Minnesota Wild v Chicago Blackhawks

Hockey Day Preview: Who’s under the most pressure?

The fact that all eight teams involved in Sunday’s Hockey Day in America event hail from the United States is a given. The fact that all eight teams have a chance to make the playoffs, however, is just a blessed coincidence. Let’s take a look at what kind of pressure these teams will face in the four games, with a verdict regarding which team will have more on the line in each match.

Washington Capitals (road): The Caps’ hold on a playoff spot is secure right now, but few would have guessed that Bruce Boudreau’s bunch would be in second place in the Southeast this deep into the season. They’re still only four points behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, though, so maybe Hockey Day could be part of a Caps surge to the top spot?

Buffalo Sabres (home): The Sabres are just two points out of a playoff spot after struggling during a significant chunk of the 2010-11 season. Still, they’re in a dogfight with at least the Atlanta Thrashers and Carolina Hurricanes, if not an upstart team like the New Jersey Devils or Toronto Maple Leafs. Beating the Caps won’t be easy, but they need to do it since they’re at home.

Who’s under the most pressure?: Buffalo.

Philadelphia Flyers (road): If there’s one club who might be able to stretch their legs and play with empty minds on Sunday, it might be Philly. Sure, they’re in a tight race for the Presidents Trophy against the Vancouver Canucks right now, but that pales into comparison to the teams who are fighting for their playoff lives.

New York Rangers (home): After losing six games in a row, the Rangers righted the ship with two straight wins. Still, Henrik Lundqvist & Co. cannot rest on their laurels, as the East bubble teams could easily start breathing down their necks again if the Rangers stumble.

Who’s under the most pressure?: Rangers.

Detroit Red Wings (road): Much like the Flyers, the Red Wings aren’t that worried about their division mates right now, but instead how they compare to the Canucks.  Detroit has a legitimate shot to take the top spot in the West if Vancouver’s injury woes start to push them down the standings.

Minnesota Wild (home): How much longer will an ultra-loyal fan base show up in droves to support a middling franchise? The Wild continue to test the limits of hockey-mad Minnesota, although they’re at least (foolishly?) spending a lot more money on their roster lately. Mikko Koivu’s team is stuck in the West muck, so this should be an absolutely crucial contest against a very tough team.

Who’s under the most pressure?: Minnesota.

Pittsburgh Penguins (road): The banged-up Penguins probably believe that they can still make a run at the Atlantic Division crown, but with two less wins, five fewer points and two more games played, it seems like a long shot. Especially when you consider how bruised this roster is. On a more immediate note, this team is enjoying a nice break from NHL action (getting Thursday through Saturday off), so they’ll really kick themselves if they flop against Chicago.

Chicago Blackhawks (home): Could this be another rare instance in which a Stanley Cup winning team misses the playoffs during the following season? It’s a genuine possibility, as the Blackhawks sit at 11th place in the West (one point behind Minnesota). The ‘Hawks should also know if the Wild lost as they suit up for the Penguins, meaning this could be their chance to rise in the ranks by a position or two.

Who’s under the most pressure?: Chicago.


So, the overarching point is that all eight teams have something to play for. It seems like the Sabres, Wild and Blackhawks have the most to lose because they’re currently outside the top eight in their respective conferences. If I had to pick one team that faces the biggest pressure, it would be Chicago for three reasons: they’re the defending champs, they’re playing a game they should win (against an undermanned team, plus they host the game) and they’ll know the outcome of Minnesota’s game already. That’s a stacked deck, but shouldn’t champions be able to roll with that?

The best part is that hockey fans can follow all the action via NBC. We’ll have more coverage of the games going forward – both from individual contest standpoints and big picture perspectives – so keep checking in on PHT this weekend.

Patrick Kane’s scoring streak > Sharks’ winning run on Wednesday


SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Patrick Kane had two assists to extend his career-best scoring streak to 17 games, leading the Chicago Blackhawks to a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night.

Kane set up Brent Seabrook on Chicago’s first goal and also got a helper on Duncan Keith‘s second-period goal to give him 28 points during the streak.

Jonathan Toews and former Shark Andrew Desjardins also scored for Chicago. Andrew Shaw added an empty-netter for the Blackhawks, who improved to 2-1-1 on their annual circus road trip. The six-game swing concludes this weekend with games in Anaheim and Los Angeles.

Corey Crawford made 27 saves.

Brent Burns and Patrick Marleau scored for the Sharks, who returned home from a 6-0 road trip to lose once again at the Shark Tank. San Jose fell to 3-6 at home this season after dropping 22 games here last season – their most since 1996-97. The Sharks had earned the most points at home in the NHL over the previous nine seasons.

Martin Jones made 21 saves.

After a slow start in their first game back from the perfect road trip, the Sharks found their legs late in the first period and tied the game at 1 when Burns scored on a one-timer from Joe Pavelski on the power play. It was San Jose’s first goal at home with the man advantage all season after 21 failed chances.

But the tie lasted just 88 seconds before Ryan Garbutt sprung Toews on a 2-on-1 and the Chicago captain beat Jones with a shot high to the glove side.

The Blackhawks added to the lead midway through the second period when Keith sent what looked like an innocent shot in from the boards only to see it elude Jones to give Chicago a 3-1 lead.

The Blackhawks then killed off two power plays early in the third before Marleau made it a one-goal game when he beat Crawford with a wrist shot off a faceoff win in the offensive zone with 8:40 to play.

Desjardins restored the two-goal lead 1:07 later when he scored his first of the season on a rebound.

Fresh off their annual stop in Las Vegas during their November road trip when the circus is in town, the Blackhawks started fast. They got the first eight shots on goal and took a 1-0 lead midway through the period when Kane set up Seabrook with a one-timer that beat Jones.

San Jose took more than 13 minutes before getting its first shot on goal.

NOTES: The Blackhawks have one regulation loss in their past 10 games against the Sharks. … Dainius Zubrus made his debut with San Jose on the fourth line after signing a contract Tuesday. … Sharks D Justin Braun was scratched with an upper-body injury.

Same story, different location? Isles foil flat Flyers


NEW YORK (AP) The New York Islanders distaste for the Philadelphia Flyers clearly came with them during their move to Brooklyn. Seeing their nemesis Wednesday night brought out some needed emotion.

“We needed a good, hard, physical game like that,” Casey Cizikas said after the Islanders beat the Flyers 3-1 in a rough-and-tumble affair.

“Those games are fun. When they get testy like that, when they get physical like that, that’s what makes the game of hockey so much fun. I think we thrived off of that.”

Jaroslav Halak made 17 saves and Kyle Okposo put the Islanders ahead early in the second period. Cizikas and Frans Nielsen also scored and the Islanders improved to 11-8-3 by snapping a two-game losing streak.

Steve Mason made 33 saves and Claude Giroux scored the Flyers’ lone goal.

Philadelphia has lost four of five and fell to 7-10-5.

“We’re just inconsistent. It’s the same story every game. We need to find a way to be consistent the whole game,” Giroux said. “I’m not too sure what to say. It’s the same story every game.”

The first of five meetings this season between Philadelphia and New York was a chippy one. There were post-whistle scrums seemingly after every whistle, and tempers boiled over in the second period when Nick Leddy fought Giroux.

Leddy had earned the Flyers’ ire in the first period after boarding Michael Raffl face first into the boards, but Giroux said his rationale for fighting was only partially inspired by wanting to get even for his teammate.

“The second period we were flat,” Giroux said. “Anytime you have a chance to change the momentum, you do it.”

Seven minutes after the Leddy-Giroux fight, Matt Martin squared off with Wayne Simmonds.

According to hockeyfights.com, New York had three fights this season prior to Wednesday night, and the Flyers had eight.

“It was two teams battling hard,” John Tavares said. “We’re going to have a lot of those games coming up.”

New York took a 2-1 lead 5:14 into the second period on Okposo’s fifth of the season. Tavares won an offensive-zone faceoff to begin the sequence, and Okposo gained possession of the puck along the wall, then curled toward the net before flipping a harmless-looking shot that appeared to ricochet off Nick Schultz and over Mason.

“There’s no room for error,” said Mason, adding that the puck “bounced off the side of the net” for the game-winning goal.

The teams traded goals in the first period and the long-time rivals went into the first intermission tied 1-1. Giroux opened the scoring with a power-play goal from the left circle 3:59 into the game, but Cizikas tied it with a short-handed goal with 58 seconds left in the period. It New York’s third short-handed tally this season.

New York’s penalty kill came into the game ranked 11th in the NHL, while Philadelphia’s power play was 24th.

“We have to look at everything,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said when asked if his team’s scheme needed to be modified in order to generate more offense. “(We) try to do that every day. So we have to look at everything.”

The Islanders outshot Philadelphia 36-18. New York had a 65-48 advantage in total shots.

“It was one of our better games defensively,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We didn’t give them too much.”

NOTES: This game marked Colin McDonald’s season debut. The Flyers called up the ex-Islander from AHL Lehigh Valley on Tuesday. He had played in four games this season with the Phantoms, where he had two assists. … Philadelphia scratched Vincent Lecavalier, Evgeny Medvedev and Sam Gagner. Lecavalier has been scratched the last six games. The 35-year-old is in the third year of a five-year, $22.5 million contract. He has one assist in seven games this season. … New York scratched Adam Pelech and Taylor Beck. … The teams came into the match having split the last 16 matches. The Islanders were 8-8-0 while the Flyers were 8-3-5. … The announced attendance was 13,027.

Vatrano presence: Bruins edge Red Wings in overtime

Frank Vatrano David Krejci

The Boston Bruins keep flipping the script.

In Wednesday’s case, it swerved to a “Cinderella” story, as little-known forward Frank Vatrano scored two of Boston’s three goals – including the overtime clincher – as the B’s beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 (OT).

Here’s his first goal of the night:

While this is his overtime game-winner:

It wasn’t a perfect night for the 21-year-old, yet it may have been a convincing one.

The Bruins continue to begin a month on a sour note before ending up with impressive sprees.

October: 0-3-0 start, finished month with four straight wins and victories in six of seven contests.

November: 0-3-0 start, losses in four of five; currently on a four-game winning strek with victories in five of six.

Boston faces a challenge in closing this month out against the Rangers on Friday, and it’s possible that this trend may continue, as they begin December with a three-game road trip through Western Canada.

More than anything else, the safest bet with the Bruins is for ups and downs.

Crosby roars, Malkin scores in OT for Penguins win

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Controversy just seems to find the Pittsburgh Penguins. Credit Sidney Crosby & Co. for responding with a win on Wednesday.

Crosby generated two pretty goals, including this slam-dunk slapper:

… While Evgeni Malkin‘s overtime-winner stood as the Penguins managed a 4-3 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues tonight.

(You can see Malkin’s OT-clincher in the video above this post.)

Will this win and strong performance from Crosby silence murmurs about his relationship with Mario Lemieux? Probably not, yet it likely turns the volume down in some ways, including killing the “Is he struggling because of distractions” storyline.

You know, at least for a little while. Maybe.