ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 17: Fedor Tyutin #51 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is swarmed by his teammates after scoring the winning goal in overtime to win the game 3-2 against the Anaheim Ducks on April 17, 2013 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

Coach Boudreau ‘concerned’ as Ducks limp towards playoffs

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The danger of gaining a big lead over the competition in the early portion of the regular season is that you might lose steam going into the playoffs.

The Chicago Blackhawks have largely avoided that and the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t slowed down even after surging past the competition in the Eastern Conference.

The Anaheim Ducks have been a different story. They are 5-7-2 in their last 14 games and lost their third contest in a row on Wednesday.

“I’m concerned,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau admitted to NHL.com following a 3-2 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I mean, when you want to win all the time, it’s a concern … you can’t use fatigue anymore as an excuse. It’s the same for everybody and these guys – it was their fourth game in six nights. What are you going to do?”

Even factoring in their recent struggles, not much has changed for the Anaheim Ducks from a seeding perspective. They’ve already secured their playoff spot and have a comfortable seven-point cushion in the battle for the Pacific Division. They might slip from the second to third seed, but even that seems highly unlikely.

So they don’t have much left to play for. Certainly not as much as a squad like the Blue Jackets, which are still fighting to get into the postseason. Teams want to stay sharp regardless, but at this point Boudreau hopes that their struggles are simply because they’ve all-but locked up the second seed.

“Deep down, I hope that’s the case,” Boudreau said. “If we’re playing as good as we can possibly play right now, then we haven’t picked it up as much as other teams have picked it up down the stretch.”

The Ducks will play in Calgary on Friday and then in Edmonton on Sunday and Monday. The Oilers and Flames won’t advance to the postseason, so those games will be a good opportunity for Anaheim to regain some lost momentum.

Washington is ‘basically destroying everyone right now’

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals (c) celebrates his goal at 15:45 of the first period against the New York Islanders and is joined by Nicklas Backstrom #19 (l) and T.J. Oshie #77 (r)at the Barclays Center on January 7, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher didn’t mince words analyzing tonight’s opponent, the visiting Washington Capitals.

“They’re basically destroying everyone right now,” Boucher said on Tuesday morning, per TSN 1200.

And, well, he’s right.

With Monday’s 6-1 blowout of Carolina, the Caps extended their consecutive points streak to 14 games — the second-longest in franchise history. Washington is 12-0-2 during the streak and has scored at least four goals in eight consecutive games, and one of those losses came in overtime of a thrilling 8-7 tilt against the Penguins.

The streak looks even better in graph form:

caps

Unsurprisingly, the Caps have dotted the NHL’s weekly three stars announcements throughout January. Braden Holtby earned third star honors back on the 9th, Nicklas Backstrom netted first star on the 16th and, yesterday, T.J. Oshie scored third star of the week.

Those awards underscore the story in Washington — everybody is contributing across, the board.

Like last night, when Dmitry Orlov‘s rare two-goal effort helped the Caps past the ‘Canes. Or the game prior, when Matt Niskanen‘s three-assist performance pushed Washington over Dallas.

The Caps are a dangerous club at the moment. Even the players are willing to acknowledge it.

“We got all four lines rolling and with our depth and our ability when every line’s going, we’re tough to stop,” Oshie said, per ESPN. “Things are going well right now.”

Poor goaltending, lack of finish to blame for Kings’ latest loss

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jeff Zatkoff, left, looks at New York Rangers' Mats Zuccarello after Zuccarellos scored a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in New York. The Rangers won 3-2. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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It was the story of the Los Angeles Kings’ season last night in New York:

— Lots of shots, but not enough goals.

— Not many shots against, but too many goals allowed.

The Kings fell 3-2 to Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers despite winning the shot clock by a huge margin: 38-17.

“I think we had a lot of opportunities. You’ve got to finish,” said head coach Darryl Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “At the end of the day, we need better goaltending in there.”

Jeff Zatkoff was between the pipes for the Kings. His record fell to 2-7-1 with an .881 save percentage. So expect to see Peter Budaj tonight in New Jersey, and probably Thursday in Carolina, too.

The Kings (22-21-4) have lost four straight and sit three points back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot. The Flames also lost last night, and so did the team immediately below the Kings, the Winnipeg Jets. That was the good news for Sutter’s crew.

But with Jonathan Quick not expected back until March, it’ll be up to Budaj and Zatkoff to give the Kings the goaltending they need to get back into a playoff spot. And that’s a big ask for two guys who’ve played more AHL games than NHL games over the last few years.

As far as the offense is concerned, the Kings badly need more from Anze Kopitar, who only has four goals in 41 games. After all, Tyler Toffoli (lower-body injury) did not make the trip, and Jeff Carter can’t be asked to score every night. Carter (25 goals) and Tanner Pearson (14) are the only Kings with double-digit goal totals.

“We probably out-chanced them, what, five-to-one tonight? It’s the percentages,” said Sutter. “So the percentages are that you score on a percentage of those chances. The other team’s scoring on not-percentage chances, put it that way.”

 

No hearings scheduled after wild Flames-Leafs game

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None of the combatants from Monday’s incident-filled Toronto-Calgary game will face disciplinary hearings, an NHL spokesman confirmed this morning.

The two sides combined for 16 minor penalties across a nasty, chippy affair that included:

— Leafs forward Leo Komarov catching Johnny Gaudreau with a huge bodycheck.

— Flames captain Mark Gioradano quickly jumping Komarov in retaliation.

— A pair of Calgary youngsters, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk, accused of slew-footing.

The incident that drew the most attention was Komarov’s hit on Gaudreau. The diminutive Calgary winger looked to be in trouble after the check — requiring assistance off the ice — but went through concussion protocol and was cleared to return a short while after.

Komarov’s hit was deemed legal, and he didn’t receive a penalty on the play.

“I feel fine,” Gaudreau told the Calgary Herald following the game. “It’s part of hockey, you’re going to get hit every once in a while and with the concussion-test stuff, they want to make sure you’re alright.

“So I had to go in there and do that, and it was fine.”

 

 

NHL on NBCSN: Pens look to push winning streak to five games against slumping Blues

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 24:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates during the game against the St. Louis Blues at Consol Energy Center on March 24, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the St. Louis Blues at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Things are going well for the Penguins right now. They’ve rattled off four straight wins over Washington, Montreal, Carolina and Boston and in each of those victories, they managed to score at least four goals.

Everyone knows Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang have been terrific when healthy, but others, like Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz have also been key contributors for their team.

Sheary in particular had a terrific week, as he was named the NHL’s First Star for his performance last week. The 24-year-old has played a good chunk of the season on a line with Crosby, and he’s already up to 17 goals and 17 assists in 39 games in 2016-17.

“It’s going better than I expected at this point,” Sheary said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I think it’s a mixture of a lot of things, the way we’re playing as a team and the way our line’s playing. I think it’s just been clicking right now. These streaks usually don’t last, so I’m just going to enjoy it while it’s here.”

Sheary managed to put up six goals and three assists in just four contests last week, and on Sunday, the line of Crosby, Rust and Sheary combined to score nine points in a 5-1 win over the Bruins.

“I think his game is just growing by the day,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He obviously has some nice chemistry with the line he’s on right now. He’s got pretty good chemistry with Sid in particular. That line has been really good for us. I think his confidence might be at an all-time high, which is helping him.”

If the Penguins are riding high, the Blues are on the other end of the spectrum.

Scoring hasn’t been an issue for them. They’ve scored three goals or more in four of their last five contests, but keeping the puck out of their net has been the big problem.

St. Louis comes into this game having dropped three games in a row. Although goaltending hasn’t been their only issue, Jake Allen‘s struggles are a big reason why they’ve been slumping of late.

“I take a lot of blame, I deserve it, no excuses,” the Blues goalie said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I have no problem with taking the heat. You get more of the brunt of it as a goalie, the last line of defense, but in this situation I have no problem with it. I should be the backbone of this team and I haven’t been. A lot of it falls on my shoulders, letting the guys down in many situations, not giving them a chance to win.”

After Allen allowed four goals on 10 shots in a loss to Washington, the team decided he needed to stay behind while they traveled to Winnipeg (they lost 5-3 with Pheonix Copley in net) and Pittsburgh.

Tonight, the Blues will start Carter Hutton, but they’ll go back to Allen for Thursday’s game against Minnesota before they head off for the All-Star break.