Dan Cleary, Shea Weber

Race for the playoffs: Three gigantic games highlight the West race today

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With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Western Conference

p – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts (4 GR)
x-2. San Jose – 99 pts (5 GR)
3. Detroit – 98 pts (5 GR)
4. Phoenix – 96 pts (3 GR)
5. Los Angeles – 94 pts (5 GR)
6. Nashville – 94 pts (4 GR)
7. Anaheim – 93 pts (5 GR)
8. Chicago – 92 pts (5 GR)
9. Calgary – 89 pts (3 GR)
10. Dallas – 87 pts (6 GR)

p- clinched Presidents’ Trophy
z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – games remaining

Detroit @ Nashville – 3 p.m. ET

The task is simple for Detroit: Earn a point, clinch a playoff spot. Of course, there’s the matter of still winning the Central Division and a regulation win by Nashville gets them within two points of Detroit for the top spot there. Detroit is buoyed by having Jimmy Howard return to action in goal today. The downside there is that Pekka Rinne will be in goal for Nashville. In his career against Detroit, Rinne is 8-2-2 with a 1.98 goals against average and a .948 save percentage. Add that in with Nashville’s tenacious dedication to defense and you’ve got yourself a problem if you’re Detroit. Nashville’s never won the Central Division and this year they’ve got their best chance of doing it.

Dallas @ Los Angeles – 4 p.m. ET

Dallas has six games left to play and they’re lucky to have that many games in hand because they’re a hurting team on a losing streak that’s painful. They’ve dropped five games in a row and they’re currently 10th in the West. Fortunately for them, they’re just five points out and while they can make up ground on Chicago for eighth, they need to snap out of their awful funk. Going up against L.A. who’s in desperate need of wins to keep their own heads above water in the playoffs (even in spite of being in fifth out West) the Kings have plenty of motivation. A win by L.A. draws them even with Phoenix for fourth place with a game in hand on the Coyotes.

Home ice in the first round is a definite possibility for the Kings and doing that without Anze Kopitar would be a tremendous accomplishment. Getting through Dallas, however, will be tough because the Stars are in that “cornered animal” situation. They’re dangerous and unpredictable. That is, unless, the Stars recent losing streak has sapped their will from them. It won’t get any easier for the Stars tomorrow as they’ll face Anaheim at the Pond. Speaking of the Ducks…

Anaheim @ San Jose – 10:30 p.m. ET

San Jose’s locked up their spot in the playoffs but they’d like to get a division title as well. Things in the Pacific are tight and facing the Ducks won’t make it any easier. Anaheim’s in seventh for the time being but could move up as high as fifth if things go right for them during today’s games (regulation losses by L.A. and Nashville). Both of these teams are hot and both are playing great hockey. All that means to us is that there’s a game worth staying up late tonight for out east. These teams don’t like each other and getting to see Corey Perry face off with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau is about as marquee as it gets out west.

Five team stats you may find interesting

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen is slow to get up after giving up a goal to Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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27.5 — Shots per game for the St. Louis Blues. Only one team, New Jersey (27.3), is averaging fewer. So while it’s true that goaltending has been their major issue, it’s also true that in the eight games since the Winter Classic, the Blues have averaged just 22.9 shots, and that’s not very many at all. Perhaps it’s related to the goaltending — i.e. they could be playing more conservatively in order to protect Jake Allen and Carter Hutton. But coach Ken Hitchcock said recently that Vladimir Tarasenko “is getting checked to death, and other people are responsible for creating the space for him. He’s trying to play against four guys right now. We need more participants in order to help him.” So it’s not all on the goalies. In his last six games, Tarasenko has no goals and just nine shots total.

58 — Goals scored by the Washington Capitals since Christmas. That’s an average of 4.5 per game. Only the Rangers (4.4) and Penguins (4.0) are averaging four goals or more in that time frame. Since Christmas, the Caps have been led in scoring by Alex Ovechkin (17 points); however, the resurgence of Evgeny Kuznetsov (15 points) has also been key. Kuznetsov only had 17 points in his first 32 games. He’s up to 32 in 45 now.

73.8% — The Buffalo Sabres’ penalty killing, which has been terrible. In fact, the Sabres are on pace to have the NHL’s worst PK of the salary-cap era:

pk

3 — Power-play goals for the Blue Jackets in their last eight games. In a related story, the Jackets are 3-5-0 in those eight games. “There’s gonna be times where it just doesn’t feel like it’s going in,” said captain Nick Foligno after last night’s 2-0 loss in Ottawa. Columbus went 0-for-3 with the man advantage against the Sens, who got a 42-save shutout from Mike Condon. The Jackets still have the NHL’s best power play (24.6%), but the Maple Leafs (24.1%) are catching up. The Leafs have scored 12 PP goals in their last 10 games.

14 — Games the Colorado Avalanche have lost by three goals or more, the most in the league. Just how bad are the Avs? Well, they’re 30th in goals for and 30th in goals against. And if they keep up their pace, they’ll be the worst team of the salary-cap era:

w

Leafs claim Griffith off waivers… again

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 29:  Seth Griffith #24 of the Florida Panthers takes a shot on Al Montoya #35 of the Montreal Canadiens during a game  at BB&T Center on December 29, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Seth “suitcase” Griffith is off to join another team — a team he’s joined once already this season.

On Friday, the Leafs announced they’ve claimed Griffith off waivers, just two months after exposing him on the wire and losing him to Florida.

Toronto had originally acquired Griffith off — yup, you guessed it, waivers! — when the B’s cut him loose just prior to the start of the regular season.

The 23-year-old, who played under Leafs assistant GM Mark Hunter in OHL London, appeared in three games for Toronto this season, going pointless. Griffith had a bigger role in Florida — notching five assists in 21 games — but suffered a concussion earlier this month and, after recovering, was a healthy scratch for three straight games.

Per multiple sources, the Leafs are sending Griffith straight to their AHL affiliate, the Marlies.

 

 

After Allen’s horrific night, Blues call up a goalie

Jake Allen
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A new twist in the St. Louis goaltending drama on Friday — after a disastrous home loss against Washington, the Blues have recalled Pheonix Copley from AHL Chicago.

Copley, 25, was one of the players acquired in the T.J. Oshie-to-Washington trade. He’s played well this season, sitting 10th in the AHL in wins (11) and ninth in both GAA (2.32) and save percentage (.920).

To date, Copley has played in one NHL contest, coming on in relief of Jake Allen in a loss to Nashville last February.

Speaking of Allen…

We’ve written plenty about his struggles this year (see here, here, here and here), and things hit rock bottom on Thursday. Allen was hooked by Ken Hitchcock after allowing two goals on three shots to start the game, but was sent back in just a few minute later — a classic Hitchcockian move, designed to give his goalie an in-game reset.

But it didn’t work.

Hitch was forced to hook Allen for good in the second period, after the Caps scored for the fourth time — on just 10 shots.

Afterward, Hitchcock admitted his No. 1 netminder is a mess.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, per Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

To their credit, the Blues have tried to shake things up, like parking Allen and going with backup Carter Hutton.

Hutton has fared well in small stretches but, this week, he was given a chance to start three games in a row and bombed in the third, allowing five goals in just 23 shots in a loss to Ottawa.

So, enter Copley. It’s asking a lot of him to try and turn things around but, at this point, the Blues are desperate and have to try something.

Anything, really.

B’s get Beleskey back from 23-game absence

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  Matt Beleskey #39 of the Boston Bruins takes a shot against New Jersey Devils  during the third period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Bruins have lost three of their last four, and are looking for a spark heading into tonight’s game against Chicago.

They’re hoping Matt Beleskey can provide it.

Beleskey, who’s been out since Dec. 3 with a knee injury, will play for the first time in 23 games this evening as the B’s host the ‘Hawks at TD Garden.

Beleskey suffered his injury in a game against Buffalo, in which he played less than six minutes before exiting for good. He’s been sidelined ever since, and will now draw back in what appears to be an energy role, alongside Dominic Moore and Austin Czarnik.

The 28-year-old is no doubt ready to get his year on track. Beleskey had struggled prior to getting hurt — he had just two goals and five points through 24 games, and was made a healthy scratch back in early November.