PUTTING AWAY INFERIOR TEAMS
1. Pittsburgh rolled to a 5-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche last night as Evgeni Malkin, Arron Asham, Richard Park and Deryk Engelland all scored to help the Penguins stretch their winning streak to a season-high five games.
What we have seen from the Penguins in three of the last four games is putting away inferior teams like they did against Tampa Bay, Columbus last weekend, and Colorado last night.
PENS SURGING DOWN THE STRETCH
2. With their fifth straight win, Pittsburgh improved to (38-21-5, (81 pts) on the season and hold a four point lead for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference entering today’s action.
“It’s huge,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said of the Penguins peaking right now. “We’ve learned from the past couple of years if you stumble into the playoffs there’s a carry-over to how you play in the playoffs. There are so many good teams it’s tough to turn the switch on and off, especially these last 20 games as you try to build momentum into the playoffs.
In what’s a wide open Eastern Conference, the playoff scenarios are all over the map for the Penguins with 18 games remaining.
1. New York Rangers (41-15-7, 89 pts)
2. Boston Bruins (38-22-3, 79 pts)
3. Florida Panthers (30-22-12, 72 pts)
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (38-21-5, 81 pts)
5. Philadelphia Flyers (35-21-7, 77 pts)
6. New Jersey Devils (36-23-5, 77 pts)
7. Ottawa Senators (34-24-8, 76 pts)
8. Winnipeg Jets (31-27-8, 70 pts)
IN THE HUNT
9. Washington Capitals (32-27-5, 69 pts)
10. Tampa Bay Lightning (31-28-6, 68 pts)
11. Buffalo Sabres (30-27-8, 68 pts)
12. Toronto Maple Leafs (30-28-7, 67 pts)
FLEURY EMERGING AS VEZINA FINALIST
3. Marc Andre Fleury (34-14-3, 2.32 GAA, .914 save percentage, 3 shutouts) earned his 34th win of the season and from an impact standpoint, there hasn’t been a better goaltender than Fleury of late. The Penguins netminder is 15-2-1 in his last 18 starts and if he continues on a tear to finish the regular season, a strong argument will be made for Fleury to be among the three Vezina Trophy finalists at seasons end.
What also has to be taking into account when evaluating Fleury for being a Vezina finalist is the Penguins backup goaltender position which has the Penguins being forced to rely so heavily on Fleury.
However, what continues to hurt Fleury in the eyes of many is those who look at his ranks for goal against average and save percentage numbers where he ranks 8th (GAA) and 14th (sv%) respectively among goaltenders with 40 or more starts. Whether it should or not, Fleury’s save percentage numbers are going to hurt him but this is an award voted by the GM’s. Last years winner and two finalists all ranked in the top-3 in save percentage.
Here’s a look at the past two previous winners and finalists:
2011 winner: Tim Thomas went 35-11-9 with a 2.00 goals against average, .938 save percentage and had 9 shutouts on the season. Thomas ranked 9th in wins, 1st in goals against average, 1st in save percentage and 2nd in shutouts; Finalists were Robert Luongo (38-15-7, 2.11 GAA, .928 save percentage, 4 shutouts) and Pekka Rinne (33-22-9, 2.12 GAA, .930 save percentage, 6 shutouts). Luongo ranked 1st in wins, 2nd in goals against average and 3rd in save percentage. Rinne last season ranked 2nd in save percentage.
2010 winner: Ryan Miller posted a 41-18-8 record with a 2.22 goals against average and .929 save percentage. Finalists included Ilya Bryzgalov (42-20-6, .229 GAA, .920 save percentage, 8 shutouts) and Martin Brodeur (45-25-6, 2.24 GAA, .916 GAA, 9 shutouts). Miller ranked 4th in wins, 1st in goals against average and save percentage among goaltenders with 50 or more starts. Bryzgalov ranked 3rd overall in wins, 2nd overall in shutouts and 4th in goals against average and 5th in save percentage among goaltenders with 50 or more starts. Brodeur led the league with 45 wins, 9 shutouts, and ranked 2nd in goals against average and 10th in save percentage among goaltenders with 50 or more starts.
2012 Top Vezina Trophy Finalist Candidates:
1. NYR Henrik Lundqvist (30-12-5, 1.79 GAA, .939 save percentage, 8 Shutouts)
– Lundqvist is the NHL’s best goaltender on the best Eastern Conference team and is not only the leading finalist for the Vezina Trophy but is also a strong candidate for the Hart Trophy. Lundqvist leads the NHL with 8 shutouts and among goaltenders with 40 or more starts, Lundqvist ranks 1st in goals against average and save percentage.
2. LAK Jonathan Quick (26-18-11, 1.92 GAA, .932 save percentage, 7 shoutouts)
– From an individual standpoint, Kings netminder Jonathan Quick has been right up there with Henrik Lundqvist as the NHL’s best netminder. Quick is second in goals against average and save percentage among goaltenders with 40 or more starts. Quick also ranks second in shutouts and has to be relied on heavily, ranking sixth in games played with 55. What also helps Quick’s cause is that the Kings rank 29th in goals for, but what won’t help his cause is if the Kings miss the playoffs.
3. DET Jimmy Howard (33-13-2, What also helps 2.05 GAA, .924 save percentage, 6 shutouts)
— On the NHL’s second best team (tied with Rangers with 89 points), Howard has the best winning percentage in the NHL with 33 wins in 48 games, ranking 2nd in shutouts with 6 and 3rd in goals against average among goaltenders with 40 or more starts. One argument against Howard; The Red Wings showed during a stretch in February that they can win without him, pulling off six straight wins (Feb 8 – Feb 19) when Howard was out of the lineup (eight games) due to injury. During that six game winning streak without Howard, the Wings gave up 2 goals or less in five games.
4. NSH Pekka Rinne (36-13-7, 2.30 GAA, .927 save percentage, 4 shutouts
– Rinne leads the NHL in wins with 36, 2nd in games played (58) and among goaltenders with 40 or more starts, Rinne ranks 4th in save percentage.
5. PHX Mike Smith (29-16-7, 2.29 GAA, .925 save percentage, 4 shutouts)
– Smith is 11-2 in his last 13 games for a surprising first place Coyotes team. As good as Smith has been of late, his chances of being a vezina finalist is likely going to depend on the Coyotes winning the division. Smith who is 5th overall in wins with 29, also ranks 5th in goals against average and save percentage among goaltenders with 40 or more starts.
NOTABLES: The St. Louis Blues excellent tandem of Jaroslav Halak (21-10-5, 1.91 GAA, .925 save percentage, 6 shutouts) and Brian Elliott (20-8-2, 1.63 GAA, .937 GAA) will likely cancel each other out as neither goalie will hit the 50 games played mark and are longshots to be finalists. Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo (27-11-7, 2.35 GAA, .920 save percentage) is on the NHL’s best team but Luongo is unlikey to get to 60 starts and backup Cory Schneider has posted better numbers with an 2.09 goals against average and .932 save percentage in 25 games played.
Comments have been disabled for this post.