Sizzling Senators shut down Bruins, spawn some bold questions

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Erik Karlsson might not have the defensive acumen to please people who cringe at the points-centric Norris Trophy voting, but his scoring ability is making the Ottawa Senators an intriguing sleeper in the East.

Karlsson’s power-play goal was the only marker as the Senators beat the Northeast Division-leading (and defending champion) Boston Bruins at their own game 1-0.

Well, either that or their promising backup goalie won a significant duel with Tim Thomas. Nope, it wasn’t recently acquired netminder Ben Bishop; instead, Robin Lehner made a compelling argument for his NHL-readiness by stopping all 32 Bruins shots. Thomas was brilliant in making 37 out of 38 saves, but Ottawa beat the B’s in Boston to make a statement.

Either that, or they raised some questions.

1. Circling back to Karlsson, is his resounding offensive production reason enough to make him deserve the Norris? Normally I’m in that embittered hockey nerd group in regard to that trophy’s voting, but one could argue that he’s essentially the most valuable defenseman in the NHL because of his offense.*

2. Does Ottawa have a decent chance to steal the Northeast title from Boston?

Rather than going too deep on this question, I’ll merely present you with some crucial points.

  • The Bruins are currently ahead of the Senators points-wise 77-76.
  • Boston also has a fairly massive games in hand advantage, with four more games remaining (21 to 17) than Ottawa.
  • On the other hand, the Senators are streaking up (two wins in a row; 7-2-1 in their last 10) while the Bruins are bumbling a bit (4-5-1 in last 10).
  • The Bruins have 10 home games and 11 road games left.
  • The Senators have nine home games and eight road games remaining.
  • Both teams actually possess remarkably balanced win-loss records on the road vs. at home, which means that games remaining and streaks are probably the biggest factors.
  • Well, except for tie-breaker considerations, perhaps. The Bruins have 37 wins to Ottawa’s 34 and 30 regulation/OT wins to the Senators’ 29.

Looking at that information, it would take a serious run (and/or significant Boston struggles) for Ottawa to shock the hockey world by winning its division. Still, it’s pretty amazing that such a question would need to be examined with March just a breath away.

* – The Norris Trophy isn’t defined as the MVP of the blueliners, but the point must be made.

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.