Mika Zibanejad

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 16:  Erik Karlsson #65 of the Ottawa Senators celebrates his goal as teammate Derick Brassard #19 stands by in the third period against the New Jersey Devils on February 16, 2017 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.The Ottawa Senators defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-0.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Senators are making a serious run at the Atlantic Division title

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Forget simply making the playoffs, the Ottawa Senators are now challengers for the top spot in the Atlantic Division after their latest win.

Mike Condon stopped all 23 shots he faced on Thursday night in a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils to record his fifth shutout of the season and help lead the Senators to their 30th win.

The win does a lot of things for the Senators.

First, it helps give them a little extra cushion over the teams below them in the standings when it comes to securing a playoff spot. But it also brings them to within four points of the Montreal Canadiens for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. While a four point gap is normally more difficult to overcome at this point in the season than it would appear, this is not exactly a normal circumstance.

The Senators still have three games in hand on the Canadiens after Thursday night (they also have three games in hand on the Boston Bruins, the team immediately behind them in the standings), and also still have three head-to-head matchups remaining with the Canadiens. All three of those games come during an eight-day stretch between March 18 and March 25.

Assuming things stay as they are in the standings, they are going to be absolutely massive games.

No matter what happens the rest of the way it is still pretty surprising to even see the Senators in this position.

This is a team that missed the playoffs in two of the past three seasons and did not really make any significant changes this offseason (they traded Mika Zibanejad for Derrick Brassard; hired Guy Boucher). They also have spent a large portion of this season without starting goalie Craig Anderson as he has been away with the team, turning the goal crease over to Condon, a goalie that was not even with the team at the start of the season.

PHT Morning Skate: Chris Pronger fined himself for his hit on Justin Bieber

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–By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about Chris Pronger‘s hit on Justin Bieber during last weekend’s Celebrity All-Star Shootout in Los Angeles. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it by clicking here. Pronger, who works for the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, jokingly said he fined himself $5 for the hit.  (Associated Press)

–Canadian golfer MacKenzie Hughes brought a little bit of Canada to Scottsdale, Arizona. Hughes put on an Auston Matthews jersey while he was on the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale (Matthews’ hometown). You don’t see that every day. (BarDown)

–You might not have known this, but Brayden Schenn currently leads the NHL in power play goals with 12. He credits a lot of his success on the man-advantage to former teammate Scott Hartnell.  “He was always good to me and helping me out along the way. Just watching him and his shot. He scored a lot of goals from that spot. If you watch him, he was always smart and got to the right areas and that’s something you can just pick up from a guy.” (Sports Illustrated)

Mika Zibanejad, J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider combined to score the game-winning goal in overtime in the Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night. You can watch that pretty goal by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–The Detroit Red Wings have a 25-year playoff streak on the line, but is that a good enough reason to make a push for a spot in the postseason? The ESPN roundtable debated whether or not they should try to make the playoffs or rebuild instead. Some of the answers may surprise you. For example, hockey insider Pierre LeBrun suggests that a weak 2017 draft class could put the rebuild on hold.  (ESPN)

–No hockey player enjoys being a healthy scratch, but as he gets older, Sens forward Curtis Lazar has learned how to handle those kind of situations. “It’s never fun being out, but we have some great depth here. There’s no point in me pouting or letting the emotions get the better of me. I did that sometimes before the All-Star break. It’s about being a good teammate.” (Ottawa Citizen)

Alex Ovechkin has hit a number of different milestones throughout his career. On Wednesday night, he scored his 550th goal, which put him ahead of Ron Francis for 27th on the all-time list. Even though he likes the individual spotlight, Ovechkin would prefer (finally) winning that elusive Stanley Cup ring. (NHL.com)

Mika Zibanejad ‘confused’ as family is affected by Trump’s immigration ban

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 04: Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on October 4, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Rangers 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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In criticisms from the likes of Steve Kerr in the NBA among others, many in the sports world have reacted to Donald Trump’s executive order to restrict border crossings from several Muslim-majority countries.

On the NHL’s side, it’s mostly been silence, with Gary Bettman offering a “no comment” on the matter during the All-Star weekend.

New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad ranks as at least one NHL player who is affected – or at least, his family’s been affected – by the controversial executive order, as the New York Daily News’ Justin Tasch reports.

Zibanejad, a 23-year-old Swedish center, has family living in Iran. He seems bewildered by the measures and wonders how he might be able to see them again.

“It hasn’t been easy for them to come here, and this certainly doesn’t make it easier, or even possible at this point,” Zibanejad said. “It’s hard to kind of comment on. I don’t want to get in too deep, but it seems like it’s very straightforward and they have very straight lines of what the deal is, but I find still they’re confused about it, still a lot of confusion about what’s wrong and what’s not.”

For what it’s worth, Zibanejad was able to travel internationally without incident during the All-Star break, according to Tasch.

Head to NBC News for far more on the fallout from that executive order.

(H/T to Puck Daddy.)

Rangers lose Raanta, but get Zibanejad back from broken leg

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers celebrates his first period goal against the Detroit Red Wings and is joined by Chris Kreider #20 at Madison Square Garden on October 19, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Busy little Monday for the Rangers.

First, the club announced forward Marek Hrivik cleared waivers and was sent to AHL Hartford — paving the way for Mika Zibanejad to return from his broken leg — then announced goalie Antti Raanta would miss the next 7-10 days with the lower-body injury suffered against Montreal over the weekend.

Plenty to unpack here.

Let’s begin with Zibanejad, acquired this offseason in the Derick Brassard trade. The 23-year-old suffered his broken leg back on Nov. 20 and has missed the last 26 games as a result — so, needless to say, New York is glad to have him back. He’d been producing very well at the time of his injury, with five goals and 15 points in his first 19 games as a Blueshirt.

But for all the excitement about his return, enthusiasm has to be dampened a bit by the Raanta injury.

Arguably the best backup in the NHL this season, Raanta’s gone 10-4-0 with a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage. He’s done a terrific job of spelling Henrik Lundqvist when called upon, and even had a brief stint of starts in late December before King Henrik resumed No. 1 duties.

With Raanta sidelined until the All-Star break, the Rangers have recalled Magnus Hellberg from the AHL.

Five team stats you may find interesting

New York Rangers' Derek Stepan, left, and Chris Kreider, celebrate Kreider's goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in Philadelphia. The Rangers won 5-2. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
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24 — Regulation wins for the New York Rangers, the most in the NHL, and three more than the Blue Jackets (21), who have the second most. Even if the Rangers’ current PDO (103.0) isn’t sustainable at quite that level, the evidence over the last few years suggests that they are simply a high-PDO team, one that can count on getting better-than-average goaltending while also scoring on a relatively high percentage of their shots. The Rangers (27-13-1) have won four of their last five in regulation, and they’ve done it without Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich and others.

7 — Overtime wins for the Los Angeles Kings, who’ve only won 11 times in regulation. Just imagine where they’d be if they didn’t have the most OT wins in the league. As of today, they’re only one point clear of Nashville for the second wild-card spot in the West. The Kings, unlike the Rangers, have a low shooting percentage. And without Tyler Toffoli, they’ve found it even harder to score. Los Angeles was shut out for the fifth time last night, falling 4-0 to Detroit at Staples Center.

11.3% — The Detroit Red Wings’ power play, on pace to finish as one of the worst of the salary-cap era.

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27.0% — The Columbus Blue Jackets’ power play, on pace to finish as the best of the salary-cap era.

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6 — The number of teams with a negative goal differential who are currently in a playoff position. Last season, only two teams — Detroit (-13) and Philadelphia (-4) — made the postseason with a negative goal differential. Of the six teams today, the Flyers (-7) have the worst differential. In a related story, there are two teams — Toronto (+4) and Nashville (+6) — who are outside the playoff picture with a positive goal differential. But the Leafs are only three points back of the Flyers, with three games in hand. And as mentioned, the Predators are only one point back of the Kings (-2), with one game in hand.