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.

Malkin to miss third straight game with lower-body injury

Evgeni Malkin
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Evgeni Malkin‘s “nagging” lower-body injury will keep him out at least one more game.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said this morning that the star center will sit out tonight at home against the Ducks. Malkin already missed two contests this weekend in Florida. His status is day-to-day.

The Penguins lost, 6-3, in Tampa on Friday, but rebounded Saturday with a 3-2 OT win over the Panthers.

Pittsburgh’s next game after tonight’s is Wednesday at home versus the Rangers.

McDonagh out with concussion after Saturday’s altercation with Simmonds

Ryan McDonagh
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The New York Rangers will be without Ryan McDonagh tonight at home to New Jersey, the club announcing this morning that the defenseman is out with a concussion.

McDonagh left Saturday’s game in Philadelphia following an altercation with the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds that ended with McDonagh taking a punch to the face from Simmonds.

Simmonds received a match penalty and was thrown out of the game, but did not receive any supplemental discipline.

Given the standings, the Rangers can ill afford to lose McDonagh for long. They play in Pittsburgh Wednesday, followed by three home games against Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

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Lucic’s plan is to ‘remain a King’ for remainder of career

Milan Lucic, Alex Burrows, Dan Hamhuis
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Tuesday night, Milan Lucic will play his first game in Boston as a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

It should be an emotional return for the big 27-year-old winger. In an interview with the L.A. Times, he recalled his time with his former club fondly, saying how great it was to be a “part of one of the best-ever eras to be a Bruin.”

A pending unrestricted free agent, Lucic also commented on his contract negotiations with the Kings.

“Nothing to get excited about,” he said. “There’s been two or three little talks here and there. My plan is to remain a King and hopefully finish off my career here. Like I said, I go day by day and you never know what tomorrow is going to bring.”

Lucic has 12 goals and 18 assists in 50 games this season. Though the Kings reportedly want to keep him, the question is whether they can find the cap space to make it happen.

Los Angeles already has Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Kyle Clifford, Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and Jonathan Quick locked up long term. Plus, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson will require new deals after next season.

Related: Why Lucic is an interesting pending UFA

Despres, Perron return to Pittsburgh for the first time since being traded to Anaheim

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2015, file photo, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Simon Despres skates before an NHL preseason hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. Despres has agreed to a five-year contract extension with the Ducks on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, solidifying his role in Anaheim after joining the club in a trade last season. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
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Simon Despres and David Perron will return to Pittsburgh for the first time since they were shipped to Anaheim via trade.

Monday’s tilt at the Consol Engery Center will be special for both individuals.

Despres was traded to Anaheim for Ben Lovejoy last March, while Perron was sent to the Ducks earlier this season.

Both players may have had some good times in Pittsburgh, but in both instances, things didn’t end up the way they had envisioned.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” Perron said of things not working out in Pittsburgh, per the Post-Gazette. “I made some great relationships. Some really good friends.

“The only thing, it didn’t work. That’s what what [general manager] Jim Rutherford and I and [head coach] Mike Sullivan talked when the trade happened. I wish it would have been different but that’s the way it goes sometimes. It didn’t click as good as you wanted it to be. I’m happy I got a new start and it’s going well.”

The 27-year-old played 86 games over two seasons with the Penguins, and he managed to score just 16 goals and 38 points during that span.

Things have been a lot better for him since the move to Anaheim. Perron has three goals, five assists and a plus-7 rating in his first seven games as a Duck.

As for Despres, things haven’t been as smooth since his departure from the Penguins.

The 24-year-old played well in the final month of the season last year, but he missed 42 games in 2015-16 because of a concussion he suffered near the beginning of the season.

He’s been a welcomed addition to the lineup. Anaheim hasn’t lost since Despres returned to the lineup on Jan. 26.

“He hasn’t gotten any points but we haven’t lost since he’s been back,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said, via the Post-Gazette. “We missed him for sure. In the playoffs last year, he was as good of a defenseman as we had. Big and strong and played against big opposition and he didn’t tire. The more games he gets, the better he’s going to get.”

The defenseman spent most of his adult life in the Penguins organization and he admits that’s something he’ll never forget.

“I guarantee that I’ll be a little bit emotional for the game [tonight],” said Despres. “Spent a lot of years here. A lot of memories and good friends. A lot of friends in Pittsburgh.”