Calgary Flames v Phoenix Coyotes

Northwest Division Watch (March 18)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder, Underlined = clinched division.

Northwest Division outlook (March 18 -March 24th)

1. Vancouver Canucks (47-16-9 for 103 pts; 72 Games Played)

Current streak: Seven wins in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Phoenix (Friday) and @ Detroit (Wednesday).

Thoughts: The Canucks became the first team to cross the 100-point mark and the first team to clinch their division this week. At this point, the Canucks can just rain on other teams’ parades and hope no one else gets injured.

2. Calgary Flames (37-27-9 for 83 pts; 73 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Anaheim (Sun), Los Angeles (Mon) and San Jose (Wed).

Thoughts: The Flames have a loose hold on a playoff spot, but it will be tested, with six of their next seven games on the road. This next week might be the toughest stretch, too, as they take a tour of some formidable California teams. They’ve been playing some impressive hockey lately, but there isn’t much of a margin of error in the West right now.

3. Minnesota Wild (35-29-7 for 77 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: Four losses in a row.

Week ahead: Three home games vs. Columbus (Sat), Montreal (Sun) and Toronto (Tues).

Thoughts: The bad news is that the Wild went 0-fer on their four-game road trip, which is bad because they needed the points and also because it indicates they might be too dependent on home cooking. The good news is that their next four games are at home, so maybe they can make up some ground.

4. Colorado Avalanche (26-36-8 for 60 pts; 70 GP)

Current streak: Ten straight losses.

Week ahead: Away vs. Edmonton (Sat), home vs. Columbus (Tues) and home vs. Toronto (Thurs).

Thoughts: You know, maybe people hate tanking so much because it’s called tanking. Then again, it’s better than my alternate idea, which is “reverse racing.”

5. Edmonton Oilers (23-39-9 for 55 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: Five losses in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Colorado (Sat), @ Nashville (Tues) and @ St. Louis (Thurs).

Thoughts: Well, I already used my comment about tanking on the Avalanche.  Say what you will about how awesome the Canucks are – because it’s true – but they did get a few extra cracks at weak teams like the Oilers and Avalanche, plus so-so teams like the Flames and Wild. That must inflate their numbers a bit, right? Maybe?

Blues to retire Bob Plager’s No. 5

ST. LOUIS - APRIL 9:  Former St. Louis Blues defenseman Al MacInnis #2 and his family watch his banner being raised during his jersey retirement ceremony prior to the game between the Blues and Edmonton Oilers at the Savvis Center on April 9, 2006 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues will commemorate their 50th anniversary with a special ceremony on Feb. 2, retiring the No. 5 jersey worn by longtime defenseman Bob Plager.

More, from the club:

Plager, who was acquired by the Blues on June 6, 1967 and has been with the organization for all 50 years, will become the seventh player in Blues history to have his number retired, joining No. 2 Al MacInnis, No. 3 Bob Gassoff, No. 11 Brian Sutter, No. 16 Brett Hull, No. 24 Bernie Federko and his brother, No. 8 Barclay Plager.

Bob and Barclay Plager join Maurice and Henri Richard (Montreal Canadiens) as the only brothers to have their numbers retired by the same team in NHL history.

Plager played 10 seasons with the Blues, then transitioned to a number of front office and coaching roles within the organization.

In a unique twist, his No. 5 was never taken out of circulation and subsequently worn by another staple of the Blues organization — Barret Jackman, who recently retired after spending 16 years in St. Louis, appearing in over 800 games.

Prior to the February retirement ceremony, Blues fans will be able to recognize Plager this Saturday when St. Louis hosts Los Angeles at Scottrade.

Flames can get back to .500 with win over Sens

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Calgary Flames have won two in a row, but they’re still a losing hockey club heading into tonight’s home game against Ottawa.

That’s the message head coach Glen Gulutzan has been preaching after encouraging back-to-back victories in Chicago and St. Louis.

“We’re still below .500,” Gulutzan said. “We can’t rest at all. We haven’t accomplished anything yet. We’ve played two good games. That’s what we’ve accomplished. You need to get on a roll and you need to keep pushing. Keep the focus and keep pushing.”

The Flames (3-4-1) did not just get lucky in their last two games. They were especially good Tuesday in St. Louis, outshooting the Blues, 30-24, in a 4-1 win. Meanwhile, goalie Brian Elliott has bounced back after a tough debut for his new team; he’ll get a third straight start tonight.

Suffice to say, the mood around the team has improved considerably.

“My lips were getting sore from sucking on the exhaust pipe,” GM Brad Treliving jokingly told the Calgary Sun. “It was never as bad as it seemed, but it’s a stark change to how we played. … It’s a relief to stop the bleeding. We were disciplined, the power play worked, we limited chances, we didn’t turn the puck over and the goalie found his groove.”

Related: The Flames are still learning their new system, and it shows

Goalie nods: Kinkaid makes season debut for Devils

New Jersey Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid (1) watches a shot on goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Newark N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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There’ll be a new look in goal for New Jersey this evening, as backup Keith Kinkaid gets his first start of the season as the Devils host the Blackhawks.

Kinkaid will give Cory Schneider the night off, after Schneider started New Jersey’s first six games of the year.

This promises to be a game worth monitoring. Kinkaid spent last year as Schneider’s backup — going 9-9-1 with a 2.81 GAA and .904 save percentage — but, this year, had to beat out Scott Wedgewood for the gig during training camp and the exhibition campaign.

What’s more, Kinkaid is being thrown into a difficult matchup, taking on a Chicago team that’s averaging 3.43 goals per game this season. The ‘Hawks are busting out new lines tonight, too, as Patrick Kane will skate alongside Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik.

Corey Crawford will start for Chicago.


Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes, who are playing their first home game of the season. Henrik Lundqvist goes for the Rangers.

— It’s Michael Hutchinson versus Semyon Varlamov as the Jets take on the Avs in Colorado.

Andrew Hammond, now Ottawa’s No. 1 with Craig Anderson away dealing with a personal issue, gets the nod in Calgary. He’ll be up against Brian Elliott, who has rebounded from a poor start to win both of his last two starts.

— The red-hot Cam Talbot goes again for Edmonton tonight in Vancouver. The Canucks will counter with Ryan Miller.

— No confirmed starters in Anaheim yet. Sergei Bobrovsky played in last night’s loss to San Jose, and John Gibson has been carrying the load lately with Jonathan Bernier out injured.

Marchessault, Pirri providing great bang for buck

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 13: Jonathan Marchessault #81 of the Florida Panthers celebrates a goal during Opening Night of the 2016-2017 NHL Season against New Jersey Devils at BB&T Center on October 13, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

This summer’s free agent class was highlighted by a number of big-money deals.

Yet through the first month of the season, the real highlight has been the guys that came on the cheap.

Nowhere is this more true than in Florida, where Jonathan Marchessault — signed to a two-year, $1.5 million deal with a $750,000 cap hit — has been a revelation. The undrafted free agent, who spent time with the Rangers, Blue Jackets and Lightning, has five goals and 10 points through seven games with the Panthers.

Marchessault is playing on the club’s top line with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, and leads the Panthers in scoring.

“It’s been a wonderful find for us,” team president Dale Tallon told Sportsnet. “He’s real tricky and good down low. Sees the ice well. He’s not the biggest guy. Some guys slip through the cracks. Some guys are late bloomers.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing to not get drafted.”

In New York, one of Tallon’s ex-players is providing equally good value.

Brandon Pirri, who went most of the summer without a contract before signing with the Rangers in August, is off to a terrific start. Inked to a one-year, $1.1 million deal, Pirri has four goals and six points in seven games, and leads the team in power-play markers.

“I’m glad we’re the ones who got him,” Derek Stepan said, per the Associated Press. “He’s got a knack for the net. It’s not easy to score goals in this league and he seems to be in those areas to score.

“That’s a difficult thing and, to me, that’s a skill. If you have it, it’s special and it’s rare.”

Some other under-the-radar signings that have stood out:

— The backup goalie position in Montreal was a disaster last season, so full credit to GM Marc Bergevin for solving it on the cheap. Al Montoya was brought aboard for $950,000, and all he’s done is go 3-0-1 with a .955 save percentage and 1.47 GAA. He also provided crucial stability at the start of the year, too, when Carey Price was sidelined with the flu.

— In Dallas, Adam Cracknell has capitalized on the opportunity provided by all the club’s injuries at forward. Signed to a two-way deal with a $600,000 cap hit, 31-year-old has two goals and three points through seven games, appearing in every contest for the Stars this season while averaging over 10 minutes per.

Patrick Wiercioch, who didn’t even get a qualifying offer from Ottawa, signed with Colorado for $800,000. The 26-year-old d-man has been great offensively, with five points through five games, leading all Avs blueliners in scoring.

— Speaking of Ottawa, GM Pierre Dorion did well to sign Tom Pyatt out of the Swiss League. Inked to a one-year, two-way deal worth $800,000, Pyatt returned to the NHL after two years abroad and “has been really good for us on both sides of the ice,” according to head coach Guy Boucher. Pyatt has three points through six games and is one of the club’s top penalty killers.