Sunday, November 7, 2010

Eastern clash highlights Sunday's action

Philadelphia (9-4-1) at Washington (9-4-0), 5 p.m. EDT, NHL Network

These two teams like each other about as much as the Flyers and Penguins, except that series gets more physical. The fact that Philadelphia and Washington are the top two teams in the East adds a little more intrigue to the matchup.

I bring this up a lot, but it'll be curious to see who starts in goal for the Flyers, who have won six straight games. Sergei Bobrovsky has shaken off the "adequate" tag and has morphed into "solid" at worst. I'd give him a higher ranking but lately he's played the Islanders twice, Carolina, the Rangers and the Penguins, none of whom are very potent on offense. If he plays against the Capitals, that'll be a major test. Still, he's allowed only five goals in his last four games. He's also made seven straight starts as a rookie and Philadelphia played yesterday, so it wouldn't surprise me to see Peter Laviolette turn to Brian Boucher.

It's probably safe to say Washington's high-powered attack is back. The Capitals have 16 goals in their last three games and their power play is 5-11. Alex Ovechkin is on a five-game point streak and Alexander Semin has points, including goals, in three straight. Washington is 6-1-0 at home.

Washington 5, Philadelphia 3

You can't tell, because there's no time log on this thing, and when I edit the time of the posting that makes it tougher, but I just took a waffle break. They were good. I'm back now.

Edmonton (3-6-2) at Chicago (8-7-1), 7 p.m.

This is kind of like 2009-10 all over again for the Oilers. Last year, they won three of their first five games (the two losses were in shootouts) and actually won six of their first nine games before eventually finishing last. Their start this season wasn't as good, but they did win their first two games. Now they have one win in their last nine. That lone victory came against these Blackhawks in Chicago. Edmonton's defense isn't good, the penalty killing isn't good, the goalies haven't been good...the Oilers are in full "growing pains" mode.

Here's a statistical oddity from Chicago: Prior to Saturday's win over Atlanta, the Blackhawks lost six of the seven games in which Jonathan Toews registered a point (he had one assist in a 3-2 overtime win over St. Louis.) They fixed things when he scored twice and had two assists, plus scored in the shootout, to beat the Thrashers.

Here's another quirk: Chicago has played better defensively, allowing 26 shots or fewer in the last four games before Saturday, but the Blackhawks won just one of those games. Then they go allow 37 to Atlanta and win. I don't know if it's the Stanley Cup hangover or what, but there's some strange shit going on here, Coleman.

Chicago 4, Edmonton 1

St. Louis (8-1-2) at Rangers (7-5-1), 7 p.m.

I get that the Canadiens are probably happy right now with the play of Carey Price, but there aren't many better Hart Trophy candidates through five weeks than Jaroslav Halak (Tim Thomas is one.) The Blues can't really score, their power play is ineffective, yet they've lost only one game in regulation and just three total. They're two points behind the Kings for first in the West with two games in hand. There's one reason why this is: Halak. Among goalies who have appeared in more than six games, Halak is second in both GAA and save percentage. He's tied for the league lead in wins and shutouts.

This team is already dangerous but if they start to score, the rest of the NHL must really be on the lookout.

For a darkhorse MVP candidate, let's try Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers are a fairly average team right now and are averaging just 22 shots per game over the last four, yet they've won three of them. Two were shutouts by Lundqvist.

Brandon Dubinsky is playing the best hockey of his career. Quick, name the double-digit goal scorers in the NHL. Give up? Steven Stamkos, Patrick Sharp, Dubinsky. That's it, that's the list. Dubinsky has 10 goals in 14 games; his career-high is 20. He has five goals in his last three games. Marian who?

St. Louis 3, New York 2

Nashville (5-4-3) at Anaheim (6-7-1), 8 p.m.

It seemed inevitable that the Predators would eventually return to earth. They were the last team to lose in regulation but a team relying almost solely on goaltending (even more than St. Louis) and with virtually no gamebreakers on offense couldn't keep up its success for too long, right? Well, Nashville has lost four straight games, all in regulation, with six goals in that time (one coming in the final three minutes of what had been a 4-0 score.) Pekka Rinne has turned not just mortal but inadequate, allowing 16 goals in his last four.

Offensively? There's nothing to discuss for Nashville. Steve Sullivan and Patrick Hornqvist lead this team in goals, with four each. In 12 games.

Jonas Hiller has been very good lately, limiting Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh to two goals each as the Ducks have slowly turned their season around and are now playing solid hockey. They're still not good, but average is better than atrocious. Anaheim is 5-4-1 in its last 10. The Ducks are one of just three teams (Chicago, Colorado) to have five players with at least 10 points. That's kind of impressive. Their defense still sucks though, and that's been the problem.

Anaheim 4, Nashville 2

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