Jussi Jokinen with another three points for the Penguins in their recent win over the Boston Bruins. That's eight in six games for the erstwhile Hurricane and his second three point night for Pittsburgh. I will continue to laugh at the fact the rest of the NHL could have had this player for nothing and that Carolina basically paid Pittsburgh to take him off their hands.
As I type this, the Leafs are ahead of the Senators 2-1 despite being outshot 34-14 through two periods. This has become something of a habit for Randy Carlyle's team this year - in their last five games (excluding the current one), the Leafs have been outshot 174-132 (-42), or an average of 8.4 shots per game. That's really ugly.
The Leafs have the worst overall shot differential of any team currently in playoff position currently (-5.3/game). To put that in perspective, the playoff club with worst shot differential last year was the Nashville Predators (-3.2/game) and Toronto's own SD in 2011-12 was a much healthier -2.5/game. Which is to say, the Maple Leafs success this season is almost certainly a mirage. Getting widely outshot is a bad strategy long-term and teams who rely on high-end goaltending or high shooting percentages to win don't usually manage to keep that going indefinitely.
Toronto will certainly make the post-season due to the shortened season, but it's unlikely they will make much noise there. Unless they can stop spending so much time in their own end, that is.
On the other end of the spectrum is the New Jersey Devils, a team with one of the best shot differentials (+5.2/game) in the league but are nevertheless going to miss the dance. The Devils (finally) managed to score some goals and defeat the Panthers 5-2 on Saturday, but it's too little too late for a club that is fundamentally stronger than their record indicates. Like the Kings last season who struggled to score for more than three quarters of the year, the Devils probably woud have been able to turn things around in the long-term if they had an 82 game runway. Alas, the lock-out means they're going to run out of time.
Steve Mason is in the middle of his third straight start for the Philadelphia at the time of publishing tonight. In his previous two starts, he stopped 95%+ of the shots he faced, so it's hard to question the decision. It will be interesting to see how things play out in the Flyers crease for the rest of the year and if Philly decides to buy-out the huge Ilya Bryzgalov contract.
The New York Islanders Cinderella story is a bit more legitimate than the Leafs. After beating the Winnipeg 5-4 in OT on Satruday, they are now 6th in the East with 53 points, four up on the ninth placed Jets. Despite having a bit of a "Island of misfit toys" feel, New York actually has a number of high quality player at various areas on the roster. Top of the pyramid is, of course, John Tavares who has 26 goals and 45 points in 45 games this year.
Add in capable two-way center Frans Nielsen, supporting sniper Matt Moulson (who very quietly has 42 points this year) as well as Lubomir Visnovsky, Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo and the Islanders could be a handful for whoever they face in the first round.
Like the Devils, the Detroit Red Wings are a good team that has gone cold at the wrong time. The 3-2 loss to the Flames on Wednesday night was especially ironic (for both clubs): on the heels of Jimmy Howards six year, $30M+ extension, Calgary won on a pair of, uh...dubious strikes by Steve Begin of all people. As a result, the Flames got a much un-needed win while the loss pushed Detroit from the playoff picture.
And that's where they remain after a shoot-out loss to Vancouver last night. Despite outshooting the Canucks 34-14 (!), only Cory Emmerton could sneak one past Schneider in regulation.
The Wings are one point back of Columbus for eighth in the West, so it's entirely possible they will be able to keep their incredible 22-year playoff streak alive. They'll need guys like Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen to get on the scoresheet a bit more frequently in their final four games to make it happen though. Oh, and Jimmy Howard to assist on less opposition goals as well.
Speaking of the Howard signing, it was a surprising move for a franchise that has historically chosen not to pay a lot for goaltending. The Red Wings model has always seemed to be collect as many high-end skaters as possible and then muddle through with whatever puck-stopping they can find *cough* Osgood *cough*. Perhaps the move to a more conventional model (where one finds and keeps good goaltending) is in reaction to the retirement of Nick Lidstrom as well as the aging of Dastyuk and Zetterberg, who aren't going either elite or around forever.
As for Howard, I was surprised by how good his results actually are when I looked them up recently (Flames game aside). His career save rate in 230 games is an above average .917. He has also managed a very good-to-excellent even strength save percentage in three of the last four seasons (.925, .929 and .933 this year).
The only problem for Detroit could be the length of the contract. Howard is already 29-years old. His deal begins next season when he'll turn 30 and runs until 2019. That's a lot of seasons and therefore ample opportunity for things to go wrong. If Howard hits a wall in his mid-30's and is average or below average, then the Wings won't even be able to give away a contract like that. As we've seen with Luongo this year, moving goalies with big dollars isn't easy. That goes double if they are older and not very good anymore.
The Flames face off against the Minnesota Wild this afternoon and you can bet most of their fans (me included) will be cheering for a loss. Against all odds, Calgary is 5-5-0 in their last 10, including two straight wins over the aforementioned Wings as well as Anaheim on Friday night. Calgary now sits 25th in the league, which would place them sixth overall for the entry draft in June (absent a lottery win). That's bad news on a couple of fronts - first because there is a clear top tier of talent in this draft consisting of guys like Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Alexsander Barkov. At sixth, the Flames would be just outside that tier and the franchise desperately needs to pick a potential generational talent.
In addition, the organization has never picked inside the top five in the draft and the two other times they chose sixth during their "young guns" rebuild of the late '90's, the club took Rico Fata and Daniel Tkaczuk; names that are punchlines in Flames fan circles.
On the bight side for Calgary, some of their rookies have come in and not looked out of place as they stive to dive for five. Sven Baertschi in particular, who struggled in his initial stint with the club earlier in the year, has points in four straight games and has seen his ice time climb to more than 15 minutes on three separate occassions recently.
Baertschi probably isn't useful fantasy material this year, but keep an eye on him as a depth option in next season's drafts.