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Southeast Division lead shifts back to Capitals with Washington win, Atlanta loss

Over the last week or so, the most fickle thing in the NHL might be the Southeast Division lead.

Thanks to a previous hot streak by the Atlanta Thrashers and a recently broken slump by the Washington Capitals, the two teams now seem to be in a tug-o-war (some might say a game of hot potato) for the top spot in the division. Let’s not forget about the Tampa Bay Lightning, either, as they are staying in the picture despite playing more games on the road than at home so far this season.

The Thrashers held a thin lead over the Capitals going into tonight’s games, but the power shifted once more on Tuesday.

Washington 5, New Jersey 1

While beating the Senators and Devils shouldn’t encourage the Capitals to plan a Stanley Cup parade, the team is at least taking care of business against the teams they should beat in the last two games.

It was a team effort for the Caps, as five different players scored goals. Included in that group was Andrew Gordon, who earned his first NHL goal and assist in this game.

Michal Neuvirth was on his game tonight, stopping 35 shots and only allowing a Patrik Elias power-play goal.

St. Louis 4, Atlanta 2

Meanwhile, the Blues snapped out of a lull to beat the Thrashers 4-2 in their contest.

Ty Conklin (37 saves) and St. Louis won thanks to a scoring by committee approach, as Dustin Byfuglien and Chris Mason weren’t quite good enough to earn Atlanta their 11th win at home this season.

Here’s a quick snap shot of the Southeast Division picture after a Capitals win, a Thrashers loss and the Lightning remaining dormant.

As you can see, the Capitals now hold a thin lead over the Thrashers (one more win, one more point in the same amount of games played) while the Lightning could actually be in the best position of the three to take a lead into the new year. While they trail the Capitals by a win and two points, they’ve played in three less games than Atlanta and Washington. They could tie the Caps with one win and pass them by if they earned at least three points in those three games.

Of course, there’s still a little under 50 games left for these teams, so analyzing them too much at this point is foolish. Still, if these patterns remain consistent, the Southeast Division could be highly competitive a year (or even two) earlier than most people expected.

This race should be fun for however long it lasts.

Kassian has ‘no hard feelings’ towards Canadiens

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Zack Kassian never played a regular season game for the Montreal Canadiens. But unless he is held out of Edmonton’s lineup on Saturday, he’ll face his old team as a member of the Oilers.

The Habs acquired Kassian from the Canucks in the summer, after the 25-year-old forward essentially wore out his welcome in Vancouver under the team’s new management. However, an October car accident that Kassian was involved in set forward a number of events that appears to have ultimately changed Kassian’s life for the better.

He told reporters that car accident might’ve been the best thing to happen to his career.

After the accident, he was placed in Stage 2 of the Substance Abuse program and suspended without pay. He was reinstated in December and immediately waived by the Canadiens. A couple of weeks later, he was traded to Edmonton.

And, after opening up about his struggles with alcoholism, he’s since been recalled to the NHL, appearing in eight games for the Oilers, scoring twice and adding four points.

“I’m not looking for any redemption,” said Kassian, as per Sportsnet.

“Me, I got an opportunity to play for the Edmonton Oilers and I’m very thankful for that. I’m not mad at Montreal by any means. If anything I’m mad at myself for screwing up that opportunity. I’m just looking to move forward. Obviously it will feel nice if I get a goal [Saturday] or even better if we get a win but there’s definitely no hard feelings.”

Video: It took only 4:33 of the first period for Hurricanes to build 3-0 lead on Jets

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The Carolina Hurricanes got off to a spectacular start on Friday. Conversely, their opponent, the Winnipeg Jets, got off to a horrendous start.

Before Friday’s game was even five minutes old, the Hurricanes had built a three-goal lead. Phillip Di Giuseppe opened the scoring at 1:43 of the first period. By the 4:33 mark, when Jordan Staal scored, Carolina was up three, forcing a goalie change for the Jets.

Connor Hellebuyck was pulled after allowing three goals on six shots.

Update: It’s 4-0 Hurricanes . . . 10:04 into the game. Yup. Could be a long one tonight in Winnipeg.

Scrivens and slumping Habs face daunting task against McDavid and suddenly high-flying Oilers

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Connor McDavid is kind of good.

In the two games since his return to the Edmonton Oilers, he’s kind of — just kind of — had an impact. Five points in two games — that counts as an impact, right? Oh, and did you see this goal in his return earlier this week?

Since McDavid’s highly anticipated return Tuesday against Columbus, the Oilers have outscored the opposition 12-3 in two games. Small sample size? Yes. Against teams currently not in playoff positions? Yes.

But that’s still very impressive and with him in the lineup, there appears to be a sense of optimism in Edmonton.

Enter the free-falling Montreal Canadiens. Enter goalie Ben Scrivens, who only made his debut for the Habs at the end of December and will face his old team, the Oilers, on Saturday.

In four games with the Habs, Scrivens has been scored on 15 times.

The Habs, without Carey Price, have been in a tumble down the Eastern Conference standings for a long time now. And, really, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.

Now, the Habs and Scrivens are tasked with facing McDavid and the suddenly high-flying Oilers.

And Canadiens fans probably aren’t the cheeriest right now, as their team has gone from on the verge of NHL history in October to becoming an afterthought in the playoff picture in February.

In each of their last seven games, the Habs have failed to score more than two goals in regulation. So it would seem that if Montreal is to get a win, Scrivens will need to be as close to perfect as possible.

No pressure.

“Unfortunately, it seems like my whole career has been playing behind teams that don’t have that confidence, except for my time in L.A.,” Scrivens told reporters.

“It’s a challenge as a goalie but all you can do is worry about your job. I can’t go out there and start trying to break pucks out and do anything I’m not supposed to be doing. My job is to try and stop pucks and try and stop as many as I can.”

With the way McDavid and the Oilers have been scoring since the break and his return, it appears that will be a monumental task for Scrivens.

And with the Habs in a 1-8-1 slide in the past 10 games, the timing probably couldn’t get any worse.

 

Stars put Spezza on injured reserve, recall Faksa from AHL Texas

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Sitting three points out of top spot in the Central Division and on the eve of an important divisional clash on home ice with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Dallas Stars have placed center Jason Spezza on injured reserve retroactive to Thursday, the club announced on Friday.

Spezza, 32, was injured during Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. The Stars can move back to within a point of Chicago for the division lead with a regulation win on Saturday.

In 52 games this season, Spezza has 18 goals and 40 points, which ties him with Patrick Sharp for fourth on the team in total points.

With Spezza out, the Stars recalled 22-year-old forward Radek Faksa from the Texas Stars in the AHL.

Faksa has 15 goals and 26 points in 28 games this season with Texas. In 18 games with the NHL Stars, he has one goal and three points.