Look at those Pacific Division standings.
The San Jose Sharks remain at the top. That’s not really a surprise. The Anaheim Ducks are seven points back. They’ve been a force in that division for years now.
And then you have the Calgary Flames. Yes, the Flames. On Saturday, they won their ninth consecutive game, defeating the Winnipeg Jets 3-0 to move to 80 points this season and second place in the division, jumping over the Ducks and provincial rival Edmonton Oilers.
Dougie Hamilton was a game-time decision, but by the time this game ended, he had three assists. Mikael Backlund, at age 27, continued the best season of his career, scoring his 21st goal late in the first period. It counted as the winner. Known to be an agitating forward at times, Matthew Tkachuk added an assist, his 32nd, as he continues to make an impact as a 19-year-old rookie.
This is a team getting plenty of offensive contributions outside of the usual suspects in Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Remember in 2015 when they built a reputation as the comeback kids, qualifying for the playoffs with the 28th-ranked Corsi For percentage at five-on-five and the fifth best PDO? It didn’t seem at all sustainable for the future and they finished 10 points out of a playoff spot the following year.
Poor special teams and too many goals against were among the reasons for a coaching change last spring.
Fast-forward a year later, and this is a Flames team that has accrued strong possession numbers at five-on-five.Subpar goaltending was something GM Brad Treliving took responsibility for last year, and he took steps to remedy that.
He traded for Brian Elliott and signed Chad Johnson as a free agent. Lately, Elliott has been solid for Calgary. In his last 10 starts, only once has he allowed more than two goals in a single game. He now has back-to-back shutouts.
The Flames can extend their winning streak to 10 games when they face the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.
The Winnipeg Jets didn’t have much going for them Saturday versus the Calgary Flames.
Down two goals and with less than two minutes remaining in the second period, Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba dropped the gloves with Sam Bennett in front of the Winnipeg net. Both players landed some heavy punches, still trying to throw them after the linesmen intervened.
Easily visible following the fight was the blood from an apparent cut to Trouba’s forehead and a bleeding nose for Bennett.
You could see this fight coming for a while, too. Both players came together in a battle along the boards, trading slashes and cross checks before the gloves came off.
The odds are already stacked against the Florida Panthers in their quest to make the playoffs this year.
Now, the challenge could become even more difficult.
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad left Saturday’s game versus the Tampa Bay Lightning with an upper-body injury after a hit from Gabriel Dumont.
The incident occurred early in the second period. The Panthers announced later in the period that Ekblad would not return.
There was no penalty to Dumont for the initial hit, which slammed Ekblad’s head against the glass. However, Dumont was given a fighting major, while Florida defenseman Keith Yandle received a fighting major and a roughing minor after he took issue with the hit.
The Panthers haven’t released the specific nature of the injury. However, Ekblad, who is only 21 years old, was injured during the World Cup, with what was originally described as a mild concussion before that was changed to a neck injury.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are playing the Buffalo Sabres tonight, with the chance to set a new franchise record for most wins in a single season. They tied the previous mark from 2013-14 last night.
Well, they could not ask for a better start to this one.
The Blue Jackets opened up a three-goal lead in the first period, highlighted by a beautiful goal from Nick Foligno, as he pulled off the toe-drag before snapping a shot top corner. (For the Sabres, that’s an ugly start, as they were outshot 12-6 on home ice.)
Anders Nilsson was pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots. Robin Lehner started the second period in net.
However, the Blue Jackets will play the remainder of this game without defenseman Ryan Murray. Per the club, he left the game with an upper-body injury and will not return.
He played two shifts for 1:44 of ice time before leaving the game.
Goals have been hard to come by over the past several weeks for James Neal.
While he had been chipping in offensively with assists here and there, Neil entered Saturday afternoon’s tilt against the San Jose Sharks having scored just once in his last 19 games.
However, when presented a sudden opportunity in front of the Sharks net in the second period, he made no mistake.
Colin Wilson picked up the puck on a turnover and dropped it back to Neal in the slot. He buried the shot, giving Nashville the lead, which they would hold on to in a 3-1 victory.
“In the offensive zone, I’ve got to get to the tougher areas,” Neal told the Tennessean last month during his slump. “When you’re not scoring, you’ve got to go to those places to get your confidence and get momentum.”
Though it’s also worth mentioning that Neal wasn’t at all pleased with the officiating late in regulation, when he was called for slashing in the offensive zone, forcing him to sit for a nervous two minutes. His teammates not only managed to escape unscathed, but the Predators got the empty net goal that ultimately secured the win.
This result caps off a three-game swing through California for the Predators.
Looking to maintain their hold on third spot in the Central Division, and with the St. Louis Blues having started up another winning streak, Nashville took four of a possible six points, snapping a four-game losing skid that included back-to-back defeats in overtime or the shootout.