Video: Senators’ Zibanejad scores off of his knee

Mika Zibanejad had an unusual way of getting the Ottawa Senators on the board first in a key game against the San Jose Sharks tonight. He managed to get the puck past goaltender Antti Niemi by knocking it forward with his knee.

The league reviewed the goal to see if there was a kicking motion, but ultimately ruled that it was a legal redirect and the marker consequently stood.

You can see that below:

It was Zibanejad’s 18th goal of the season and it also extended his point streak to four contests. It’s worth noting that Ottawa has a 22-11-7 record when scoring first, which might sound great, but it’s actually one of the worst winning percentage in the league under those circumstances.

With a win tonight, the Senators would overtake Boston as the holder of the second Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, San Jose is seeking two points to keep its slim playoff hopes alive.

Senators lose Michalek, Puempel; Anderson nears return

The Ottawa Senators are going into tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks with an opportunity to move ahead of Boston in the Wild Card race after the Bruins dropped their fifth straight on Sunday, but they won’t have all hands on deck.

Ottawa lost 22-year-old forward Matt Puempel to a high-ankle sprain that’s expected to cost him four-to-six weeks, per TSN’s Steve Lloyd. In other words, he is done for the regular season, but might still play for the Senators in the playoffs if they get that far. Puempel made his NHL debut on Feb. 21 and has gone on to score two goals and three points in 13 contests.

While Puempel was used sparingly, forward Milan Michalek has been averaging 17:46 minutes per game since the All-Star break and will also be unavailable on Monday. It’s not clear how long Michalek will be sidelined for, but he’s being held out due to headaches, so that’s obviously concerning.

Meanwhile, goaltender Craig Anderson (hand) is hoping to be ready to serve as the Senators’ backup at some point this weekend. A player getting healthy is never a bad thing, but his availability might worry some Senators fans that feel their best chance to make the playoffs is by riding 27-year-old rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond. While Hammond does have a 1.65 GAA and .947 save percentage in 15 games, it was just a couple weeks ago Senators coach Dave Cameron offered a strong endorsement of Anderson.

Would Cameron go back to Anderson if he had the option? It sounds like we’ll find out soon.

In the meantime, Ottawa has some important games to play without Puempel and Michalek.

Related:

Surging Sens proving importance of youth

Surging Sens proving importance of youth

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Andrew Hammond may be a great story, and he definitely has a great nickname. But the Ottawa Senators’ playoff push is about way more than a  goalie coming out of nowhere to salvage a once-lost season.

As the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle writes, the Sens’ comeback is just as much a story of a new coach, Dave Cameron, “turning over ice time and responsibility to younger, skilled players and watching them flourish”:

At this point, with Chris Neil, Chris Phillips and Clarke MacArthur out of the lineup, the Sens have by far the youngest team pushing for a playoff spot (average age 25.9).

The biggest beneficiaries of the coaching change back in December, meanwhile, have been Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad, Curtis Lazar, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Patrick Wiercioch – all of whom fall in the 25-and-under category. And Phillips and David Legwand, the Senators’ two greybeards, are down the most in ice time.

And let’s not forget that Kyle Turris, the NHL’s second star of the week, is only 25 himself, while star defenseman Erik Karlsson is still just 24.

The Sens have in some ways been forced to go with a younger lineup. They’re not a big-budget franchise that’s been in the running for all the top free agents, which is actually something they’ve tried to spin in their favor. (Owner Eugene Melnyk famously said back in 2012 that “any idiot” could spend to the cap.)

Melnyk has promised that the Sens’ payroll will “skyrocket” once all the club’s young players get new contracts. We’ll see to what degree. In the meantime, all that youthful energy and enthusiasm is providing great bang for the buck.

Sens’ drafting and developing, beyond the first round

Wiercioch (42nd overall in 2008)
Hoffman (130th overall in 2009)
Stone (178th overall in 2010)
Pageau (96th overall in 2011)

Related: Why are the Oilers still bad? Look at their drafting

Goalie nods: Red-hot Schneider looks to deliver playoff blow to Kings

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Schneider looks to stymie L.A.

The Los Angeles Kings are desperate for points in the Western Conference playoff chase, and will look to get two against one of the NHL’s most in-form goalies tonight at Prudential.

Cory Schneider gets the start for New Jersey, looking to continue what’s been an outstanding month of March; he’s gone 3-3-1 with a 1.94 GAA and .939 save percentage in seven starts, bumping his overall numbers on the season to .929 (second-best save percentage in the NHL) and 2.16 (fifth-best GAA).

The Kings have lost three of four and their offense has sputtered over that stretch, scoring just five times. That doesn’t bode well for a matchup against Schneider, who has held opponents to two goals or fewer in 25 of his last 31 appearances.

For L.A., no word yet on who’ll start but Jonathan Quick appears likely.

Elsewhere…

‘Hawks at ‘Canes: Corey Crawford vs. Anton Khudobin

Wild at Leafs: Devan Dubnyk vs. Jonathan Bernier

Sharks at Sens: Antti Niemi vs. Andrew Hammond

Sabres at Stars: Anders Lindback vs. Kari Lehtonen

Avs at Flames: Semyon Varlamov vs. Karri Ramo

Jets at Oilers: Ondrej Pavelec (probable) vs. Ben Scrivens

Pavelec, Turris, Bishop named NHL’s three stars of the week

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Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec, Ottawa forward Kyle Turris and Tampa Bay netminder Ben Bishop have been named the NHL’s three stars for the week ending Mar. 22, the league announced on Monday.

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Pavelec went 3-0-0 with a 0.97 goals-against average, .970 save percentage and one shutout to help the Jets (37-23-12, 86 points) pick up three straight wins and maintain the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.

Turris led all players with four goals and shared first in the NHL with six points to power the Senators (36-24-11, 83 points) to three consecutive wins, moving the team within one point of the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Bishop posted a 3-0-0 record with a 2.00 goals-against average and .935 save percentage to lead the Lightning (45-21-7, 97 points) to three straight victories, all against divisional opponents.

Quite the response from Pavelec who, you may recall, was under a fair bit of scrutiny two weeks ago. After it looked like Michael Hutchinson had emerged as Winnipeg’s No. 1, Pavelec let in an outrageous game-losing goal from center ice against St. Louis; the following day, he had a curious exchange with reporters in which he expressed frustration about how little he’d been playing.

Related: Hutchinson or Pavelec — who should the Jets go with down the stretch?