With the pressure off of those teams who are out of the playoff race, many teams are playing all loosey-goosey. I love that Jimmy Vesey had a hat trick for the Rangers last night and that Seth Jones add two big power play points as Columbus fights for a playoff position. The Sens Magnus Paajarvi showing signs of life with a two-goal performance, but the story from last night is Alexander Ovechkin notching his 600th NHL goal. The guy has been a beast and the king of fantasy hockey since entering the league in 2005-06.
After breaking into the NHL with an impressive 30 goal, 77-point rookie campaign, Artemi Panarin served up a 31 goal, 74-point sophomore season. He was then dealt to Columbus with Tyler Motte in a deal that sent Brandon Saad and goaltender Anton Forsberg (along with a swap of draft picks) back to the windy city.
An injury to starting goaltender Corey Crawford has seen Forsberg start 25 games this season, which in part explains why the Blackhawks are going to miss the playoffs for the first time in a decade (2007-08). In his four previous campaigns, Saad had averaged 51 points per year. He is well off that pace this season and will very likely finish with less than 35 points.
Panarin has acquitted himself well in Columbus, recording 21 goals and 61 points in 70 games. He is on pace to finish with more than 70 points for the third consecutive season, no small feat in his first campaign without Patrick Kane. That said, he doesn’t exactly line up with talentless slugs; Cam Atkinson and rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois are offensive-minded players, plus the Breadman receives the most power play minutes on the team.
If the Columbus Blue Jackets hope to punch their ticket to the post-season dance, Panarin is going to have to continue to be one of their best players down the stretch. The 26-year-old is undeniably in the prime of his career, recording 15 points over his last 12 games. While it won’t be a skate in the park, I’m betting that when all is said and done, the Blue Jackets will indeed have their tickets to the post-season dance in hand.
Team by Team Quick Hits by Division
In his last nine starts, Tuukka Rask has a 6-2-0 record. His underlying numbers are less impressive; a 3.22 goals-against average and 0.891 save percentage. Not great, but the Bruins averaged 3.89 goals per game in run support over those games.
Jason Pominville (population: 1) has six points in his last seven matches. He has seen an uptick in power play minutes of late, but after the exit of Evander Kane and injuries to Jack Eichel and Kyle Okposo, Buffalo’s man advantage unit loses some of its advantage.
Heading into last nights contest, Tyler Bertuzzi had four points in his last six contests. He’s getting some decent looks on the power play and is lining up at even-strength with Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist. You can’t say he’s not getting a legitimate shot.
Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle has been smoking hot over the last two months, recording 21 points in 20 games. With the way that Florida is playing right now, it’s tough to see how they miss the playoffs this season.
With the injury to Shea Weber, Montreal’s blueline corps is more AHL than NHL. One defenseman that is taking advantage of his opportunity is Mike Reilly. A trade deadline acquisition from the Wild, the 24-year-old has five points in seven games as a Canadien.
You’ve really got to hand it to Bobby Ryan, who had seven points in six games after returning from injury. It’s hard to point the finger at him for the four losses during that six-game stretch. Thumbs down though, as he’s currently riding a three-game scoreless streak.
As hot as Florida is right now (8-1-1 before last nights game), their state cousins to the north (along with Nashville) were even hotter, going 9-0-1 over their last 10 games. Emergency call up, Anthony Cirelli has five points in as many games. While he was Syracuse’s second leading scorer when recalled, Cirelli is destined to be a bottom six player on the talent-laden Lightning.
Seth Jones is taking it to the next level this season. The 23-year-old has increased his point totals in every one of his five NHL campaigns. He’s killing it on the power play, registering 18 points with the man advantage. In comparison, Zach Werenski has 10 power play points so far this year.
The Devils acquisition of defenseman Sami Vatanen was a coup. The plucky Finn has notched 14 points over his last 15 contests, seven points coming via the man advantage. Patrick Maroon has five points in his last six games and is receiving a ton of power play minutes.
Anders Lee bolted out of the gates this season recording 39 points in his first 38 matches. He then slumped with nine points in his next 27 games and now has five points in his last four contests.
Ryan Spooner has been on fire since coming over from Boston. In eight contests with the Blueshirts, Spooner has recorded 13 points. He’s now lining up with Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello and is receiving a good share of power play opportunities.
Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere has his own version of daylight savings time. In October, he recorded 13 points in 11 games. In November, he set his clocks back to the tune of six points in 11 contests. Ghost set the clocks forward in December with 10 points in 13 matches and then disappeared again in January with only four points in 11 games. Any guesses as to how he fared in February? Yeah, 17 points in 13 contests. This month, he has one point in seven matches. Like clockwork.
Kris Letang is scoring at 0.61 points per game this year, his lowest level since the 2013-14 campaign (0.59). His last three seasons? 0.83, 0.94 and 0.78 points per game. Look for a nice bump in production the rest of the way as he gets ready for another playoff run.
Last night, Caps defenseman John Carlson tied his career best in points (55) with 13 games remaining. He is a good bet to at least double his current $4-million annual stipend after this season is in the books regardless of whether or not he hits the summer as an unrestricted free agent. I mean, how many teams are in the market for a 28-year-old number one defenseman?
I’m really looking forward to the Eastern Conference playoff races this year. The Flyers, Blue Jackets and Devils are going to battle it out for third in the Metropolitan. No way Washington or Pittsburgh finishes anything but one-two in the division. The top three in the Atlantic are set.
The wild card spots in the East will of course come down to the final weekend, just like Gary Bettman planned. With Florida charging hard and New Jersey flailing, the writing is on the wall. Either Philly or CBJ will take third in the Metro division with the other taking one of the wild card spots, leaving Florida and Jersey to duke it out for that final berth.