward Eric Fehr came back to burn his hold team, as he scored with under five minutes remaining in regulation to help lift the Penguins over Washington with a 2-1 victory in an eventful Game 2 on Saturday. Evgeni Malkin threw the puck toward the net and Fehr was able to re-direct it by Braden Holtby.

Oh, this was an eventful game, indeed.

It started early in the first period with Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik catching Penguins blue liner Olli Maatta with a late and high hit that warranted — at least for now — only a minor penalty for interference. Maatta, clearly in distress following the hit, didn’t play another shift and saw only 31 seconds of ice time in total, as Pittsburgh was reduced to five defensemen for the remainder of the game.

It continued in the third period. Kris Letang was furious after getting called for a trip on Justin Williams, and even more ticked off when the Capitals tied the game on the ensuing power play.

For two periods, the Capitals couldn’t get much going. Only four of their players had registered a shot on goal through 40 minutes, while the Penguins held the edge in that department and held the lead.

Washington came out with more jump in the third period, testing rookie netminder Matt Murray with 14 shots in the final 20 minutes. But the Penguins got the late goal to break the deadlock.

Video: Penguins’ Letang was furious after Capitals tie up Game 2 with power play goal

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Kris Letang watched from the penalty box as the Washington Capitals tied up Game 2 with a power play goal in the third period. The Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman was called for tripping after he appeared to muscle Justin Williams off the puck as he entered the zone.

Letang let his disagreement with the call be known at the time, and was furious after the Capitals capitalized on a goal from Marcus Johansson.

The Capitals started the period down a goal and being outshot 28-10 by the Penguins, who need a win to even the series.

Also, it seems this is worth mentioning:

Video: Hagelin goes top shelf to give Penguins the lead in Game 2

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In their quest to even the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins had done a nice job through two periods of suffocating the Washington Capitals, while gaining the lead on a beautiful goal.

Carl Hagelin took advantage of a vast amount of space that opened up in front of the Washington net, finishing off a nice pass from Nick Bonino, burying his shot just under the cross bar on the glove side of Braden Holtby.

Through two periods, the Penguins were outshooting Washington 28-10. Only four Capitals players — Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen — had registered shots on goal.

Video: Orpik penalized after catching Maatta with late, high hit

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The Pittsburgh Penguins were without defenseman Olli Maatta for most of the first period of Game 2 after he was on the receiving end of a high, late hit from Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik.

The hit occurred early in the first period, well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck on a rush into the Washington zone.

Maatta, who nearly fell over as he tried to stand back up, was in obvious distress as he went to the dressing room. Orpik was given a minor penalty for interference on the play.