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Tag:Dallas Stars
Posted on: March 9, 2012 12:07 am
Edited on: March 9, 2012 12:10 am
 

Winners & Losers: Stars steal one from Sharks



By: Adam Gretz

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Tomas Vincour and the Dallas Stars: Dallas went into Thursday's game against San Jose holding a three-point lead in the Pacific Division over the suddenly slumping -- and fading -- Sharks. The one thing the Sharks had going for them was the fact that they had games in hand, as wel as three remaining meetings with the Stars. All of that only matters, of course, if the Sharks find a way to get into the win column again, and they fell short of that once again as the Stars found a way to scratch and claw out another win, beating San Jose in a shootout, 4-3.

It was probably the game of the night in terms of entertainment, and after San Jose took the lead, 3-2, with less than four minutes to play in regulation, Tomas Vincour scored the game-tying goal for the Stars on a goal that cleared the goal line behind Antti Niemi by, oh, let's say about an inch, sending the game to overtime.

The Stars had to kill off a 4-on-3 power play in the extra period, and ended up picking up the extra point in the standings thanks to Vincour's goal -- the only one in the shootout -- in the fifth-round.

With the win, the Stars now hold a four-point lead in the Division race. The two teams will meet two more times this season and the Sharks still have two games in hand, but again, sooner or later they have to start winning some of these games.

[Related: Stars 4, Sharks 3]

Washington Capitals: Say this for the Capitals -- they certainly make it interesting, and for the second time in a week they needed a late third period goal to force overtime, taking advantage of an Eric Brewer turnover, and then receiving a game-winning goal in the extra period from their captain, Alex Ovechkin, to pick up a 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The win, combined with Florida's embarrassing loss to Philadelphia, moves the Capitals back to within two points of the top spot in the Southeast division.

Unfortunately, the Capitals may have to be without defenseman Mike Green for a game (or more) if the NHL decides to suspended him for his elbow to the head of Lightning forward Brett Connolly in the second period.

[Related: Capitals 3, Lightning 2 -- Video: Green elbows Connolly]

Boston Bruins: If nothing else, Boston's 3-1 win over the Sabres on Thursday night was big because it gave the Bruins consecutive wins for the first time since January 10-12. It also allowed them to maintain their three-point lead over the Ottawa Senators in the surprisingly tight Northeast Division race.

[Related: Bruins 3, Sabres: 1]

Losers

Florida Panthers: Yeah, they're still in first place, but you have to wonder how much longer they can go on like this. With their 5-0 loss to the Flyers, combined with the Capitals win, gives them just a two point lead in the division, and for the season they've now been outscored by 26 goals.

How bad is that? The only teams that have been outscored by more goals this season are the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.

That's not the type of company you want to be keeping at this point in the season.

[Related: Flyers 5, Panthers 0]

Another slow start for the Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes are making it difficult on themselves. On Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild they found themselves in a 2-0 hole for the fifth consecutive game, and it shouldn't be much of a surprise that for the fifth straight game they ended up in the loss column. Granted, this one came in a shootout, 4-3, giving them a point in the standings, but they can't keep falling behind by two goals early in games.

It's hard enough to win that way in the NHL for any team, especially one that isn't really built to play from behind.

[Related: Wild 3, Coyotes 2]

Anaheim Ducks: Bad night all around for the Ducks and their playoff chances. Not only did they lose to a Blues team that took over sole possession of the top spot in the NHL, a number of the teams they're chasing in the standings (Dallas, Phoenix, San Jose) gained a point. They're now back to being seven points out of the No. 8 seed.

[Related: Blues 3, Ducks 1 -- Blues take over top spot in NHL]

Los Angeles Kings: The Columbus Blue Jackets continued their spoiler role on Thursday with a 3-1 win over a Los Angeles Kings that couldn't afford to drop a game to the worst team in the league, on the same night the Blue Jackets did their part to erase the memories of Jeff Carter's brief stay in central Ohio by replacing his nameplates on fan jerseys with Jack Johnson nameplates.

And speaking of Johnson, and adding insult to injury for the Kings, he managed to get some revenge on the team that trade him (for Carter) by scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal. The Blue Jackets have now won four consecutive games, something they had not done since November. Of 2010.

[Related: Blue Jackets, 3 Kings 1 -- Blue Jackets will fix your Carter jersey]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 8, 2012 12:15 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2012 12:25 pm
 

NHL Award Races: Breaking down coaches, GMs

Hitchcock has pointed St. Louis in the right direction at each and every turn. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Welcome to Award Races. For every week the remainder of the season, we will break down two of the awards races at a time and see how they are stacking up as the NHL season hits the home stretch.

When it comes to coaches, it feels like nearly half lost their jobs at some point this season. Truth is, it's actually one shy of a 1/3, which is still an astronomically high number.

The ones that have stuck around? It seems like they are all in the conversation for coach of the year.

However it's the guy who came in after the season started that is running away with the Jack Adams Award for the top coach. Like his style or not,

Ken Hitchcock has pretty much been a miracle worker since coming into St. Louis just 13 games through the season. What has he done since? Only put the Blues in the mix of about four teams vying for the Presidents' Trophy. As it stands on Thursday, the Blues are the West's top team and tied with the Rangers for the best point total in the league. Not too shabby.

While I see him as a clear front-runner, I'm not sure everybody feels the same. And that's where the Jack Adams conversation gets interesting. The list of coaches who could be considered is about 10 guys long. Paul MacLean will be on everybody's finalist list with what he has down in Ottawa. You can see the rest of my top 5 below. What you don't see is the guys who didn't make the cut and it's a hell of a group. Dan Byslma, Barry Trotz, Mike Babcock, Kevin Dineen and Dave Tippett deserve mentions too.

When looking at the general managers, the architects, I think we have a much more defined group we're looking at. The nature of an award like this is that it's sometimes tough to gauge. If I were to pick the best GM in the game I might go with Peter Chiarelli, Ray Shero or Mike Gillis. They have put together great teams over multiple years. But in just a one-year sense? It cuts it down.

So how do you not start with Dale Tallon in Florida? The Panthers have already eclipsed their point total from last season and they still have 17 games to go. While it's no guarantee yet, they do seem to be on their way to making the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

And that's after going into the summer with hardly anybody on the roster. He went out and acquired nine players between the draft and the first few days of free agency. That's almost half the team! He continued by making a few trades including shipping David Booth to Vancouver. All the while he has done nothing to disrupt what looks to be a very promising future with a loaded farm system.

So here you go, this week's rankings. Remember, these are just one man's opinion and you can feel free to share yours below, I'm sure you will. As always, the rest of the races are below with a quick update.

Award watch
Jack Adams GM
Ken Hitchcock The Blues are 36-11-7 since he took over. All I have for that is Wow! He has helped make a borderline playoff team to a borderline Stanley Cup team. How can there really be any other choice? Dale Tallon Consider the monumental task it has proven to win in South Florida then consider that Tallon basically built a new team that is winning in one year. He was widely criticized for his team building this summer and while he did overpay for some players, it's tough to argue with the results so far.
Paul MacLean Bonus points for the mustache that makes Wilford Brimley blush. The majority of publications/panels had the Senators finishing dead last in the league this season. Oops. The difference between MacLean and Cory Clouston has been pretty clear and the players have responded, especially Erik Karlsson. David Poile Maybe this one is tough until the offseason when we find out the fates of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, but Poile has done all he could to show the Predators are in it to win it. The re-signing of Pekka Rinne, the acquisitions at the trade deadline all while on a low budget. He's usually in this conversation and he is again.
John Tortorella Yes, the Rangers are good and that's not a great surprise. This good, however? Yes, I think that's surprising. Players have really bought in to what Tortorella is doing. Perhaps the sign of a good coach is how much the team takes on the coach's personality/style. Nobody has done better at that than Torts and Hitchcock. Don Maloney This was another team left for dead before the season began but as I write this, the Coyotes are currently seventh in the West and two points out of the Pacific Division lead. He has had so many obstacles to go through but has continued to bring in good guys and build a winner on a budget.
Peter DeBoer I feel like the Devils first-year coach is under the radar in this conversation, but why should he be? The Devils floundered last season and without changing a whole lot have been significantly better this time around. DeBoer definitely deserves some credit for Ilya Kovalchuk's evolution to a complete player, too. Doug Armstrong Brian Elliott on a two-way contract? Replacing Davis Payne with Hitchcock before anybody else could? Sneaky additions of Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner? That's not a bad year, then add in that he's locked in many of his young core players. Hitchcock deserves a lot of attention for the Blues' success, but so does Armstrong.
Glen Gulutzan This was one hiring in the offseason that made people say "who?" but it has worked well. Despite the departure of Brad Richard and his offensive output, the Stars are in better position this season. In fact, they lead the Pacific Division. For a guy who is two seasons removed from coaching in the ECHL, that ain't bad. Glen Sather The headline grabber was obviously the addition of Richards this summer, but locking in his younger players might have been the better move. Plus, he has presided over a franchise that has stocked the shelves for the future, just look at the Columbus Blue Jackets' wish list for Rick Nash, a trade that didn't happen.

And for a quick look at the rest of the races we'll be checking in on every week.

Hart: Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Henrik Lundqvist

Vezina: Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Brian Elliott

Norris: Erik Karlsson, Shea Weber, Nicklas Lidstrom

Selke: Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Kesler, David Backes

Calder: Gabriel Landeskog, Adam Henrique, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: March 8, 2012 9:47 am
Edited on: March 8, 2012 9:51 am
 

Pregame Skate: Jeff Carter back in Columbus

Carter returns to Columbus, just in black. I guess that's fitting. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

7 ET, Los Angeles at Columbus

Sure, there's the story of the Kings' playoff push to watch for in this one. They only enter the night in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. So, ya know, the game is pretty important in that regard.

But even at this time of the year that takes a little bit of a back seat to the bigger storyline of the game: Jeff Carter returning to Columbus. Already. Even though he denies it, Carter never seemed to be too pleased to be in Columbus after the summer trade out of Philadelphia. His short time in Ohio was also disturbed by a few injury setbacks that have cut his season shorter.

“Obviously when I got traded from Philly, it was hard on me, something that I didn’t expect. Over time, you get over that," Carter told Rich Hammond of L.A. Kings Insider I came in here [Columbus] with an open mind. There were a lot of expectations around the team, from the fans and the city and stuff like that. For whatever reason, it didn’t really work out that way, and things just started to snowball from there. When you’re losing games, like we did, and giving up leads late, it’s pretty tough on guys. It’s hard to kind of keep going. It was a tough year."

You know the already disgruntled Blue Jackets fans who have sat through that tough year are going to let Carter know how they feel about him, and I can only guess it's not overwhelmingly positive. And while the Carter storyline might be front and center to start the game, once the puck drops it's back to the action.

“Obviously you want to go out and play good and beat your old team," Carter said. "I think above all that is, we’re in a pretty tight race here too. We need two points, for sure."

7 ET, Tampa Bay at Washington (NHL Network)

The Capitals and Lightning enter the night only two points apart in the Southeast Division with a couple weeks left. It feels like last season for one night, at least.

The problem, of course, is that they aren't battling for first in the division on Thursday night. They are fighting for eighth/ninth in the East. That's a position the Caps are in with their current 1-2-1 home stand and the Lightning from a first half of the season of very mediocre play. But speaking of mediocrity, the East has it and so these teams are still dreaming.

It's amazing to think that with a regulation win tonight, the Lightning will pull even with the Capitals in the playoff race. They'll have to await the final between the Jets and Canucks to see where they stand in relation to the last playoff spot.

Of course for Tampa they come in with an injury at their worst position on the ice, goaltending. Mathieu Garon is out and so it's up to Dwayne Roloson and Dustin Tokarski. The good news? The Caps aren't doing a whole lot of scoring this season, so this game could prove to a remedy for either side: the Caps offense or Lightning goaltending.

8:30 ET, San Jose at Dallas

This much we know: The Stars will remain in first place by the end of the night. But what they could do that's even more impressive is open up a five-point advantage on the Sharks in the Pacific and Western Conference race. Now that would be something.

The Sharks have been in a freefall for a few weeks now and it has led them to the brink of slipping out of the playoffs altogether. Imagine that, the Sharks missing the playoffs? It's not too tough to imagine right now. By virtue of having games in hand on the other teams, the Sharks hold the eighth position right now in the three-way tie, but with both the others in action, it's possible the Sharks could be 10th by night's end.

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I'm still trying to figure out which is more surprising, though: The Sharks being on the playoff bubble or the Stars being the division leader.

By the way, this is the third meeting between these teams and the final day of the season, April 7. So they're going to have a few chances to make some big swings in the standings, starting with tonight.

Others worth watching

9 ET, Minnesota at Phoenix: It was only a few days ago that the Coyotes were the surprise Pacific Division leader. Now they have lost four straight, including two to Columbus. They get another bottom feeder in the Wild. They kind of need to win this.

10 ET, Winnipeg at Vancouver: Now we find out how real the Jets are. They did what they had to do and held down the home-ice advantage on their long home stand, but where they will make the playoffs is on the road. It starts at the Canucks.

7 ET, Buffalo at Boston: Another hard to believe sentence: The Sabres can move into the eighth position in the East with a win tonight. This was expected to be the Northeast battle this season, but at least it's a big game with the Sabres' resurgence.

Your promised miscellany

  • Wednesday's Winners & Losers
  • The Canucks have hit a bump in the road, but it's hardly a reason to panic. Just look at the Bruins a year ago. (The Province)
  • Bobby Ryan is looking ahead to life after Teemu in Anaheim and he wants to take that second-line role. (O.C. Register)
  • Did Brian Burke also target Ron MacLean when he complained to the CBC about Coach's Corner. Yes, yes he did. (Pro Hockey Talk)
  • Lastly, I'm a proud American and make no apologies for it, but I'm a fan of Canada ... and it's national anthem. So even I cringe at this from last night's game in Buffalo.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 7, 2012 2:53 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 3:18 pm
 

Kris Letang: the missing piece for the Penguins



By: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the importance of Kris Letang to the Penguins' postseason chances.

When it was announced on Tuesday afternoon that Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact, the next major step in his latest attempt return to the lineup, it sent a wave of excitement and optimism through the Penguins fan base.

It's not hard to see why. He is, after all, their captain, their best player, and the best player in the league when he's healthy.  With him in the lineup the Penguins should go from being a Stanley Cup contender to, perhaps, one of the top two or three favorites -- if not the favorite -- in the NHL ... if their lineup remains intact.

His return, whenever it happens (it apparently won't be before Sunday's game against Boston) will certainly have a significant impact on their chances. But, and as crazy as this may sound, there is still another player they are currently without that may be even more important for any sort of Stanley Cup run in Pittsburgh -- defenseman Kris Letang, who is currently out of the lineup after being hit by Eric Nystrom of the Dallas Stars at the end of February.

It's the second time this year he's missed time with a head injury, missing over 20 games with a concussion earlier this season after he was hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty.

The Penguins have been without Crosby, minus the eight games he played earlier this season, since the beginning of last January, which is over a full calendar year and nearly a season-and-a-half worth of games, and they have still managed to be one of the top teams in the NHL.

In 65 games this season they are the third-highest scoring team in the league (in terms of goals per game) and have the second most points in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers. It's a testament to the depth they've acquired over the years and the 1-2 punch they still have down the middle at center with Evgeni Malkin (arguably the best player in hockey right now) and Jordan Staal, a duo that few teams in the NHL can match up with.

Even without Crosby they still have another No. 1 center, a darn good No. 2 center, and a pretty potent offense overall. One of the best in the league.

What they don't have without Letang is another No. 1 defenseman, and that's a pretty glaring weakness to have on a potential Stanley Cup team. Their blue line takes on an entirely different look without him, and it simply isn't anywhere near as effective. Just looking at the raw numbers this season: with Letang in the lineup the Penguins are 25-10-5, average over 3.2 goals per game, only allow 2.4 and have a total goal-differential of plus-31.

Without him those numbers drop down to a 14-11-0 record, 2.68 goals for per game, 2.56 against and a total goal differential of just plus-3.

Is Letang by himself worth that entire difference? Well, not exactly, because the Penguins have had other players out of the lineup at various times, but his absence is still huge given the number of roles he's asked to play, and the way he's able to perform within them.

He plays over 25 minutes a night, he is their power play quarterback, a regular on the penalty kill, and during even-strength situations he takes on some of toughest assignments on the Penguins defense, as the scatterplot below, which uses Corsi Relative Quality of Competition and Offensive Zone starts, helps to illustrate. The closer to the top left (meaning tougher opponents and fewer offensive zone starts) the more difficult the assignments, and the closer to the bottom right the "softer" the assignments.

PenguinsDefense

As you can see, the Penguins have a pretty set group of top-four defensemen that stand out from the pack when it comes to their 5-on-5 assignments with Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek. Everybody else that's played on their blue line this season has been relatively protected. And when Letang is out of the lineup, as he's been for 25 games and counting this season, one of those other players has to step into a top-four role, and the results aren't always pretty.

Letang not only draws some of the toughest assignments on their blue line, he also outperforms everybody else. He has a positive Relative Corsi rating (a sign that when he's on the ice the Penguins are controlling the puck far more than they are when he's not on the ice) and he is by far their leading scorer on the blue line despite appearing in just 40 games. Orpik is a great physical presence on the blue line, and Martin hasn't been anywhere near as bad as his many critics in Pittsburgh want you to believe that he's been, but none of them are as valuable to the Penguins blue line as Letang.

His ability to get the puck out of danger, lead the rush and control the game is unmatched by any other player on their defense.

Crosby's return will be huge news, and it will give the Penguins pretty obscene depth down the middle. But the return of Letang is what would potentially put the the Penguins over the top, on paper anyway.

I'm still convinced they could win without Crosby due to the presence of Malkin and Staal at center. I'm not convinced they can win without Letang (even with Crosby) because they have nobody else that can fill his skates on defense.

(Corsi, Quality of Competition and Zone Start Data all via BehindtheNet.ca)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 6, 2012 8:16 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 8:27 pm
 

Nicklas Grossman is now Nicklas ... Grossmann

By: Adam Gretz

Our bizarre NHL story of the day comes out of Philadelphia and involves new Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann. The second "N" at the end being the key, as it never existed on any of his official NHL gear or paperwork throughout his career, even though it was the actual way to spell his name.

Grossmann just never said anything. Until now.

According to Tim Pannaccio of CSN Philadelphia, the mistake was finally noticed by Flyers director of team services Bryan Hardenberg when he saw Grossmann's passport and spotted that the spelling did not match up with what is on the back of the defenseman's jersey, which has been spelled incorrectly since his NHL career began with the Dallas Stars.

"When I was younger coming up, I didn’t want to say anything," said Grossmann on Tuesday. "I was just happy to have a jersey with my name on it.”

Even if it wasn't the proper spelling.

The Flyers acquired Grossmann prior to the NHL trade deadline in exchange for a pair of draft picks, and had the trade not happened, it's likely that he would continued on with the wrong spelling on the back of his sweater.

So, if you're one of the fans out there that owns a Nicklas Grossman jersey, well, it's now officially a Jersey Foul.



For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 6, 2012 2:49 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 2:57 pm
 

The Playoffs have already started for Coyotes

CoyotesBy: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- After cruising through the month of February without a loss in regulation or overtime, the Phoenix Coyotes have hit a rut at the beginning of March, losing three consecutive games, including Monday's 2-1 decision in Pittsburgh.

For a team that's already in what it considers to be playoff mode, needing every win it can get along the way in what is a completely unpredictable and constantly changing playoff race, that's a tough, and potentially costly, stretch of games.

The Western Conference race is so close right now that the Coyotes dropped from the No. 3 seed, and the top spot in the Pacific Division, all the way down to the No. 7 seed, losing the top spot in the division due to a tiebreaker to the Dallas Stars -- a team that didn't even play on Monday night. Entering Tuesday's game in Columbus the Coyotes are just three points ahead of the ninth seeded Avalanche, and one of four teams, along with Dallas, San Jose and Los Angeles, fighting for the Pacific Division crown.

Needless to say, it's a tight race.

After winning 11 of 12 games in February (the only loss came during a shootout in Vancouver), the Coyotes skyrocketed up the standings and had an opportunity late last week and over the weekend to continue their impressive run, only to drop home games to Calgary, and even worse, the Blue Jackets, the worst team in hockey for much of the season. It's turned into a small three-game losing streak that continued on Monday night, and slow starts have doomed them in each of the past three games.

They were out-chanced and outplayed for much of the game against the Flames on Thursday, and didn't start to generate any substantial or sustained offensive pressure against Columbus until mid-way through the third period on Saturday, at which point the game was already well in hand in favor of the Blue Jackets.

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There are no such thing as moral victories in professional sports, and there can't be, especially when it's this late in the season and playoff spots are on the line (as forward Radim Vrbata put it on Monday night game, "Points are what count and tonight we didn't get any") but Monday's game at least felt like it was a step back in the right direction, and even though they came up short, the vibe in the Coyotes room after the game was that they probably deserved a better fate. Facing one of the top teams in the NHL, on the road, the Coyotes at least seemed to get back to the style of hockey that resulted in their near-perfect month of February.

"I thought our compete level was very good," said head coach Dave Tippett. "We did a lot of things hard in the hockey game, it's unfortunate we didn't get rewarded around the net a little more. We created some opportunities there we didn't capitalize on, but we gave them a couple outnumbered breaks and they capitalized, and it ended up being the difference in the game."

Added captain Shane Doan, "We felt we controlled the game for most of the night, and then we had some moments where they kind of found some momentum, but we played the game the way we wanted to."

It was one of those nights where they outplayed their opponent for much of the game, only to lose because the other goaltender simply stole one in what turned out to be a pretty impressive goaltender duel between Marc-Andre Fleury and Mike Smith.

Smith, Phoenix's surprisingly strong and steady replacemen for Ilya Bryzgalov, seemed to be disappointed with his performance on Monday after giving up two early goals, including one to former Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek, and talked about his need to be better. But it would be difficult, if not impossible for him to be much better than he's been this season, seeing as how he's already been one of the best goalies in the NHL. The Coyotes don't need him to record a shutout every single game (which is what it would have required to win on Monday), they simply need more consistent offensive pressure and efforts like the one they received in Pittsburgh, even if it came in defeat.

If they play like that over their remaining 16 games, they're going to win a lot more than they lose.

So what's facing the Coyotes the rest of the way? Their remaining schedule is split evenly, with eight home games and eight road games, and eight games against teams that are currently in playoff spots and eight games against teams that are not currently in playoff spots. The biggest issue they have within the division, as of Tuesday, is that San Jose and Los Angeles still have games in hand, and while they have no remaining games with the Kings, they still have to play the Sharks three more times, including two in Phoenix, a series of matchups that could determine whether or not the Coyotes win the division, or perhaps miss the playoffs entirely.

Whether they make it or not, every game the rest of the way is essentially a playoff game anyway.

Said Smith, "They started a month ago for us."

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 5, 2012 11:00 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 12:27 am
 

Winners & Losers: Jets win to finish homestand

By Brian Stubits

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Winnipeg: Not the Jets -- although they fit too -- but the city of Winnipeg. Its support of the Jets in their return season has been spectacular and it seemed as amped up as ever at MTS Centre on Monday night with the Sabres in town. Winner earned the right to hold the eighth seed.

As always this season (and for many more to come, I'm sure) they filled the place to the rafters and in unison heckled somebody on the other team. Tonight's choise was Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and the Jets fans might have had the chant of the season, reigning "Sil-ver Med-al!" chants on Miller. Even if he was the best goalie in that tournament in 2010, it was still clever.

But of course its being fueled by the Jets (I'd like to say that pun was intended, but not really). They have still played more games than most every other team in the league but they are now starting to make that a moot point by winning right now. They are forcing those teams with games in hand to pick up all the points to catch them at this point. The win on Monday night, for example, put the Jets four ahead of the Sabres in the East.

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More importanlty, they come out as winners on their long homestand. The victory tonight capped off their eight-game home stand in which they went 5-1-2. They did exactly what they had to which was use the comfy confines of MTS Centre to launch themselves into a position that they can hold on to what was was pretty unthinkable considering they are the Thrashers with a different name: a playoff berth. Nine of their final 15 games are on the road.

[Related Jets 3, Sabres 1]

Teemu Selanne, Corey Perry: The Anaheim Ducks got a win to keep their slimmest of slim playoff hopes alive, but that wasn't the biggest story out of the game. Instead it was, as is often the case, Teemu Selanne notching another milestone.

By assisting on Bobby Ryan's go-ahead goal against the Oilers, Selanne earned his 1,398th career point. That was good enough to tie him with his boyhood idol Jari Kurri for 19th on the all-time scoring list. You know that is one milestone that has to just be a little more special than the rest.

Perry then put in what proved to be the winning tally with only a couple minutes left in the game to reach his own milestone: Career goal No. 200. Sure, it isn't exactly tying your boyhood idol for 19th all time in scoring but it's nothing to sneeze at either. He added No. 201 in an empty net.

And yes, the win keeps the Anaheim hopes alive even if that's a still barely. They move five points behind eighth-place San Jose in the West while the Sharks have three games in hand. What it did accomplish, though, is that they passed the Minnesota Wild to take 12th place by themselves.

[Related: Ducks 4, Oilers 2]

Dallas Stars: Only in the NHL can you win by not playing. See the losers side for an explanation.

Losers

Phoenix Coyotes: What they wouldn't give to get February back. After gaining 23 of the 24 points up for grabs in the month of love, they have been left heartbroken so far in March. The latest was Monday's 2-1 loss in Pittsburgh, the early 2-0 hole too difficult to overcome against Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins.

But they lost more than the game on Monday night. The Coyotes also lost their position atop the Pacific Division. Sure, it's by way of tie-breakers, but as of this moment, the Dallas Stars -- not the Coyotes, Sharks, Kings or Ducks -- are your division leaders and current holders of the No. 3 seed out West. Don't believe me? Take a look.

This is how quickly you can go from feeling comfortable to feeling very nervous at this time of the season. They have just a three-point lead at this point on the ninth-seeded Kings and 10th-seeded Avalanche, which isn't different than it was before the night. Except that they lose one game in hand.

It might be time to give goaltender Mike Smith a breather. He has now started 20 of the last 21 games after Monday night and he's obviously dropped the last three. He would probably like the two goals from Monday back, particularly the winner from Chris Kunitz back. After that, though, he was sharp.

[Related: Penguins 2, Coyotes 1]

Goal of the night

Chris Thorburn, Jets: This isn't a regular item in the Winners & Losers, just on occassion when when warrants it. And this one warrants it.

Back to Winnipeg we go.

H/t to Puck Daddy for the video

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 5, 2012 9:29 am
Edited on: March 5, 2012 9:36 am
 

Pregame Skate: Sabres continue playoff push

Sabres

By: Adam Gretz

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.


Playoff Race

RightJets8 PM, Buffalo at Winnipeg: Ah, yes, the joys of the chaotic playoff race in the NHL.

The Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets enter Monday's game separated by just two points in the standings, and with a win in regulation the Sabres would actually move into a tie with the Jets for the No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 70 points, and still have a game in hand.

It's been quite a turnaround for the Sabres after a dreadful mid-season slump, and a lot of it has to do with the recent play of goaltender Ryan Miller, who has been playing some of the best hockey of his career.

The Jets, meanwhile, need a win to keep pace with the Florida Panthers, winners on Sunday night, in the Southeast Division race, and have the advantage of playing in their own barn which has provided them with one of the best home ice advantages in the league this season. Needless to say, it's going to be a playoff atmosphere at the MTS Centre on Monday night as it's probably one of the biggest games the city of Winnipeg has seen in ... oh, about 15 years.

CoyotesPenguins7 PM, Phoenix at Pittsburgh: Unbeatable in February, the Coyotes have stumbled a bit during their first two games March and are coming off a brutal home loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets over the weekened.

It doesn't get any easier on Monday night as they head into Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins, winners of five straight and owners of the second best point total in the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins don't have much of a chance to catch the Rangers for the No. 1 spot in the division and conference, but they are still fighting for the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage in the first round, entering Monday's game two points ahead of the Flyers, four points ahead of the Devils and five points ahead of the Senators.

They've outscored their opponents 22-7 during their current five-game winning streak.

The Coyotes have quite a bit of company in the Pacific Division race, and enter Monday's game tied with the Dallas Stars for the top spot with 75 points (Phoenix has a game in hand) and two points ahead of the San Jose Sharks.

DucksOilers10 ET, Edmonton at Anaheim: The Ducks miracle run is starting to run out of time, still seven points out of the No. 8 spot in the West and still trailing four teams.

On Monday they get a visit from the Edmonton Oilers, one of the worst teams in the league, and perhaps the worst road team in the league.

A win is an absolute must in a game like this, and a loss would be a potentially crushing blow to their already slim postseason chances

Your promised miscellany
Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com