The Pittsburgh Penguins (28-17-4, 60 pts) enter the All-Star Breaking riding a seven game winning streak after a 3-2 shootout win against the St. Louis Blues last night. In a span of 12 days, the team has jumped from 9th place to 5th place in the Eastern Conference.
With 33 games left to play, the Penguins remain right in the mix for the division and conference lead. The team trails the conference and division leading New York Rangers (31-12-4, 66 pts) by just six points at the break. Boston (31-14-2, 64 pts) is 2nd in the conference with 64 pts, followed by No. 3 Washington (26-19-3, 55 pts) the Southeast division leader with 55 pts and the Philadelphia Flyers (29-14-5, 63 pts) currently hold the No. 4 spot. The top-6 in the Eastern Conference is extremely tight with just six points separating the Rangers and No. 6 Ottawa (27-19-6, 60 pts). The Senators though have appeared in five more games than New York.
The battle for the 7th and 8th spots has the look of being a three team race. Florida (22-15-11, 55 pts) currents sits at No. 7 and New Jersey (26-19-3, 55 pts) is No. 8 heading into the break as both teams have 55 pts. The Toronto Maple Leafs (25-19-5, 55 pts) are 9th with 55 pts.
Despite the Ottawa Senators putting together tremendous rebound season and being among the most difficult teams play against, I still see there being only four true Cup Contenders in the East at this point: Boston, New York, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
PIT TEAM RANKS
Conference Rank: 60 pts, 5th | Goals For: 2.98, 7th| Goals Against: 2.55, 10th | Power Play: 18.5, 12th | Penalty Kill: 87.4, 4th | Goal Differential: +25, 5th
LEAGUE RANKS FOR MALKIN, NEAL & FLEURY
Evgeni Malkin heads into the All-Star break as the leading scorer in the NHL and is among the early front runners for the Hart Trophy.
Malkin who has 17 goals and 34 points in his last 21 games, leads the NHL with 58 pts, is 3rd in goals with 26 and 2nd in game winning goals (7) and shots (202). Malkin's averaging a league best 1.38 points per game, and is on pace for 104 points. Malkin's 1.38 points per game average is the same mark he averaged in his 2008-2009 Art Ross Trophy season when he led the league with 113 points in 82 games.
James Neal has has emerged as one of the premier goal scorers in the game. Neal ranks 2nd in the league with 27 goals, 13th in points with 47, 1st in power play goals with 13 and Neal's 210 shots on goal is tops in the league. Twelve of NealĂ˘Â€Â™s 27 goals this year have come during the third period, with seven of the 12 either being game-winning goals or game-tying tallies that have forced overtime.
Goaltender Marc Andre Fleury has made 22 straight appearances. Fleury ranks 5th in games played (42), 3rd in wins (26), 9th in goals against average (2.25) and 25th in save percentage (.913). With the Penguins losing confidence in backup goaltender Brent Johnson, the All-Star break has come at the perfect time for Fleury.
Defenseman Kris Letang would in all likely hood be in the top-5 in points for defensemen if he stayed healthy this season. The all-star has 23 points in 26 games, averaging 0.88 points per game, the second best mark in the league among defensemen who have appeared in 25 games or more. Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson leads all defensemen with 47 points in 51 games, averaging 0.92 points per game.
STRUGGLING TANGRADI SENT DOWN FOR ALL-STAR BREAK
The Penguins re-assigned forwards Steve MacIntyre and Eric Tangradi to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League this morning.
MacIntyre, 31, has played in 11 games this season for Pittsburgh, going scoreless with four penalty minutes. MacIntyre has also appeared in seven AHL games during two previous stints with WBS.
Tangradi, 22, has skated in 12 NHL games for the Penguins this season, averaging 9:13 minutes per game. During his time in the AHL he has been one of the top offensive performers for WBS, ranking third on the team with 14 goals and fourth with 25 points in 30 games.
Tangradi though has struggled mightily at the NHL level offensively and is a mess in the defensive zone. He was a healthy scratch Tuesday night after taking a bad penalty against the Capitals and seeing under seven minutes of ice time.
The Baby Pens play three times this week.