The Pittsburgh Penguins seem primed for a tough first round matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers, but one could argue that they’re glad the New York Islanders won’t make the playoffs. The Isles landed two crushing blows on the Penguins’ Atlantic Division title hopes this week as they took another regulation win tonight by a score of 5-3.
That matches the 5-3 score from the Islanders’ road win against the Penguins on Tuesday, holding Pittsburgh to 100 standings points – five behind the just-as-hated New York Rangers.
Some Islanders fans will probably find it bittersweet, but considering the slugfest from 2010-11, it’s obvious that New York has no love for the Penguins. (Even if they don’t have the same inner-state rivalry going.)
Josh Bailey has been especially hot lately, factoring into all five Islanders goals with two tallies and three assists tonight. That gives him a staggering eight points in those two contests against Pittsburgh, extending his points streak to six games (four goals, 10 assists for 14 points) and giving the team something to look forward to in 2012-13.
On the bright side for the Penguins, it seemed that Sidney Crosby dodged a bullet by recovering quickly after taking a puck to the face. There might be some panic for the less patient in Pittsburgh, but that nice break highlights the fact that things could get much, much worse.
Ilya Bryzgalov will naturally gain a big chunk of tonight’s spotlight among red-hot goalies, but Dallas Stars workhorse Kari Lehtonen isn’t far behind. The Finnish netminder earned his second shutout in a row as the Stars outlasted the Minnesota Wild by the paper-thin margin of 1-0 on Tuesday.
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If you take a longer view on things, the “hottest goalie” argument likely extends to Lehtonen vs. Ryan Miller. Mark Stepneski points out that Lehtonen is 8-0-1 with a 1.29 GAA and ridiculous .955 save percentage in his last nine starts.
All those debates aside, the bottom line is that the Stars continue to strengthen their hold on the top spot in the Pacific Division. Dallas is currently at 83 points with 12 games left, leaving them four points ahead of second place Phoenix. (The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings are currently in action, but at best, the Sharks will reach 79 points and the Kings can finish with no more than 78.)
The Stars have won six games in a row and are 10-0-1 in their last 11 contests. It remains to be seen if they can hang on to the division lead and the third seed that comes with it, but the odds are easily in favor of them advancing to the postseason.
To outside observers, that would be a big enough accomplishment, yet Lehtonen’s play might generate some bolder dreams.
If the Vezina Trophy voting was based on a single back-to-back set, Ryan Miller’s last two nights might just take the 2011-12 crown. Obviously the bigger picture is still mixed for the Buffalo Sabres netminder, but make no doubt about it: he’s red-hot right now.
Miller stopped all 43 Anaheim Ducks shots in a 2-0 win last night and then totally slacked by making all 39 saves against the San Jose Sharks in a 1-0 triumph on Thursday.
More than two great games
While that dynamic duo of contests rank as the peak of Miller’s season, he’s been outstanding in general lately. He’s now 5-0-1 in his last six games and 10-2-3 since it seemed like he hit rock bottom on Jan. 24.
The Sabres still seem like a long shot to make the playoffs (see: this study of the big picture situation), although it’s not out of the question if they can overcome some serious schedule challenges.
After all, they’re surprisingly already up in 10th place behind two vulnerable Southeast Division teams:
8. Winnipeg: 70 points with 16 games remaining
9. Washington: 69 points with 19 games remaining
10. Buffalo: 66 points with 18 games remaining
(click here for the rest of the standings)
Sure, it seemed like Miller actually kinda floundered the last time he fumed in 2011-12 (after Milan Lucic clobbered him), but an angry Miller is looking like a dangerous Miller since Paul Gaustad was traded.
Let me go ahead and make a totally bold prediction: this won’t be the last time that David Krejci and Tyler Seguin will play on the same line.
The two talented forwards have been struggling lately, but they exploded to power the Boston Bruins’ action-packed 4-3 overtime victory against the New Jersey Devils. Krejci scored a hat trick – including the OT winner – while Tyler Seguin (one goal, one assist) and Milan Lucic (two assists) compiled two-point nights.
February to forget
Going into February, Krejci was making a serious argument for “most underrated forward” status – at least with people who throw the term around a bit loosely. Things got ugly for him in the shortest month of the year as he had just two goals and zero assists in 13 games.
Seguin’s February wasn’t quite as rough, but the dynamic 20-year-old has had some serious issues finding the net. Seguin scored just one goal in the month (Feb. 5 against Washington) despite hammering 51 shots on net.
Perhaps the two forwards can eye the finish line now that the playoffs are barely a month away, as Krejci already has more points in March (three) than February (two) while Seguin matched his goal output from February tonight.
That’s the luxury Claude Julien enjoys, though; on any given night he has a slew of useful forwards to put together – even with important pieces such as Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley on the mend.
Let me ask, then: could a rejuvenated Seguin-Krejci combo make Boston fearsome again?
There are plenty of ways to mark the time when the San Jose Sharks transitioned from a shrug-inducing expansion team to a regular contender.
Some point to the work of former GM Dean Lombardi. Others define it by the beginning of the Evgeni Nabokov era through current times.
If you want a fun – if not exact – way to look at it, how about this: the last time the Philadelphia Flyers beat them at home. Just take a look at what the Sharks have done since that 3-1 defeat on Nov. 5, 1999:
- Ten playoff appearances in 11 opportunities.
- Five Pacific Division titles.
- 11-10 in playoff series.
- Three appearances in the Western Conference finals.
- One Presidents Trophy.
Say what you will about the Sharks supposed “choking” ways, but considering where they were in November 1999, you’d be wacky to claim that they haven’t come a long way.
Tonight’s game against the Flyers ranked as one of their tightest matches in the two teams’ rare matches in San Jose. The Sharks rode a Ryane Clowe goal and Antti Niemi’s 26-save shutout to a 1-0 win.
Both the Sharks and Flyers are now in sixth place in their respective conferences, with San Jose being far closer to the top of its division (73 points to Phoenix’s 75) than Philly is to the Atlantic (75 to the Rangers’ 86).
It doesn’t seem very likely at the moment, but hockey fans would be in for a treat if the Flyers received another chance to break their losing streak in San Jose in 2011-12 – a chance that could only come in the Stanley Cup finals.