Pacific Division Watch (March 19)

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.

Pacific Division outlook (March 19 -March 25th)

1. San Jose Sharks (41-23-8 for 90 pts; 72 Games Played)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. St. Louis (Saturday), home vs. Calgary (Wednesday) and @ Los Angeles (Thursday).

Thoughts: After the next two home games, it’s all Pacific Division matchups for the Sharks. Those closing games include a substantial three games against second place Phoenix, two against Los Angeles and Anaheim, plus one against Dallas. In other words, the Sharks will only have themselves to blame if they let their slim division lead slip away.

2. Phoenix Coyotes (39-23-11 for 89 pts; 73 GP)

Current streak: Five straight wins.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Chicago (Sun), St. Louis (Tues) and Columbus (Thurs).

Thoughts: The best thing about Phoenix’s five game winning streak might be that they won four of those contests on the road. They have a great chance to push past San Jose being that they begin a six-game homestand on Sunday and three games remaining versus the Sharks (two of which are at home). Overall, the ‘Yotes only play two of their last nine games on the road, so they must be taken seriously.

3. Los Angeles Kings (40-26-5 for 85 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Anaheim (Sat), Calgary (Mon) and San Jose (Thurs).

Thoughts: It seems like most of the Pacific teams play the majority of their remaining games against each other, with the Kings holding true to that trend. Their five-game homestand didn’t begin well – their fans booed them, after all – but this is still their best chance to improve their playoff prospects.

4. Dallas Stars (38-24-8 for 84 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Philadelphia (Sat) and home vs. Anaheim (Wed).

Thoughts: The Stars need to stock up some points in the next two home games – even if they are far from cakewalks – because they face a harrowing five-game road trip beginning next Saturday in Nashville. That trip begins against the Predators and then swings the team through every Pacific Division squad, making it a high stakes group of games. If they can keep their heads above water after those games, their last four contests are relatively palatable. That’s a big if, though.

5. Anaheim Ducks (38-27-5 for 81 pts; 70 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Los Angeles (Sat), home vs. Calgary (Sun), @ Dallas (Wed) and @ Nashville (Thurs).

Thoughts: The rest of March is going to be tough for Anaheim, as they face four of six games on the road against challenging squads. The Ducks’ final five games are against Pacific teams, with two against San Jose and Los Angeles and one contest versus Dallas. It would be awfully interesting if it all came down to their last two games: a home-and-home series with the Kings.

Devils fans help singer who forgot words to national anthem (Video)

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The biggest save of the night at Prudential Center on Friday didn’t come from either goaltender, but rather New Jersey Devils fans in attendance for their game against the San Jose Sharks.

Lauralie Mufute began singing the national anthem but midway through forgot the words. That’s when the crowd of 14,381 picked up where the 14-year-old left off and finished the song.

A great job by the crowd in what certainly was a terrifying moment for the young performer.

These flaps happen, as we’ve seen many times before in different situations. It’s always good to know the crowd can act as backup singers in times of need.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin’s blast lifts Capitals in OT, Sheary speeds by Panthers

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Player of the night: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin has already reached double digits in goals scored in this new campaign. The Capitals’ star recorded his 10th goal of the season on Friday and it counted as the overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Capitals trailed late in the third period, but T.J. Oshie scored the tying goal and Ovechkin won it on a power play less than two minutes into the extra period, as he deployed that famous one-timer slap shot from his off-wing. This time, Petr Mrazek was victimized by the wicked slapper.

Ovechkin is now only two goals behind the entire Montreal Canadiens team — in the same amount of games.

Highlight of the night:

What a weapon speed is in today’s National Hockey League. Conor Sheary illustrated that once again, as he saw a little bit of room down the left side and flew around Alex Petrovic before making a move to the backhand on James Reimer. That goal counted as the eventual winner, as the Penguins defeated the Panthers 4-3. Earlier in the third period, Sheary and Roberto Luongo came together near the Florida net, causing Luongo’s right hand to get caught against the post, injuring the Panthers’ netminder.

Factoid of the night:

It was a milestone night in Winnipeg for Blake Wheeler and coach Paul Maurice.

Scores:

Vancouver 4, Buffalo 2

San Jose 3, New Jersey 0

Washington 4, Detroit 3 (OT)

Pittsburgh 4, Florida 3

Winnipeg 4, Minnesota 3

Anaheim 6, Montreal 2

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Video: Price takes out his frustration, as the Habs were crushed again

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It’s gone from bad, to worse, to an absolute nightmare for the Montreal Canadiens.

A three-game trip through California is never fun for opposing teams, but this was misery for the Habs. They were outscored a combined 16-5 in three games against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, with few, if any positives beyond the second period in a 6-2 loss in Anaheim on Friday.

Montreal hasn’t won since its season opener on Oct. 5, and is now on a seven-game losing skid, unable to generate much offensively with a league worst 10 goals scored through seven games before tonight, while giving up plenty of goals at the other end.

That is a recipe for disaster and even though it’s still early in the season, this has to be a major concern for coach Claude Julien and, in particular, general manager Marc Bergevin.

Read more: Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

Down by three after the first period, Montreal had 30 shots on goal during the middle frame and managed to trim Anaheim’s lead down to one heading into the third period. And then, just when it seemed like maybe they were on a path toward an inspirational comeback on the road, it all fell apart.

Three straight goals for Anaheim, with journeyman forward Derek Grant scoring the first two goals of his NHL career — in game No. 93.

As you can probably tell from the clip below, Carey Price was visibly irritated, as he whacked his goalie stick against the post after the sixth Anaheim goal.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Canucks defeat the Sabres, as the losing continues in Buffalo

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The Buffalo Sabres remain stuck on just a single win to begin the season. Jack Eichel is sick of losing, but the losing continues.

Returning home from a four-game road trip out west, the Sabres had an opportunity ahead of them to get back into the win column. The Vancouver Canucks, hardly a powerhouse in any way, were in town. They had played — and lost — the night before in Boston. And then the Sabres went out and were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 loss that, one could argue, flattered the hosts.

They weren’t able to take advantage of an early lead after Justin Bailey was allowed access to the net off the rush. They couldn’t hold the lead after Eichel dangled Ben Hutton and then scored on a shot Jacob Markstrom should’ve stopped. They gave up yet another short-handed goal, putting that number at six for the Sabres just eight games into the season.

Instead, Buffalo spent most of the night in its own end, giving up 37 shots through two periods. Hard to pin this, in any way, on goalie Chad Johnson.

“First of all, I thought we didn’t defend well and close quick enough in our defensive zone. We were a little bit slow there tonight. We need to be more aggressive and on the puck,” said head coach Phil Housley after the game.

While the Sabres were badly outplayed, one of the deciding moments in this game was a controversial video review in the second period. Vancouver took the lead on a goal from Daniel Sedin, although Housley challenged for a potential offside after it looked like Jake Virtanen didn’t have control of the puck as he entered the zone.

The linesmen looked over the play for a lengthy review before officials came to the conclusion that Virtanen did have control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line. The goal stood and the Canucks controlled the remainder of the game.

“I disagree with the call, totally,” said Housley. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession.

“But I call that 10 out of 10 times offside and I would continue to challenge that again.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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