Thursday, December 24, 2009

NHL Recap 12-23-09: Star awakes; Flyers win a game

Now that's a response
One game after being Martin Brodeur's 104th shutout victim, Pittsburgh unleashed its frustrations on a not-all-that hapless Ottawa squad with an 8-2 rout.

Oddly enough, the final score isn't indicative of what went on. The Senators fired 24 shots on Marc-Andre Fleury just in the first period and finished with a 47-36 advantage, one off the record by a visiting team in Pittsburgh. Fleury allowed only Anton Volchenkov's goal to tie the score at 1-1 in the first period and Chris Kelly's wrister with under two minutes left.

Pittsburgh's offense was powered by Evgeni Malkin, the target of quite a bit of criticism of late, both for his lackluster play - which, in Geno terms, is a meager 34 points in 30 games - and for spending an unhealthy amount of time in the penalty box - 50 PIMs in those 30 games, including 24 in the last seven.

Malkin responded to the harsh words by netting his fourth career hat trick - in front of Team Russia GM Vladislav Tretiak - and had another called back on a Pittsburgh penalty to lead the charge. Bill Guerin scored twice and had two assists as well, and Chris Kunitz had a goal and three assists. Both Guerin and Kunitz tied a team-record of four points in one period. Sidney Crosby had three helpers and the Penguins also got goals from Ruslan Fedotenko and Sergei Gonchar.

Marring the evening was a hit by Craig Adams on a vulnerable Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, leading to a slight shoulder separation which Alfredsson said would keep him out for "a few weeks." The Senators had welcomed back to the lineup from injury Chris Neil, Shean Donovan and goalie Pascal Leclaire, who started but was pulled after the second period having given up six goals on 24 shots.

We lost to.. who?
Tough times for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Their coach is constantly trying to send messages by benching his star players, with the method rarely seeming to work, and now the team can't put many pucks behind Philadelphia's third-string goaltender, Michael Leighton, a waiver-wire castoff of the woeful Carolina Hurricanes.

Leighton made 31 saves and Mike Richards and Blair Betts each scored twice to lead the Flyers to a sorely-needed win, 5-2. Richards finished with a three-point night, Simon Gagne added an empty-net goal, and Claude Giroux and Oskars Bartulis had a pair of helpers each.

Zenon Konopka and Victor Hedman scored for Tampa Bay.

Stars of the night
--Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara had a goal and two assists each as Boston won a shootout high-scoring affair with Atlanta, 6-4. Maxim Afinogenov had three points (one goal) to lead the Thrashers.
--Nicklas Backstrom scored twice and Alex Ovechkin had three points (one goal) as the Capitals got to Ryan Miller early and often in a 5-2 Washington win over Buffalo.
--Jaroslav Halak stopped 46 shots in his third-straight start, Glen Metropolit netted a pair of power play goals, and both Kostitsyn brothers (Andrei and Sergei) scored to help Montreal wallop Carolina, 5-1. Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez both had three assists.
--Niklas Backstrom made 30 saves, Owen Nolan came an assist shy of a Gordie Howe hat trick and Minnesota maintained its home dominance over Edmonton, 3-1. The Wild are 11-0 against the Oilers at home when Backstrom starts.
--James Neal scored twice to snap a 1-1 tie and Dallas defeated Columbus, 3-1. Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards assisted on both Neal goals and Alex Auld made 33 saves.
--Chris Mason made 23 saves and St. Louis knocked off Calgary, 2-1 in a shootout, getting tiebreaker goals from Brad Boyes and T.J. Oshie.

Clean sheets
--Antti Niemi - who from henceforth shall be known as "Antti freaking Niemi" - posted his fourth shutout of the season for Chicago, 3-0 over Detroit in Joe Louis Arena, making 33 saves. Patricks Kane and Sharp and Jonathan Toews scored for the Hawks. The Red Wings lost consecutive 3-0 games to Chicago. It's the fifth time this season Detroit has been blanked, most in a season before Dec. 31 since 1958-59.
--Niemi would've been tied for the league lead in shutouts if not for Phoenix netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, who earned No. 5 Wednesday when his Coyotes defeated Anaheim, 4-0. Bryzgalov needed to make just 21 saves and got goals from Scottie Upshall, Martin Hanzal, Taylor Pyatt and Robert Lang.

Timely end to the droughts
--John Tavares snapped a six-game goalless streak by netting the eventual game-winner for the Islanders in a 3-1 defeat of Toronto. Fittingly, Tavares' last goal came against the Maple Leafs.
--Rangers forward Vinny Prospal hadn't scored a goal since Nov. 21 (14 games without a goal), but netted a pair, including the winner, to help New York take down the Panthers, 4-1. Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury had a goal and assist each. Henrik Lundqvist shook off a knee to the head by noted goalie hunter Keith Ballard to make 33 saves.

Stat of the night
5 - Combined goals by Calgary's Jarome Iginla (three) and Olli Jokinen in the Flames' 10 games in December. The duo has totaled just 13 points in that time.

Quote of the night
"If we can just get rid of some of those boneheaded soft plays, we'll get there."
Edmonton coach Pat Quinn

Notable games
Saturday, Dec. 26 (13 games)
The NHL is taking the next two days off, so we must look ahead to Saturday's action. Games of note:

-New Jersey (26-8-1) at Washington (23-8-6), 7 p.m. ET

-Chicago (24-9-3) at Nashville (22-12-3), 8 p.m.

-Los Angeles (22-12-3) at Phoenix (23-13-2), 9 p.m.

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