Atlantic Watch: 3/23-3/29

How fitting is it that Scott Hartnell scored the goal last night against the Penguins (in Pittsburgh) that may have saved the division title for the Flyers?

Just when it looked as though the Flyers were gearing up to sleepwalk through another game in their free fall from the top, the most despised player in Pittsburgh scores a game shifting goal to start a string of four unanswered goals putting Philly in a more spacious lead at the top of the Atlantic.

Hartnell didn’t score the game-winner, but his goal did seem to wake the team up as Claude Giroux scored the eventual game-winner only forty-seven seconds later. A pair of goals from Ville Leino in the third and Philly now has a four point lead in the division with a game in hand over Pittsburgh. Philly also has a three point lead in the conference over Washington, a team over which they also have a game in hand.

The week didn’t start out well for the Orange and Black as they fell 2-1 in a shootout Thursday night against the same Pens’ team they beat last night. It took a Chris Kunitz shot through Sergei Bobrovsky’s five-hole in the fourth round of the shootout to give the Pens the crucial additional point.

Two days later, the Flyers beat up on the New York Islanders like they usually do with a score of 4-1 in Uniondale. A James van Riemsdyk hat trick was enough for Philly to put away the Isles for a fifth straight time this season. Bobrovsky had 36 saves on 37 shots.

The following night, the Flyers displayed another lackluster performance against Boston losing 2-1 in front of their home crowd. A late power-play goal from none other than Brad Marchand with 3:43 left in regulation gave Boston enough to slip by.

When you factor in last night’s result with the previous three games this week, Philly went 2-1-1. The record doesn’t suggest panic, but the play the Flyers have provided states otherwise. However, last night’s win looked like a confidence-boosting result. Hopefully Peter Laviolette’s boys have worked out of their lazy, non-offense producing ways that have consumed them over the past few weeks.

JVR had the strongest offensive performance of the week for Philly potting his first career hat trick against the Isles on Saturday. He also had an assist against Pittsburgh on Thursday and an assist against Boston.

Those are not the most impressive of numbers, but when you consider the source, a three-assist week is a solid string of games for Sean O’Donnell. After assisting on JVR’s second goal on Saturday, O’Donnell posted two assists last night against the Pens — including the primary helper on the Giroux game-winner.

The Flyers have a busy week taking on four conquerable opponents.

Closing out March with a home game against the Thrashers tomorrow night, the Flyers travel to Newark to finish off their season series with the Devils on Friday. Sunday features yet another nationally-televised matinee game with the Rangers, but this time from the comfort of home. The week ends with a trip to Ottawa to play the lowly Sens.  

Pittsburgh Penguins: 3-1-0. The record reads three wins in four games, but the Pens could have easily lost each game they played this week. Notching wins against Philly, New Jersey, and Florida all via shootout, the Pens only loss on the week was to the orange and black last night.

A strong third period effort resulted in no game-winning goal as the Pens needed a four-round shootout to edge out the unmotivated Flyers.

The next day, the Pens barely managed to get two points yet again. This time, the win came against a team outside of the playoff picture. With no goals netted during regulation or overtime, James Neal won the game with his third-round shootout goal.

Beating the Panthers 2-1 on Sunday, the Pens won their fourth straight game via shootout. Neal and Alexei Kovalev scored the shootout goals this time to give Pittsburgh the additional point.

Finally snapping their winning streak based on nothing but shootout victories, the Flyers handed Pittsburgh a devastating 5-2 loss in front of their home fans. Ironically, the Pens last loss in regulation was also 5-2 (3/20 against the Rangers).

In a week that only saw his team net four goals, Tyler Kennedy had two of them. Both coming against Philly, Kennedy scored the game-tying goal in Thursday’s game and briefly gave his team a lead in the second period of last night’s game.

Kovalev only had two points this week, but he played a pivotal role in his team’s success. Scoring shootout goals against Philly on Thursday and Florida on Sunday, Kovalev also assisted on Ben Lovejoy’s goal against the Panthers. His only goal of the week opened the scoring in last night’s game against the Flyers.

Not scoring a single goal in regulation, Neal gave his team two victories this week scoring the game-winning goal in both Friday’s and Sunday’s games. Neal also assisted on Lovejoy’s goal against Florida.

After visiting Tampa Bay tomorrow night, the Pens stay in Florida to take on the Panthers on Saturday. They finish off the week hosting the Devils on Tuesday night.     

New York Rangers: 1-0-1. After dropping a shootout at home to Ottawa, the Rangers shut out the Bruins in Boston to capture three of the possible four points this week.

Not a single Ranger was able to find the back of the net in the five-round shootout that ensued after the 1-1 tie at the end of regulation Thursday against the Sens. Finally, Eric Karlsson slipped one past Henrik Lundqvist to give Ottawa the additional point.

Two days later, Derek Stepan netted the game-winning goal before seven minutes had passed in regulation. This was all the offense Lundqvist needed to give New York the win as the visiting Rangers won 1-0.

Without a doubt the Ranger of the week was Lundqvist. Managing to lose a game when only allowing one goal all week, Lundqvist stopped fifty-five of fifty-six shots fired at his net. His shutout on Saturday gave Lundqvist his league-leading eleventh shutout.

Brandon Prust had the lone Rangers’ goal in Thursday’s game on Thursday.

After a light two-game week, the Rangers endure four games over the next seven days. After a trip to Buffalo tonight, the Rangers visit Long Island tomorrow to take on the Islanders. Two days later, the Rangers make a trip to Philly to play the Flyers in a nationally televised matinee game. The week ends for the Rangers at home against the Bruins on Monday night.

New Jersey Devils: 0-1-1. The Devils managed to gain a point this week despite registering a goal all week. Falling to the Pens in a shootout on Friday, the Devils couldn’t rebound against the Sabres on Saturday dropping the game on the road in regulation.

Sixty minutes of regulation plus five minutes of overtime, and three rounds of a shootout didn’t see a single Devils’ shot cross the goal line. A Neal goal in the third round of the shootout gave Pittsburgh the additional point on Friday. The Devils only managed a single shot in the first period.

Despite out shooting the Sabres in the second and third periods, the Devils first period cost them another valuable two points on Saturday. First period goals from Nathan Gerbe and Thomas Vanek were the only goals on the night as Buffalo held on for a 2-0 win at home.

Usually highlighting the offensive side of things for New Jersey, this week Ilya Kovalchuk embarrassed his club. Being on the ice for both of the goals scored against his team this week, Kovalchuk went -2 and registered one shot all week.

The road ahead looks to only get harder for the Devils as they have three games against teams in playoff position this week. After hosting the Islanders tonight, the Devils watch the Flyers visit The Prudential Center on Friday and the Canadiens visit on Saturday. New Jersey wraps up the week with a visit to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

New York Islanders: 0-2-0. Being out scored in the first period by a combined score of 4-1, the Islanders found themselves on the losing side of both of their games this week. After dropping their home game to Atlanta on Thursday, the Isles were tricked into another loss on Saturday against the Flyers.

John Tavares leveled the game at one a minute and thirty-eight seconds into the second period on Thursday, but the Islanders couldn’t find a way to edge out a win. Just over twelve minutes later, former Islander Rob Schremp stuck it to his old team with the game-winning goal to let his Atlanta team win 2-1.

Saturday’s match up against the Flyers couldn’t have been fun for Islanders’ fans. Losing to Philly for the twentieth time in the last twenty-one meetings, witnessing a JVR hat-trick, and being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs summed up the Isles night as New York saw their second home loss on the week by a score of 4-1.

Not a single Islander registered more than a point this week. Blake Comeau scored in the first period of the Isles’ game on Saturday to give them a brief period of hope before JVR’s second goal on the night put Philly back up by two goals.

A visit to North Jersey tonight is the only time the Islanders leave New York this week as they host the Rangers on Thursday and the Hurricanes on Saturday.