Tag:Evgeni Malkin
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: February 29, 2012 11:07 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 12:48 am
 

Winners & Losers: Penguins, Blackhawks, Leafs



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

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pittsburgh-Dallas Stars matchup is your typical, run-of-the-mill East vs. West game that takes place once, maybe twice per year.

There really isn't much of a history between the two teams, and it's not really a game that would (or probably should) get any extra attention on your schedule.

But man, something flipped the switch on Wednesday night as the two teams played one of the most physical -- and entertaining -- games of the season, with what appeared to be plenty of bad blood. The Penguins lost Kris Letang and Steve Sullivan during the game, and didn't necessarily play their best, but still ended up coming away with the 4-3 win in a shootout. That gives them another two points in the Eastern Conference standings and moves them three points ahead of the Senators (with two games in hand) and four points ahead of the Philadlephia Flyers.

The real concern for the Penguins now is the status of Letang, easily their best defenseman. With all of the talk about Sidney Crosby's absence this season (and back to last season) the Penguins still have plenty of scoring and depth down the middle, especially with the way Evgeni Malkin and Jodan Staal are playing. They can still be a Stanley Cup contender, if not one of the favorites, without Crosby, and have played like it.

They may not be without Letang. During his earlier absence the Penguins were 10-11 witout him.

[Related: Penguins 4, Stars 3 -- Kris Letang injured (Video)]

Chicago Blackhawks: February hasn't been the best month for the Chicago Blackhawks, and entering Wedneday's game against the Maple Leafs, another team that's been sleepwalking through the month, the Blackhawks were riding a three-game losing streak and falling dangerously close to the Western Conference playoff bubble.

After falling down early in the first period, the Blackhawks roared back and earned a 5-4 win thanks to a big performance from Marian Hossa, scoring two goals, including the game-winner ... which turned out to be an empty net goal late in the third period.

[Related: Blackhawks 5, Maple Leafs 4]

Ryan Miller: The Sabres goalie spoke out earlier in the week about his team trading Paul Gaustad to the Nashville Predators for a draft pick (he didn't like it), and in his first appearance since the trade deadline he played perhaps his best game of the season, stopping all 43 shots he faced, including 20 in the third period alone, as Buffalo picked up a 2-0 win over the Ducks to keep a small glimmer of hope alive when it comes to its playoff chances.

[Related Sabres 2, Ducks 0 -- Sabres trade Gaustad to Nashville]

Losers

Toronto Maple Leafs
: After slow start after slow start, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally had a fast start on Wednesday night in Chicago, in a game they absolutely needed to win, not only for their playoff hopes, but to keep some sort of sanity within the city of limits of Toronto. They actually jumped out to a 3-1 lead first period lead.

Things looked promising. And then they watched as the bottom completely fell out, resulting in a 5-4 loss to the Blackhawks. And just like that, things went from bad to total meltdown.

Toronto has now lost 10 of its past 11 games, with the only win during that stretch coming in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers, and remain four points behind the Washington Capitals for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference -- a playoff spot that no team seems to want.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks already slim playoff hopes took a big hit on Wednesday night, and thanks to the Stars gaining a point in a shootout loss, and Anaheim's 2-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, Bruce Boudreau's bunch now finds itself seven points out of the No. 8 seed in the West, and still in 13th place.

They put together a heck of an effort in the third period, firing 20 shots at Ryan Miller (and 43 for the game) but could never break through on the scoreboard.

[Related: Playoff Race]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: February 29, 2012 3:18 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 5:19 pm
 

Can Steven Stamkos score 60 this season?

StamkosBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: what it's going to take for Steven Stamkos to become the first 60-goal scorer since 2007-08, and whether or not it's even possible.

Steven Stamkos has been the one consistent bright spot for the Tampa Bay Lightning this year, and he is currently putting together the most productive goal-scoring season of his young career.

Through Tampa Bay's first 63 games he is leading the league with 44 goals, seven more than Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin as of Wednesday afternoon. Barring injury he looks to be well on his way to the second 50-goal season of his career, as well as his second Rocket Richard Trophy. (He shared the goal-scoring crown during the 2009-10 season with Sidney Crosby, with both players scoring 51 goals).

He has clearly taken over as the NHL's best, and most dangerous goal scoring threat.

But he also has a chance -- a very small chance -- to do something that only one player has done over the past 14 years -- score 60 goals in a single season. It's not going to be easy, of course, and it's probably going to take a great deal of luck along the way, but it's not entirely out of the question, either.

Scoring 50 goals these days is rare enough. Since the NHL came out of the lockout in 2005-06 only 10 different players have scored even 50 goals in a single season (Alex Ovechkin has done it four times, Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk have done it twice, Stamkos, Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Vincent Lecavalier, Jaromir Jagr and Corey Perry have all done it once).

Scoring 60 goals in this era is practically unheard of.

Ovechkin was the last player to reach the mark having scored 65 goals during the 2007-08 season. Before that you have to go all the way back to the 1995-96 season when Mario Lemieux and Jagr scored 69 and 62 goals respectively for the Penguins.

With 19 games remaining on the schedule for Tampa Bay, Stamkos needs 16 goals to reach 60 for the season. Twice in his career he's had 19-game stretches where he's scored at least 16 goals, including one such run earlier this season between games 20 and 38 for the Lightning, scoring 16 goals on 61 shots.

His best 19-game stretch came at the start of last season he averaged a goal-per-game over the first 19 games of the season. So it is possible, and he's done it before.

If he were to maintain his current shooting percentage for the season, a career-best 19.9 percent, he would need to generate somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 shots on goal over the final 19 games of the season to score 16 goals. That's a lot. Even worse, if he were to shoot at his career average of 16.8 percent he would need to generate nearly 100 shots in 19 games, which is just over five per game. That's nearly impossible. Especially if you add in the fact that he's already in the middle of a hot streak, having scored seven goals in his past seven games, which would mean he would need to finish the season with 23 goals in 26 games.

One of the biggest reasons we no longer see 60 (or even 50) goal seasons is the same reason goal-scoring as a whole is down across the league -- a declining number of power play opportunities.

Stamkos is at his most lethal to opposing teams when the Lightning are on the man-advantage and his teammates are able to feed him one-timer after one-timer from the circle. With the average NHL team getting just 3.5 power play opportunities per game this season, the lowest average the NHL has seen in over 10 years, and the Lightning actually well below that average at just 3.1 opportunities per game, players just aren't getting as many prime opportunities to put up huge goal totals.

And it's why the 60-goal scorer is nearly extinct in the NHL.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: February 29, 2012 10:17 am
Edited on: February 29, 2012 10:29 am
 

Morning Skate: Stars keep playoff push going

The Stars go searching for a fifth straight win. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Morning 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

7:30 ET, Pittsburgh at Dallas (NBC Sports Network)

The teams in the Atlantic Division (excluding the Islanders) are in an interesting spot here. Barring a miracle, they aren't going to catch the Rangers but none of them is fighting for their playoff lives either. Maybe New Jersey has to worry if they lose a few more -- maybe -- but they're six points up on ninth-place Winnipeg. So they're left playing big games seeing that it's playoff push time and all, but nothing all that impactful.

But you find ways to make them meaningful. For example, only one non-division winner is going host a first-round playoff series as the four seed. That's no doubt worth playing for. And that's what the Penguins are going after right now.

Their opponents on Wednesday night, however, have a lot greater sense of desperation. That's because the Stars enter the night in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the West (holding the tie-breaker with a game in hand). Dallas would be thinking about hopping into the division race if the Coyotes weren't hotter than the Phoenix summers. They have won four straight games and have gained no ground on the Coyotes.

Now none of the above means the Penguins are going to come coasting into the game while the Stars come guns a blazin'. They wouldn't be in the position their in if they did that ever. In today's NHL you can't do that against any team. It's just something to remember if you notice a difference in "compete level."

It also marks, by the way, the first time that James Neal has come back to Dallas to face his old team (and Matt Niskanen, of course). Seeing the season that Neal is having with his brand new contract extension has to be a little painful for the Dallas faithful thinking of what could have been.

Oh and don't forget about Evgeni Malkin. He has five goals and two assists in his last three games. I hear he's good.

8 ET, Toronto at Chicago

This game should be sponsored by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Free Falling could be the theme song.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a tail spin that Chuck Yeager would have a hard time pulling out of. They've lost five in a row, most in ugly fashion. They've lost nine of their last 10 games. The fans are chanting for the coach to be fired. They are on the verge of falling completely out of the playoff race, going into tonight's game four points behind eighth-place Washington. The Leafs are as close right now to 14th in the East as they are eighth.

Well OK, I guess it's a pretty typical end of February in Canada's biggest city.

But let's not forget about America's Second City here and Chicago. They are going through their own swoon. They have only four wins in their last 16 games and bring a three-game losing streak into the battle with the Leafs.

If they were to get no points tonight, the Blackhawks would legitimately have to start worrying about being on the playoff bubble. Right now they are only three points up on teams 8-10 and will have played more games than all of them. When teams come into Chicago this out of sorts, the Blackhawks need to be able to deliver the next blow.

I'm not sure who is more desperate for the two points tonight.

Others worth watching

9:30 ET, St. Louis at Edmonton: The Blues are in fight for the Central Division crown with the Red Wings and have finally found their form on the road. They've won three straight away from home but the Oilers seem like a perfect team to play spoiler the rest of the way.

10 ET, Buffalo at Anaheim: To be frank, but of these teams is all but done in the playoff race. It would be remarkable if either made it in. But I'm still going to dub this a "loser leave town" match. Don't win this game and you can definitely forget about it.

Your promised miscellany

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

Posted on: February 27, 2012 5:53 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 6:07 pm
 

NHL Trade deadline winners and losers

The Nashville Predators were the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline's biggest winners. (Getty)

By: Adam Gretz

It shouldn't be a surprise that Monday turned out to be, for the most part, a quiet day as the 3 ET trade deadline passed.

Increased parity around the league and the fact nearly every team in the NHL still thinks it has a chance to make the playoffs this season reduced the number of true sellers to no more than four or five (If that). That, of course, made it nearly impossible to strike many impact deals, not to mention the sky-high prices teams were apparently putting on their players.

In the end, Rick Nash is still a Columbus Blue Jacket. Steve Ott is still a Dallas Star.  Roman Hamrlik and Mike Knuble are still Washington Capitals. Ryan Suter is still a Nashville Predator.

And speaking of the Predators, if they wanted to send a message to Suter and his partner in crime on the blue line, Shea Weber, not to mention the rest of the organization, the fan base and the NHL as a whole that they're ready to start going for it, they certainly did so on Monday.

Or attempted to, anyway.

The Predators were one of the busiest teams in the NHL over the past week, and after acquiring Hal Gill from the Montreal Canadiens last week for a couple of draft picks, they made two of the biggest moves on Monday by acquiring Andrei Kostitsyn from the Canadiens for two more draft picks, and then grabbed Paul Gaustad and a draft pick from the Buffalo Sabres for a first-round pick.

The Gaustad trade is a bold one. Perhaps even a little crazy given the price they paid for a role player that also happens to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. But he's a valuable player that is going to help, and now that everything has settled the Predators are a deeper, better team than they were at this time last week.

As general manager David Poile said "These trades have certainly given us a chance to play with the big boys this year."
NHL Trade Deadline
More NHL coverage


Winners

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings big trade came earlier in the week when they landed  Jeff Carter from the Columbus Jackets, giving the team the goal-scoring help it desperately needed, and reuniting him with his long-time teammate, Mike Richards. As I pointed out the night of the deal, the Kings were able to acquire Richards and Carter over the past year in two separate trades that did not require them to give up any of their own franchise, core players, which is pretty big score.

Buffalo Sabres: When word surfaced early on Monday that the asking price for Gaustad would be a first-round draft pick, there was some disbelief, as well as the assumption that as the day progressed that price would drop. The Sabres didn't back down from their demands and ended up getting the first-round pick they wanted for a player that had chance to lose for nothing over the summer.

They also addressed their need for young talent down the middle by striking what was perhaps the biggest deal of the day, sending Zach Kassian to the Vancouver Canucks for Cody Hodgson.

Minnesota Wild: In what was simply a hockey trade that saw two teams swap different types of defensemen the Oilers shipped Tom Gilbert to Minnesota in exchange for Nick Schultz. The Oilers traded an offensive-minded player for a defensive one, the Wild did the exact opposite, but ended up picking up the better player. Gilbert is going to help Minnesota a lot more than Schultz will help Edmonton.

Ottawa Senators: Saturday's addition of goaltender Ben Bishop is one of those deals that could sneak under the radar but provide a big return. Bishop is a highly regarded prospect and with Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak filling the position for the foreseeable future in St. Louis, Bishop wasn't going to get much of an opportunity. He might get it in Ottawa, especially in the short-term now that Craig Anderson is sidelined, and the Senators were able to get him without giving up much in return. Solid addition at a fair price at the right time.

Losers

Rick Nash and the Columbus Blue Jackets: The most shocking development to come out of the Rick Nash drama on Monday wasn't that he didn't get traded. For all of the rumors and speculation that followed his name over the past week, it's not a huge surprise that he's still a member of the Blue Jackets on Monday evening. The insanity really started to kick in when.general manager Scott Howson admitted in his Monday afternoon press conference that Nash initially approached the team and asked for a trade, putting the entire process in motion.

Why Howson would admit this is a mystery, but it's becoming pretty obvious that even though Nash will finish this season in Columbus, he's probably not going to be there at the start of next season. Especially now that his (current) general manager pretty much tossed him in front of the bus.

The only question that remains is whether or not Howson will be the man to make the inevitable trade over the summer. And given the return Columbus received on its two trades this past week, selling off Antoine Vermette and Jeff Carter for what amounts to Jack Johnson and some magic beans, not to mention the way he fumbled the Nash situation helping to put a nice bow on a season that only seems to get worse, it's worth asking who will be making that call from the general manager's office.

Of course, Nash isn't completely without blame in this mess either. His agent commented over the weekend that it would be best for a trade to be done sooner rather than later, and if Nash himself were really that desperate to get out of Columbus he wouldn't have limited the Jackets' potential trade partners by only offering to waive his no-trade clause for a short-list of teams, and one that his agent claims will not grow over the summer.

This appears to be a no-win situation for Columbus and its fans.

Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks goaltending and defense has been a sore spot this season, and their only major move was to add Johnny Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets. Not sure if that's going to be enough.

Carolina Hurricanes: After re-signing Tuomo Ruutu and Tim Gleason, two popular names in trade speculation over the past month, the Hurricanes did not deal Bryan Allen or Jaroslav Spacek, two players that are eligible for unrestricted free agency after the season, which means they could possibly walk out the door for no return. It's still possible that one (or both) can be re-signed, which could be exciting ... if you're interested in keeping together a team that's currently 14th in the Eastern Conference. 

Teams that stayed quiet

Pittsburgh Penguins: For the first time under general manager Ray Shero the Penguins did not make a move on, or near, the NHL's trade deadline. With the way the team is playing right now and the makeup of its roster, with Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal leading the way, a move wasn't really needed. This team is playing well enough as it is, doesn't appear to have many holes and looks like a team that can be a favorite and top contender for the Stanley Cup.

But the mindset around Pittsburgh seems to be that the lack of a move is a positive sign that Sidney Crosby could be on the verge of a return, or that he will eventually be "the big addition" for the roster. That's all well and good, and if it works out that way, fantastic. But assuming anything right now regarding Crosby is a major stretch. Nobody knows for sure when he'll be back, and it's worth pointing out that his last return lasted all of 10 games. Still a lot of uncertainty around that entire situation.

Washington Capitals: The Capitals were expected to be one of the busiest teams on Monday, especially after their decision to move center Nicklas Backstrom to the long-term injured list, opening up a pretty significant amount of salary cap space ahead of the deadline.

In the end the Capitals did nothing, which seems to be a pretty big shock around the NHL. But is it?

The Capitals could have certainly used a center, but with the way this team has looked for much of the season it's hard to imagine there being a move out there that was going to help this team get over the hump this year. Why give up significant long-term assets to chase after the No. 7 or 8 playoff spot when a deep postseason run doesn't look like it's a legitimate possibility?

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 25, 2012 4:02 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 4:20 pm
 

Video: Evgeni Malkin goal of the year candidate

By: Adam Gretz

During the second period of Pittsburgh's 8-1 win against Tampa Bay on Saturday afternoon, Evgeni Malkin collided with goaltender Dwayne Roloson, resulting in the Lightning netminder giving Malkin a punch to the face.

Malkin would eventually get his revenge on the scoreboard by recording his ninth career hat trick, and his second against Tampa Bay this season.

His second goal of the game, which came mid-way through the third period to give Pittsburgh a 6-1 lead, was one of the smoothest, prettiest goals of the year as he took the puck at his own blue line line and skated through the entire Tampa Bay defense before finally beating Roloson.

Brett Clark, No. 7 in white, had a particularly good view of the play as Malkin completely turned him around on his way to the net.



Immediately the play drew comparisons to a goal that Hall of Famer (and Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux scored for the Penguins during the 1991 Stanley Cup finals when he went through the Minnesota North Stars defense in a similar fashion during a Game 2 win.



Pretty similar moves. Of course, Lemieux's goal came on a slightly bigger stage.

Malkin entered Saturday's game against Tampa Bay tied with Steven Stamkos for the league in points with 73, and he managed to re-take sole possession of first place with a four-point effort, also assisting on a Chris Kunitz goal in the first period. Through 54 games Malkin now has 36 goals and 77 points, which is a points per game average of 1.42. The next closest player, as of Saturday afternoon, is Philadelphia's Claude Giroux at 1.25 points per game. Stamkos and Washington's Nicklas Backstrom are the only other players above 1.10.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 25, 2012 9:21 am
Edited on: February 25, 2012 9:25 am
 

Morning Skate: Caps look to solve road woes

Ovechkin

By: Adam Gretz


The Morning 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

CapitalsMaple Leafs7:00 ET, Washington at Toronto

The two teams currently sitting just outside of the playoff picture in the nine and ten spots meet at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, and both are in need of a crucial two points. The Maple Leafs have lost three games in a row and are struggling to find some consistent goaltending.

The Capitals, meanwhile, are playing in the back end of a back-to-back situation and need to find a way to solve their road woes, as they're a completely different team away from the Verizon Center.

At home, the Capitals have more wins (and a better record) than any other team in the Eastern Conference with a 20-8-2 mark. On the road? Just 10-18-3. The only teams in the East that have fewer road wins are the Lightning and Hurricanes (also Southeast Division teams).

SenatorsBruins7:00 ET, Boston at Ottawa

Who would have guessed back in October that a game between the Bruins and Senators in late February would have an impact on the race for first place in the Northeast Division? Entering Saturday's game in Ottawa the Senators trail the Bruins by just three points in the standings, though, the Bruins do have three games in hand. Still, this is the first of two meetings between the teams this week and they still have another meeting, in Ottawa, on April 5.

Perhaps the Bruins will simply take care of business and open up a more comfortable lead in the division, but Boston has been struggling recently and has only won four games in the month of February. Even worse, the Bruins haven't won consecutive games since Jan 10-12 when they knocked off the Canadiens and Jets in back-to-back games.

The Senators, on the other hand, come into Saturday's game on a roll having won four straight and five of their past six, with the only loss on that stretch coming in overtime against Edmonton. During their recent winning streak they've outscored their opponents 21-4, and defenseman Erik Karlsson has continued to pile up the points, now leading all defensemen with  60.

The issue facing the Senators, however, will be the absence of goaltender Craig Anderson, their workhorse this season, after he injured his hand at home following their most recent win on Wednesday night.

KingsBlackhawks8 ET, Chicago at Los Angeles

As always this season, the question for the Kings comes down to whether or not they can score enough to win. Actually, it's not necessarily a question of whether or not they can score enough to win, but whether or not they can actually score. At all.

In 11 games in the month of February the Kings have scored just 18 goals. Total. That's just 1.6 goals per game, which is ridiculously low, even for a team that's at the bottom of the league in goal-scoring for the season.

Not surprisingly, the Kings have won just three games this month (two of them against Columbus and Tampa Bay, teams currently out of the playoff picture) and only two of their past 10.

Perhaps the reunion of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter is what the Kings need to generate some offense. Any offense.

Others worth watching

1 ET, Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh: The Lightning may not make the playoffs, but Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh will feature Evgeni Malkin going up against Steve Stamkos as the players enter tied for the league lead in scoring.

2 ET, St. Louis at Winnipeg: The Jets look to hold on to their top spot in the Southeast Division and have to do so against one of the best teams in the NHL. Fortunately for the Jets, home ice has been very kind to them this season.

10 ET, Philadelphia at Calgary: Philadelphia needs a win to make up for that ugly loss in Edmonton on Thursday, while the Flames need a win just to keep pace with the other bubble teams in the West.

Your promised miscellany
Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: February 23, 2012 12:41 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 1:04 pm
 

NHL Award Races: Hart awfully tight, Vezina clear

Last year's winner Corey Perry poses with the Hart Trophy. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Welcome to Award Rankings. 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.

The Hart Trophy is the king of trophies, the biggest and best (outside of the Stanley Cup and playoff awards, of course) in the game. It goes to the league's most valuable player.

And here's the thing about it this season: It is going to be one heck of a race to the finish to determine it. The top of the points leaderboards are scrunched. So are the playoff pictures. That means the Hart race is in the same squished mode too.

The difference between a lot of guys right now in the Hart race is like differentiating between a Lamborghini or Ferrari, you really won't go wrong either way. Then you have Mercedes Benzs, Audis and Lexuses in the conversation too. So many great choices, so few winners. Just one, in fact. We aren't Jay Leno here and buying them all.

These rankings are reflective of where they stand now. They are certainly subject to change. For example, Steven Stamkos didn't crack the list here, but if the Lightning actually overcome their five-point hole and grab a playoff spot despite selling seemingly half their team, he'd have to be in consideration without a doubt.

Keep in mind the Hart race is incredibly tight with a ton of contenders at this point. There is an argument to be made for a lot of other players as well as for the order here to be changed. I'm sure you'll make those arguments below. This is just one man's opinion.

The Hart starts with a guy who hasn't won it yet despite some awesome seasons recently. But he was hindered by another spectacularly awesome teammate who hasn't been there much to help this season.

We also look at the Vezina, which isn't anywhere near as tight as the Hart race at the top but the fighting for the finalists is fierce.

Award watch
Hart Vezina
Evgeni Malkin The Penguins have had to deal with more injury loss this season than any other team, including two of their top three centers. The third is Malkin. He leads the league in points and is second in goals. He's been the best player in the league. But this race is very tight and has a long way to go. Henrik Lundqvist The Rangers are arguably the top team in the league and Lundqvist is a massive reason why. He is tops in the league in save percentage at a whopping .940 and has a goals against of 1.78. He's separated himself from the field ... and the Rangers from the East field as well.
Henrik Lundqvist Yes, I think he's been good enough to be seriously in this conversation. He's incredibly valuable to the Rangers, that's not a question for anybody. With scoring down so much in the NHL, this is a perfect year for a goaltender to win the Hart again. Jonathan Quick He means as much to the Kings as Lundqvist does to the Rangers and I'm not going to penalize a goaltender for his offense's lack of production. His 1.96 goals against and .931 save percentage are very good. He's the only reason Los Angeles is still fighting for a playoff berth.
Claude Giroux He was asked to carry a lot more of the load in Philadelphia this season and he has. Despite missing a few games with a concussion, the 24-year-old Giroux is set to pass his career highs very soon with 23 goals and 47 assists already despite playing just 55 games. He's had to with Philly's defense. Jimmy Howard Despite recently missing three weeks in February with a broken finger, Howard is still second in the league in wins with 32 (one behind Pekka Rinne). He is having a career season with a 2.03 goals against average and .924 save percentage and is a big reason why the Wings have returned to the top of the West.
Radim Vrbata Why not? He has 30 goals and counting on the season for the Coyotes, a team that otherwise relies on defense. That's 12 more than anybody else on the team. Aside from Ray Whitney, everybody on the team is at least 16 points behind Vrbata. For a team expected to be in the basement, he deserves a lot of credit. Brian Elliott The only thing keeping Elliott this far down the list is the fact that he splits almost 50/50 in St. Louis with Jaroslav Halak. But his 1.65 goals against average and .937 save percentage are obscene. However he'll be hurt by Halak's success as well as the Ken Hitchcock argument ... he makes all goalies look good.
Jason Spezza The assumption before the season was that the Senators were going to be in the running for the best lottery position, not the Northeast Division crown with the Bruins. But here they are and Spezza's 27 goals and 39 assists are a massive reason why. So is Erik Karlsson, but he'll show up elsewhere. Tim Thomas Last year's runaway with the Vezina, Thomas isn't having the season he did a year ago. But in his defense, nobody ever had before him either. He's still excellent with his .929 save percentage and 2.21 goals against. For now he barely beats out Mike Smith and Pekka Rinne in this race for me.

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

Norris: Erik Karlsson, Shea Weber, Nicklas Lidstrom.

Calder: Adam Henrique, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Matt Read.

Jack Adams: Ken Hitchcock, Paul MacLean, John Tortorella.

Selke: Patrice Bergeron, Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews

Top GM: Dale Tallon, Glen Sather, Don Maloney.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com