Emphasis of winning division games: Pittsburgh needs to start winning division games aside from beating up on the New York Islanders. They have two big ones this weekend with back-to-back home games, hosting the conference leading New York Rangers Friday night and facing the New Jersey Devils Saturday night. “We need these two points, ” winger Pascal Dupuis said today. “Itâs a really tight race and we have teams in front of us that we need to catch.”
Pens know importance of points as midpoint nears: Things are so tight in the Eastern Conference that just three points separate the Penguins and 9th place Winnipeg. “We know coming in this weekend that its going to be tough games, but a lot of points that we need, ” center Jordan Staal said.
One surprise in looking at the standings is that even with the Capitals struggles leading to Bruce Boudreau’s firing and inconsistent play under Dale Hunter until a recent 6-3-1 run, just two points separate the Penguins and Capitals with both teams at the 38 game mark.
Four team race in Atlantic?: As the midpoint nears, from a standings standpoint, an argument could be made the Atlantic Division might be a four team race the rest of the way. The New Jersey Devils (21-16-2, 44pts) 6-3-1 in their last ten games, trail 3rd place Pittsburgh (21-13-4, 46pts) by just two points, four points behind 2nd place Philadelphia (22-11-4, 48pts) and eight points behind the 1st place New York Rangers (24-9-4, 52 pts).
However, last night’s blowout loss to the Bruins showed that the Devils are not a true contender as they are a flawed team on the blueline, no longer have the elite type of goaltending on a consistent basis and their two star forwards continue to underachieve.
Iron Man Sullivan? We are reaching the point in the season where the Penguins might have to start being cautious with Steve Sullivan who has struggled in the past to play a full season due to groin and back issues. “There is focus on the injuries that heâs had, ” head coach Dan Bylsma said today. “Theyâve been significant and the age of the player is a factor.” Sullivan has appeared in all 38 games this season, collecting 7 goals and 20 points on the season. “Itâs a pleasant surprise that heâs been an ironman for us to this point, “Â Bylsma said today.
Four Ottawa Senators voted to All-Star Game: The Ottawa Senators had four players voted as starters in the All-Star game, the NHL announced today. With Ottawa hosting the event, this reminds of the time when the Pirates paid employees during worktime to vote for Jason Bay to make him a starter in 2006 when the Pirates hosted the mid-summer classic. Bay ended up leading all outfielders in voting and some of that had to be going on in Senators headquarters.
Points Watch: Evgeni Malkin (15G-28A-43Pts)Â enters Friday trailing Claude Giroux and Henrik Sedin (10G-38A-48Pts) by five points for the NHL points lead. Both Sedin’s have surged to or near the top of the points race butÂ Henrik has played 10 more games than Malkin who is averaging 1.39 points per game…..Steven Stamkos is surging and putting together another Rocket Richard season. His 27 goals rank 1st in the league and has a four goalÂ lead overÂ Phil Kessel (23 goals) and five goal lead over Marian Gaborik and Jonathan Toews who each haveÂ 22 goals. James Neal, theÂ Penguins leader with 21 goals, trails Stamkos by six goals……MarcÂ AndreÂ Fleury’s 19 wins tie him for second in the league going into Friday’s action. Â Detroit’s Jimmy Howard leads the league with 24.
Martin, Park due Back: The Pittsburgh Penguins will be getting defenseman Paul Martin and forward Richard Park back in the lineup for tomorrow’s matchup with the New York Rangers.
Pascal Dupuis who has been dealing with a shoulder injury, is likely to play after going through a full practice today. Meanwhile, don’t look for Arron Asham to return this weekend as swelling in his knee remains an issue for him. There are no concerns about this being a long-term injury for Asham.
Park will center the third line behind centermen Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, while Martin will be back with Zbynek Michalek as the Penguins No. 1 pairing tomorrow night. Joe Vitale will be bumped to the 4th line.
Pittsburgh is likely to have Brooks Orpik matchup against Marian Gaborik’s line to have a physical presence in Orpik up against Gaborik, with Martin-Michalek getting the duty of shutting down the Richards line.
Latest Pens/NHL Rumblings
Hemsky not on Pens radar?: Despite saving cap space by the day due to Sidney Crosby being on IR like they did last year, sources indicate the Penguins are considered a big long shot to aggressively
pursue Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky. “I don’t see it happening, ” a source said on whether the Penguins will likely be in the mix for the 28 year old Hemsky who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at season ends and carries a $4.1 million cap hit. Hemsky’s cap hit is not believed to be the main reason Pittsburgh is unlikely to have the underachieving but talented forward on their wishlist.
Los Angeles, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Detroit and Florida are said to be among the early suitors for Hemsky and are showing strong interest. Washington could be a sleeper if they clear cap space as they looked hard into Hemsky last season. Edmonton figures to wait until closer to the Feb 28th deadline.
Red Wings to be major players at deadline? For weeks, talk around the league has centered around the Detroit Red Wings being major players at the trade deadline for pending UFA’s due to having close to $6 million in cap space. Ted Kulfan of Detroit News writes, “The Red Wings have wiggle room to be major players at the trade deadline (Feb. 28) â be it another forward with size or scoring ability (Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu or Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky ), a defenseman (Carolina’s Bryan Allen ) or backup goaltender (New York Islanders Evgeni Nabokov ).”
Lightning took risk relying on Dwayne Roloson: Less than a year removed from playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Tampa Bay Lightning are 12th in the Eastern Conference with 37 points. For them to become a factor in the Eastern Conference, they have to upgrade their blueline and goaltending quickly. GM Steve Yzerman took a risk relying on the aging Dwayne Roloson and Yzerman might have his sights set on Minnesota’s Josh Harding who is a free agent at seasons end. Michael Russo of the Minnesota Star-Tribune reports that Yzerman attended Wednesday’s contest between the Wild and Vancouver Canucks and Russo speculates there might be interest in Harding who at just 27 years old is flashing No. 1 goaltender abilities.
*BIG NAMES ON THE MOVE? This could be the year of several big names getting moved at the trade deadline. Among those include Ryan Getzlaf, Zach Parise, Bobby Ryan, Jeff Carter and maybe even Jarome Iginla. Another name to watch is Blue Jackets star forward Rick Nash
as trade speculation is heating up.
Nash’s agent denies he wants to leave Columbus and Nash had this to say to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch about the possibility of waiving his NTC. “That’s a tough question to answer in a situation like this,” Nash said. “I love Columbus. I love being here. I love being a Blue Jacket. The city of Columbus deserves a winner and deserves a good product on the ice. If it comes to that … if they don’t want me here, they want to move me? I’m not going to do something where it’s going to hurt the franchise just because I have that in my contract.”
Nash who has 27 points in 38 games, looks uninspired in Columbus and some are doubting his ability as a leader. Despite a big spending spree by the Blue Jackets in the summer, moving Nash and starting over would be the right move that in reality would be the best move for both sides. Nash is signed through the 2017-2018 season, carrying a cap hit of $7.8 million.
If the Jackets reach that point, the most logical time to move Nash likely won’t be until the draft where more suitors would emerge.
*SELANNE LEAVING DOOR OPEN? Ducks GM Bob Murray has been adament that he won’t ask Teemu Selanne to waive his no movement clause under any circumstances, but Selanne had some interesting comments this week. “So right now, I just think I’m going to be here. That’s the only goal I have right now. Right now, I can’t see that happening, ” Selanne said on being traded. “The focus is still do the job here now and see how it goes. A lot of work to do. It’s a big challenge right now.”
Selanne added. “I haven’t really thought about that too much obviously it has been a frustrating year so far. I’m waiting for that roll that we can be hot for a while. I really believe anything can happen. After that, you know we can talk about this later and see how it goes.”
Selanne, 41, carries a $4 million cap hit