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.

Clutter-bucks: Isles sign energy guy to five-year, $17.5 million extension

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders scores his second goal of the game at 9:53 of the third period against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 3, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Stars 6-5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.

Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.

This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.

This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.

This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.

Bettman: Salary cap could stay the same for next season

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.

“We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”

The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.

The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.

A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.

Related: Trades galore? McPhee expecting ‘a massive player redistribution before the expansion draft’

A few ‘bad decisions’ have been costing Lundqvist

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) reacts after giving up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in New York. The Penguins won 6-1. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.

That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?

“I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”

Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.

But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.

Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.

Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.

Top 10 career save percentages among goalies with at least 300 NHL starts

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Jets send talented rookie Connor to AHL

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.

On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.

He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.

The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.