Early ride on the Zamboni – Saturday, December 18th

For a recap of the Flyers-Rangers game, click here. To find out more about how the Capitals lost their eighth straight game to the Bruins, read this post. Expect a recap of the Minnesota-Calgary game tomorrow.

Dallas 2, Columbus 1

The Stars might have a little trouble keeping Chris Osgood from earning his 400th career win considering that they’ll need to play Detroit less than 24 hours after this game began because this was a tough, physical game. On the bright side, they scratched and clawed to win this one with great performances by their best two players: Brad Richards (both goals) and Kari Lehtonen (35 saves).

Vancouver 4, Toronto 1

It’s tough not to wonder if Brian Burke looks on with deep envy at Vancouver, especially considering the fact that he’s a former Canucks general manager. Roberto Luongo made 27 saves  while Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen each earned two points in a fairly easy Canucks win.

Atlanta 7, New Jersey 1

It doesn’t get sweeter for this for Atlanta: they took the Southeast Division lead by absolutely throttling Ilya Kovalchuk and the woeful New Jersey Devils. Eric Boulton (of all people) scored a hat trick in this game. Boulton’s career high is four goals, so this was a bit of a surprise.

Phoenix 4, NY Islanders 3 (SO)

The Coyotes must feel blessed any time someone not named Ilya Bryzgalov wins a game for them. It didn’t come easy, as the Coyotes needed Jason LaBarbera to make 41 saves and one shootout stop while Martin Hanzal had to score a late goal in the third to best surprise Islanders starter Nate Lawson.

Carolina 4, Anaheim 2

It was a battle between the team’s two big, talented centers and Eric Staal (natural hat trick, including the game winner) beat Ryan Getzlaf (two goals). Cam Ward was also excellent for Carolina, earning 43 saves.

Tampa Bay 3, Buffalo 1

Earlier, I wrote that the Lightning could earn a slight lead over the Capitals for second in the Southeast if they beat the Sabres. Tampa Bay did indeed hold onto that 2-1 lead as Martin St. Louis put it away with an empty net goal. Perhaps Mike Smith is hearing the Evgeni Nabokov rumors, because he played well (22 out of 23 saves) to win.

Los Angeles 6, Nashville 1

So much for the Predators doing fine without Pekka Rinne. Both of their other goalies allowed three goals, as Anders Linback was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots and then Mark Dekanich allowed three on 25. Jonathan Bernier played like the hot prospect he was coming into 2010-11, stopping 29 out of 30 himself.

Ryan Smyth had two goals, Drew Doughty had a goal and an assist and Trevor Lewis also provided a tally and a helper.

San Jose 4, St. Louis 1

Antero Niittymaki is quietly putting together a great season with the Sharks as his record is 11-3-3 now. There was plenty of goal support as Logan Couture stayed hot (two goals) while Dan Boyle (two assists), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (one goal and one assist) and Devin Setoguchi (one goal) also played well.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

Their struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.

Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings

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Not much offense — actually, just one goal midway through the second period as of the writing of this post — between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

But there has definitely been some animosity between the two clubs.

Tempers flared late in the first period, with Adam Erne and Andreas Athanasiou getting involved in a spirited scrap — and Athanasiou unsuccessful in his attempt at the take-down.

The bad blood continued in the second period with Greg McKegg and Anthony Mantha getting involved in a fight, and Mantha — given the instigator — landing a couple of shots with McKegg on the ice.

 

NHL, MLB player unions support U.S. women hockey players’ boycott

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Unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players are backing U.S. Women’s National Hockey team players’ decision to boycott next week’s world championships because of a wage dispute.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Read more: USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage, as dispute with women’s national team continues

The Twitter messages were posted a day after USA Hockey announced it would begin gauging interest of replacement players to compete at the tournament, which opens next Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period.