Pittsburgh Penguins

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.

Penguins beat Rangers to tie season-high winning streak

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Penguins beat Rangers to tie season-high winning streak

PITTSBURGH -- Dominik Simon and Phil Kessel scored milestone goals to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-2 victory against the New York Rangers on Sunday night.

Simon got the first goal of his NHL career and Kessel scored his 20th of the season for his 700th point on back-to-back goals that put the Penguins ahead for good. Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin also scored as the Penguins got their season high-tying fourth straight win and fifth in six games.

Rookie Tristan Jarry, making his fourth straight start, stopped 26 shots to pick up his career-best fourth straight win.

Michael Grabner and Brendan Smith scored for the Rangers, who were coming off a 7-2 loss at home to the Islanders the previous day. New York has lost four of five and seventh of their last 10 (3-5-2). Henrik Lundqvist had 42 saves.

After Smith gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead with his first goal of the season in the final minute of the first period, the Penguins took over from there.

Simon scored on a rebound from the slot to tie the score with 6:45 left in the second period. Kessel then put the Penguins ahead for good 1:15 later with a wrist shot from the faceoff dot, becoming the 26th American-born player to reach 700 career points and the 11th with 20 or more goals in 10 different seasons (see full recap).

Flames down Hurricanes for 7th straight win
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Dougie Hamilton scored twice, Mike Smith made 38 saves and the Calgary Flames ran their winning streak to seven straight games with a 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.

Even with leading scorer Sean Monahan out with the flu, the Flames controlled the entire game.

Matt Stajan opened the scoring at 6:01 of the first period with his first goal of the season.

Hamilton made it 2-0 later in the first period. Hamilton scored again early in the third for his first multigoal game of the season.

Matthew Tkachuk added an insurance goal late and Johnny Gaudreau had two assists to extend his point streak to seven games in a row.

Scott Darling made 26 saves for Carolina, which has lost four of five. Lee Stempniak scored with 4:31 remaining to avoid a shutout.

The Flames were faster and physical from the start (see full recap).

Red Wings shut out sloppy Blackhawks
CHICAGO -- Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi each had a goal and an assist, and the Detroit Red Wings beat the sloppy Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 on Sunday.

Dylan Larkin and Mike Green also scored for Detroit, which had dropped two in a row after a four-game win streak. Petr Mrazek made 27 saves in his second shutout of the season and 12th of his career.

Bertuzzi, the nephew of former NHL forward Todd Bertuzzi, made it 4-0 when he punched in his first career goal on a rebound 13:37 into the third period. He also has five assists in 10 games this season.

The Red Wings (18-18-7) played without forwards Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, who were sidelined by lower-body injuries after they got hurt during Saturday's 4-1 loss at Pittsburgh. Dominic Turgeon, the son of former NHL star Pierre Turgeon, made his NHL debut after he was promoted from Grand Rapids of the AHL.

Chicago (22-17-6) had won three of four, including a 2-1 victory against Central Division-leading Winnipeg on Friday night. But the Blackhawks looked sluggish for most of their final game before their bye week.

Detroit grabbed control with a pair of goals in a 2:10 span in the first period (see full recap).

Malkin lifts Penguins past Bruins in high-scoring thriller

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Malkin lifts Penguins past Bruins in high-scoring thriller

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin got his second goal of the game at 2:51 of overtime to rally the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 6-5 victory over the Boston Bruins on Sunday night.

Phil Kessel set up Malkin, who one-timed a shot over Tuukka Rask's pad during a 2-on-1.

Malkin and Kessel scored power-play goals in regulation, while Kris Letang, Jamie Oleksiak and Riley Sheahan also scored for Pittsburgh. The Penguins, coming off a 4-0 win at the New York Islanders on Friday, got consecutive victories for the first time since Dec. 1-2 when they defeated Buffalo twice by a combined score of 9-1. The Penguins, who have just six wins in their last 11 games, moved into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but are one point from last place in the Metropolitan Division.

Sidney Crosby had three assists after getting a season-high four points against the Islanders. Crosby, with points in five straight against Boston, had four points in 11 games before the last two.

Matt Murray stopped all six shots he faced in relief of Tristan Jarry, who made 14 saves on 19 shots before he was pulled after the Bruins' fifth goal (see full recap).

Forsberg makes 32 saves as Blackhawks beat Oilers
CHICAGO -- Anton Forsberg made 32 saves, Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat scored in the first period, and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the slumping Edmonton Oilers 4-1 on Sunday.

Brandon Saad and Jordan Oesterle also scored for the Blackhawks, who got their first home win since a 4-1 victory against Minnesota on Dec. 17. Jonathan Toews extended his point streak to four games.

It was Forsberg's first win since Nov. 11 and just the second of his first season in Chicago. Forsberg had been the backup all year, but his role had come into question after Jeff Glass came up the minors and played well with starter Corey Crawford sidelined by an upper-body injury.

Edmonton has dropped six of seven, including a 5-1 loss at Dallas on Saturday. The Oilers have been outscored 20-3 in their last five games (see full recap).

Islanders down Devils in shootout
NEW YORK -- Brock Nelson scored the only goal in the shootout to lift the New York Islanders over the New Jersey Devils 5-4 on Sunday.

The victory snapped a five-game losing streak for the Islanders, who trailed 4-2 early in the third period.

Nelson beat Devils netminder Cory Schneider in the fifth round of the shootout.

Jaroslav Halak made 42 saves for the Islanders.

The Devils lost their fifth straight before both teams start a league-mandated five-day break.

Cal Clutterbuck and rookie Sebastian Aho tied the game with third-period goals after Miles Wood and Taylor Hall had given the Devils a 4-2 lead early in the period.

Clutterbuck's tying goal came at 15:43 after Aho narrowed the deficit to 4-3 with his first career goal at 7:58. Aho's power-play score was assisted by John Tavares and Mathew Barzal, who leads all rookies with 26 assists (see full recap).

Anderson lifts Blue Jackets past Panthers in shootout
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Josh Anderson scored the deciding goal in the eighth round of the shootout, lifting the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Sunday night.

Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky stopped Jared McCann's attempt to secure the win for the Blue Jackets, who also got goals from Artemi Panarin and Jack Johnson in the tiebreaker. Aleksander Barkov, who tied the score with 1:34 left in the third period, and Mike Matheson scored in the shootout for Florida.

Nick Foligno and rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois scored power-play goals for Columbus -- just the second time this season the NHL's worst man-advantage unit has come through twice, and both against Florida. Bobrovsky, who took an errant stick under his chin in the final period, had 42 saves through overtime to help the Blue Jackets win for just the fourth time in 11 games (4-6-1).

Jonathan Huberdeau also scored for the Panthers and James Reimer stopped 46 shots. Florida has lost three straight after a five-game winning streak to close December (see full recap).