Columbus Blue Jackets v Pittsburgh Penguins

Riding the Zamboni – February 8th; Dirty hits dominate nightly discussion

Columbus 4 – Pittsburgh 1

A tough and ugly night for the Penguins in Pittsburgh as the Jackets jumped out quickly in the first with Rick Nash’s 24th goal of the year and only saw things get worse in the second when Samuel Pahlsson and Jakub Voracek tallied to put the Jackets up 3-0. Steve Mason stopped 32 shots to earn the win for Columbus. Tyler Kennedy had a power play goal for the Penguins but it wasn’t close to enough.

Making matters worse was yet another reckless and awful hit by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke. Cooke boarded defenseman Fedor Tyutin in the first period putting Tyutin down on the ice and sparking a brawl that had Jackets center Derick Brassard squaring off with Cooke for the hit. Cooke was given a five-minute major for charging as well as five for fighting but was not kicked out of the game. This makes two games in a row where Cooke has made a highly questionable and dirty hit on a player. On Sunday, Cooke caught Alex Ovechkin with a knee-on-knee hit that had the Capitals in an uproar. Cooke has a disciplinary meeting with the NHL tomorrow as he’ll be facing some brand of action from the league for the hit.

New Jersey 3 – Carolina 2 (F/OT)

A night filled with rookies scoring saw Mattias Tedenby score twice for New Jersey including the game-winner in overtime as the Devils continued to stay hot. Jeff Skinner scored two power play goals for Carolina while Nick Palmieri also had a goal for New Jersey. Johan Hedberg held strong with 20 saves to get the win in goal while Martin Brodeur is out of action. Cam Ward made 31 stops in the loss.

Anton Volchenkov drew the ire of both the Hurricanes and his own coach. Volchenkov picked up three minor penalties which upset his coach Jacques Lemaire. One of those was an elbow to the head of Zach Boychuk that earned him an elbowing minor. The shot to the head is a virtual textbook violation of Rule 48 and the NHL will be meeting with Volchenkov about it to determine what action to take against him.

Buffalo 7 – Tampa Bay 4

At one point in this game, Tampa Bay was up 3-1 in the second period. Thomas Vanek’s second period goal to cut the lead to 3-2 set the tone for what was to come in the third as the Sabres rattled off five goals in a row to go ahead 7-3 and ultimately win 7-4. Drew Stafford had his third hat trick of the season while Vanek finished the game with two goals.

The wheels came off when Jordan Leopold scored to tie it early in the third. Dwayne Roloson was knocked down when Stafford was bumped into him by Marc-Andre Bergeron. Roloson tumbled to the ice and Leopold fired it over the prone goaltender. The Lightning protested to no avail and the Sabres rolled after that. Bergeron finished the game with a -4 rating by the way. Sean Bergenheim had two goals while Vincent Lecavalier had two goals and an assist for the Lightning in defeat. The Sabres are now four points behind Carolina for eighth in the East.

San Jose 2 – Washington 0

Toronto 5 – NY Islanders 3

The game turned into a must-win one for the Leafs before things even started when Islanders would-be starting goalie Kevin Poulin was injured in warmups leading to Mikko Koskinen making his first NHL start. The Leafs made the rookie’s night an unmemorable one by having five different goal scorers light him up on the way to the win. Colby Armstrong had a goal and two assists while Tomas Kaberle  had a goal and an assist. James Reimer had another outstanding effort in goal for Toronto stopping 31 shots in the win. Koskinen stopped 21 shots in the loss while Michael Grabner scored his 17th goal of the season for New York. Not a bad waiver pick up for the Isles there. Shame they can’t get any goaltending help there.

St. Louis 2 – Florida 1

A great chance for the Panthers to eke closer to the Eastern playoff race was blown as they weren’t able to crack through a healthy and rested Jaroslav Halak. Halak stopped 30 shots to pace the Blues to victory. Matt D’Agostini scored the game-winner with four minutes to play in the third period to give the Blues a sorely needed victory. David Backes also scored for the Blues while Dennis Wideman had Florida’s lone goal. Tomas Vokoun was steady in the loss stopping 26 shots.

Senators, Panthers fail to gain in Eastern playoff races

OTTAWA, CANADA - FEBRUARY 7: Jay Harrison #44 of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates his game winning overtime goal with team mate Jeff Skinner #53, during an NHL game at Scotiabank Place on February 7, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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PHT already touched on the Florida Panthers falling to the Calgary Flames on Friday, but in tandem with the Ottawa Senators losing to the Carolina Hurricanes, it makes for a night of teams failing to gain valuable points out East.

With the Montreal Canadiens failing lately, the Senators had a chance to take first place in the Atlantic by tying the Habs in points while holding games in hand. Instead, they’ll need to wait.

For the sake of simplicity, here are the Atlantic rankings, with emphasis on the top five.

1. Canadiens – 72 points in 61 games played
2. Senators – 70 in 59
3. Maple Leafs – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Sabres and Lightning have 62 in 60, Red Wings have 58 in 60

You can see the Panthers hanging around the perimeter of the top three; a point or two would have made them a bigger threat to Toronto and Boston. Alas, even with a heavier slate of home games lately, Florida has lost two straight at home.

Here’s an updated look at the wild card races after the Panthers failed to make up some ground:

1. Blue Jackets – 79 in 58, more concerned with Metro races
2. Islanders – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Flyers – 63 in 60

Tiebreaker situations would have meant that the Panthers would have ended tonight technically outside of the playoffs anyway, but a win or even a “charity point” congests an already snug situation. Instead, they stayed put and wasted a game.

Ottawa’s still in a solid situation to overtake Montreal or at least maintain a round of home-ice advantage as the second seed in the Atlantic. So while both teams are kicking themselves for their losses, the Panthers have more to be upset about.

Ultimately, some of the biggest winners in the East were teams that didn’t play or that have a lot less to play for.

(Perhaps the Hurricanes feel a little more optimistic, by the way, as 58 points in 57 games played means they could at least theoretically fight their way back into the discussion.)

Road warriors: Flames move to first West wild card spot with win vs. Panthers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Troy Brouwer #36 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his second period goal against the Florida Panthers with Lance Bouma #17 and Matt Stajan #18 at the BB&T Center on February 24, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The road has been doing both the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers quite a bit of good lately.

Calgary moved to the first wild card spot on Friday after beating the Panthers in Florida by a score of 4-2. So far, they’ve grabbed at least a point in every game during a road trip that ends in Carolina on Sunday:

Feb. 18: 2-1 OT loss at Vancouver
Feb. 21: 6-5 OT win at Nashville
Feb. 23: 3-2 win at Tampa Bay
Tonight: 4-2 win at Florida

You can’t totally blame the Panthers if they almost miss their road trip.

They rattled off five straight wins through what seemed like a brutal road haul on paper, but now they’ve lost back-to-back home games in regulation. With five of six and six of seven slated in Sunrise, the Panthers need to make the most of these opportunities. So far … not so good.

Here’s how the West wild card situations look now:

1. Flames – 68 points in 62 GP
2. Predators – 67 points in 60 GP

Kings – 62 in 60 GP
Jets – 62 in 63 GP

(The Blues could easily slip below the Predators into the wild card spot, as they also have 67 points in 60 games but hold wins and ROW tiebreaker advantages.)

So, Calgary might not manage to maintain its hold over the first wild card spot, but this streak makes a playoff berth look far more likely.

Capitals could make home-ice advantage a serious edge in playoffs

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: Brett Connolly #10 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal with teammates against the Boston Bruins during the third period at Verizon Center on February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Look, there’s no escaping the naysayers who will dismiss just about any Washington Capitals accomplishments with snark about past playoff letdowns.

All the Capitals can do is march forward and lock down as many edges as they can.

With 89 standings points after a tight 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, the Capitals look increasingly likely to have home-ice advantage either through the East (seven-point edge on the Penguins or the entire playoffs (five-point edge on idle Wild, who only hold a game in hand on the Caps).

Now, it’s fair to argue that home-ice (or home-court) advantage matters less in hockey than some other sports. Sure, you can line-match more often with the last change, among other advantages. Still, the biggest edges might be mental.

That said … those small edges might be enough for a team as loaded – and with as much urgency – as this rendition of the Capitals.

Heeding the call at the Verizon Center

They’ve now won 13 games in a row at the Verizon Center, improving their overall home record to 25-5-1.

The Capitals are still a strong team on the road (16-7-6), yet that home record is lofty. It also could come in awfully handy, particularly if they face off against the Penguins again. Pittsburgh’s 24-4-3 home mark contrasts sharply with a more modest 13-10-5 road record.

Perhaps this talk is all small potatoes. Still, when you consider how close things have been – in this age of parity, and in the extremely competitive Metropolitian Division specifically – it could be quite the edge.

In short, the Capitals are a pretty scary group possibly with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. At least as of right now.

As far as the Oilers go, they’re locked in a tight race for second in the Pacific, as the Ducks currently hold the ROW tiebreaker. Grabbing at least a standings point in this one would have helped … but that’s a tall order against the Caps in their own backyard.

It wasn’t all good news for Washington, tonight:

Loss vs. Pens at Stadium Series could push Flyers to sell at trade deadline

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Chris Pryor, Director of Scouting (R), and Ron Hextall General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers (L) sit at their team table on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Is a cross-state, historic NHL rivalry not enough to drum up interest in Saturday’s 2017 Stadium Series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins? Maybe a trade deadline hook will do it for you.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reports, Flyers GM Ron Hextall already rules his team out as buyers. That leaves two options, really: standing pat or going into “sell mode.”

Hextall provides an interesting nugget in that regard: it might just come down to what happens against the Penguins tomorrow, via NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman:

It seems odd to imagine that the difference between generating zero versus two standings points might dictate a team’s direction, but it also shows the power of parity in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Granted, it’s not like Hextall locks himself into one direction based on the result. Still, it sounds like that game could have some power in swaying his decision.

The Flyers have some interesting trade chips if they do decide to make a move. Michal Neuvirth fears being moved, while Steve Mason at least needs a new contract, leaving their goaltending future up to question.

There are some other interesting UFAs, particularly in defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto.

Some Flyers fans believe that they should indeed be sellers, though it’s tough to imagine many of them rooting for the Penguins to win just to make it happen.