James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
AP

Let’s ponder the battle for the Pacific Division crown

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As difficult as it is to believe that the Anaheim Ducks now sit atop the Pacific Division, it’s even tougher to predict who will finish in first place when the regular season ends.

It doesn’t hurt to try though, right?

More: Read about the Ducks – Kings line brawl and Anaheim’s win

This post takes a quick overview of the roads (sometimes literally) ahead for the Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. For the sake of simplicity, the San Jose Sharks won’t get an in-depth look, but they shouldn’t be totally disregarded; while they’re down four points, their remaining schedule is fairly heavy on home contests.

The incentive to avoid said Sharks in a likely first-round matchup probably trumps the bragging rights of a division title, so let’s take a quick look.

Ducks’ drive

It’s not a bold statement to say that the Ducks are likely to cool off at least a bit. After all, they’re breaking plenty of records lately.

While Monday’s game against the Washington Capitals looms as a fascinating barometer, Anaheim’s schedule becomes especially interesting beginning on March 20.

The bad news for Anaheim is that they end the month with five road games. All of those games are against non-playoff teams, however, so that would be all about maintaining focus and energy.

All things considered, the Ducks’ schedule indicates that an April 7 road game against the Kings could indeed be pivotal.

Kings’ considerations

This current stretch through the middle of March might be Los Angeles’ best opportunity to really stack up points.

The Kings have three games remaining on their five-game homestand. They’ll also play five of their next seven contests at the Staples Center.

Los Angeles faces quite a few challenges against the formidable Central Division, and after looking at the Kings’ schedule, that April 7 game against the Ducks also sticks out like a sore thumb.

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Long story short, both teams faces some bumps along the way, with the Ducks’ road trip standing out (though only so much).

For all we know, Saturday’s win for Anaheim might just provide the cushion the Ducks need to take the Pacific. A lot can change in a month, however … and don’t be surprised if it all boils down to April 7.

Remember Michael Leighton? He broke Johnny Bower’s AHL shutout record

via AHL
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To some, Michael Leighton will always be “the guy who gave up that Patrick Kane Stanley Cup-winning goal.”

Leighton deserves immense credit for doing everything in his power to prove that he’s more than that, including etching his own bit of positive history this season.

Granted, that success came in the AHL, but it’s resounding nonetheless: with his 46th shutout, Leighton set a new record in the AHL … passing NHL legend Johnny Bower.

He’s accomplished quite a bit in the AHL, as this story notes:

In postseason play, Leighton owns the AHL records for saves in a single game (98, in a five-overtime loss on Apr. 24, 2008) and for lowest GAA in a single playoff year (1.18, in 2008). He shows a 1.68 GAA and .946 save percentage with five more shutouts in 27 career Calder Cup Playoff contests. 

Here are his thoughts on setting a new record, via the Rockford IceHogs (ah, those AHL team names):

The best part of all might be this photo of Leighton with his family:

Yes, the Canucks are a mess, but their coach’s job is reportedly safe

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Vancouver Canucks fans likely have some quibbles about Willie Desjardins – that’s the nature of the beast when your team is stuck in purgatory – but it sounds like he won’t be the fall guy.

During Sportsnet’s latest Headlines segment, Elliotte Friedman notes that Trevor Linden said there’s “no doubt” that “Whiteboard Willie” will be back next season.

(OK, he didn’t call him “Whiteboard Willie,” though …)

The Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma transcribed the vote of confidence Linden gave Desjardins during Hockey Night in Canada:

“We expected to be very young this year — which we are — and we’ve handed Willie a real challenge with several rookies on any give night and I think he has performed well. I’m not making any excuses, but there’s no reason for us to consider a change. The rookies have made steps. Nothing is perfect.”

Generally speaking, many people are critiquing the work that the Canucks’ front office is doing, with some being downright perplexed by their inability to sell players at the trade deadline.

They weren’t “losers” at the trade deadline because of Desjardins, and he likely isn’t the main problem with that team, even if he feels pretty far removed from being a hot coaching prospect.

Many coaches in Desjardins’ spot are the ones who lose their jobs: solid jobs on middling teams that may be better off pressing the “reset” button.

That’s not his fault, and it sounds like he won’t be the scapegoat … although history also says that votes of confidence can rapidly lead to pink slips.

Related: Hey, at least they won last night, even if Henrik Sedin was injured.

Ducks win 10th straight despite Getzlaf’s absence

AP
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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Kevin Bieksa leaned in to listen to teammate Cam Fowler‘s lengthy answer to reporters about the Anaheim Ducks’ team record-tying 10th straight win and was unimpressed.

“What a boring answer!” Bieksa said, smirking.

Everything else surrounding the Ducks lately is quite entertaining.

Corey Perry had a goal and two assists, Jamie McGinn and Rickard Rakell scored on Anaheim’s first two shots, and the Ducks rolled along Thursday night with a 5-1 victory over the reeling Arizona Coyotes.

Fowler and Josh Manson also scored, and Frederik Andersen stopped 27 shots as Anaheim stayed atop the Pacific Division.

Perry, who has five goals and three assists in three games, helped the Ducks match the 2013-14 team’s winning streak despite injured captain Ryan Getzlaf‘s absence.

Not bad for a team that was 16 points back before embarking on a 17-1-1 stretch.

“Obviously, I’m proud of the group from where we’ve come to where we are now,” said Ryan Kesler, who had two assists. “We all believed in this room.”

Anthony Duclair scored, and Niklas Treutle allowed five goals on 16 shots in first NHL start for the Coyotes in their seventh straight loss.

McGinn collected Treutle’s mishandled puck behind the net and jammed in his second goal in two games since being acquired from Buffalo.

Rakell’s one-timer on the power play 46 seconds later made it 2-0 less than 6 minutes in.

“It’s tough when you’re playing one of the best teams in the league and you’re chasing from the beginning,” Treutle said.

Asked why he started Treutle against the NHL’s hottest team, Arizona coach Dave Tippett said “I had no choice” because Louis Domingue had started 11 straight games.

“I’ll take the responsibility,” Tippett said. “We put a young player in a position he’s not ready for.”

Fowler’s slap shot on the power play early in the second period made it 3-0, allowing Anaheim to look forward to Saturday’s showdown with Los Angeles for the Pacific Division lead.

The Ducks went 3 for 7 on the power play and have scored with the man-advantage in every game during the win streak.

“Our power play has been ridiculous,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.

McGinn, who also assisted on Manson’s goal, gives the Ducks even more offense. Perry, meanwhile, reached 49 points with his goal late in the second period that chased Treutle.

Duclair’s 17th goal in the second period, a one-timer on the power play, is Arizona’s only score in two games.

It was the Coyotes’ first home game since they traded third-leading scorer Mikkel Boedker to Colorado at the end of an 0-5 trip. Veteran Alex Tanguay, acquired from the Avalanche, didn’t dress with an injury despite practicing the day before.

Treutle, who made four saves in his only other NHL game Feb. 20 against St. Louis, replaced the struggling Domingue. And he was overwhelmed with nerves early.

The 24-year-old also earned a penalty for sending a clearance into the stands before recording his first save.

“He was probably a little rattled,” Boudreau said.

Domingue stopped five shots in the third period.

The Coyotes fell to 5-15-2 since Jan. 14 to fall 10 points behind Minnesota for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Getzlaf was a late scratch with a lower-body injury, but Anaheim looked sharp despite traveling after a home shootout win over a Montreal a night earlier.

“We’re winning hockey games in a variety of ways,” Fowler said. “I think we’re showing a lot about ourselves.”

NOTES: Boudreau was hopeful Getzlaf will play Saturday. … Fowler served as Anaheim alternate captain. … Duclair has six goals in five games against Anaheim. … Arizona played the traditional rookie trick on Treutle, letting him skate onto the ice alone in warmups. … Coyotes D Zbynek Michalek (lower-body) was scratched. … Arizona’s Jarred Tinordi and Anaheim’s Nick Ritchie had a lengthy brawl in a fight-filled third period.

Striking while hot: Lightning win eighth in a row, tie team record

AP
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OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) Ben Bishop made 33 saves and the Tampa Bay Lightning tied a franchise record with their eighth straight victory, 4-1 over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.

Cedric Paquette, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos – into an empty net – scored for the Lightning, who wrapped up a four-game road trip.

Marc Methot scored the lone goal for the Senators. Andrew Hammond, making his first start since Feb. 11, made 25 saves.

The Senators finally beat Bishop 5:24 into the third, making it a one-goal game. Zack Smith dropped the puck back to Methot, who put it under the crossbar for his third of the season.

But the Lightning put the game out of reach when Kucherov took advantage of Jean-Gabriel Pageau‘s giveaway and beat Hammond easily at 18:14. Stamkos added his empty-netter with 14 seconds left.

Tampa opened the scoring at 4:14 of the second as Paquette eluded Erik Karlsson and knocked home his own rebound. The Senators have now allowed the first goal in 30 of the last 40 games.

The Lightning caught a break late in the period off a turnover at the blue line by the newly acquired Scott Gomez. Palat had an easy goal as Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman was tangled up with Hammond giving the goaltender no chance to make a save.

The Senators caught a break early in the first period when Tampa had a goal called back due to goaltender interference. Anton Stralman scored from just inside the blue line, but Ottawa challenged the goal and it was ruled that Erik Condra interfered with Hammond before the puck crossed the goal line.

NOTES: Senators D Mark Borowiecki injured his right knee on his first shift and is out indefinitely. … Gomez, who was signed Wednesday by Ottawa, made his Senators debut. … Ottawa was without G Craig Anderson (lower body, day-to-day). LW Matt Puempel and D Patrick Wiercioch were healthy scratches. Tampa D Andrej Sustr missed the game with an undisclosed injury and C Jonathan Marchessault was a healthy scratch.