Atlantic Watch: 12/14-12/20

The last two games for the Flyers haven’t been pretty, but there is good news related to the team’s point-leader. Claude Giroux is expected to make a return in the near future, the earliest being tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars, from his concussion. This is good news considering the status of Chris Pronger, who will not take part in another game at any point this season or for the playoffs. With his team going 2-2-0 in his absence, Giroux’s return will hopefully turn things around for the Orange and Black.

As for Philly’s games this week, the Flyers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 4-3 win over the Canadiens in Montreal on Thursday night. Andrej Meszaros’ blast in the third period broke the 3-3 tie and handed the Flyers the win as Matt Carle had three assists in the game. Max Talbot and Wayne Simmonds both scored their ninth goals of the season, while Harry Zolnierczyk scored his second goal of the season to round out the scoring for Philly. Sergei Bobrovsky had 28 saves in his first win since November 25th, which also came against the Canadiens. Sean Couturier was tagged with three minor penalties to lead all players in PIM for the game as the Flyers enjoyed their ninth win in a ten-game span.

On Saturday, the Flyers’ winning streak was snapped abruptly in a 6-0 beating in Philly at the hands of the Boston Bruins. Benoit Pouliot netted the game-winner 27 seconds after the opening faceoff as the Bruins racked up four goals in the first twenty minutes. To make matters worse, Couturier took a Kimmo Timonen shot to the back of the head late in the period and left with an injury to his ear. Zdeno Chara completed a Gordie Howe hat trick while Rich Peverley led all Bruins in points with three assists. Tim Thomas earned the 31-save shutout as Milan Lucic earned a one-game suspension for his checking from behind major on Zac Rinaldo.

To conclude the week the Flyers lost their second straight game as they fell to the Avalanche in Colorado by the score of 3-2 in a shootout. Ryan O’Reilly scored the third of three shootout goals for the Avalanche to take credit for the game-deciding tally as Matt Read clanked iron on the Flyers’ last shootout chance to end the game. Scott Hartnell had a goal and an assist, while Danny Briere scored the game-tying goal with less than 19 seconds left to play in the game. Ilya Bryzgalov made 25 saves, but he failed to deny any attempts in the shootout hurting his team’s chances of a win greatly. Meszaros was the only player to finish the game with a minus-2 rating. The loss marks the first time the Flyers have lost back-to-back games since their losses to the Jets on November 19th and the Hurricanes on November 21st.

Taking part in his first regular season game with the Flyers, Tom Sestito was minus-1 in 9:06 TOI against the Avalanche on Monday night.

Along with Sestito, Ben Holmstrom was recalled from the Phantoms to play in his second game of the season. In his first game since November 2nd, Holmstrom had a shot in 9:00 TOI.

Assigned to Adirondack for conditioning, Andreas Lilja took part in the Phantoms’ game against the Binghamton Senators (the Ottawa Senators’ AHL affiliate). Failing to provide a point, Lilja had a shot and was minus-1.

For their games this week, the Flyers will play three of the five games in their current road trip. The first game comes tonight, when they travel to Dallas to take on the Stars. On Friday, the Flyers go to New York and take on the Rangers for the last meeting between the clubs before The NHL Winter Classic. To conclude their week, the Flyers head to Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.   

New York Rangers: 2-1-0. Dropping their first game of the week, the Rangers have won back-to-back games to put themselves only two points behind the Flyers for the division lead with a game in hand. After giving up four goals to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Rangers held the Coyotes and the Devils to a combined total of three goals. Returning home this week, the Rangers have a three-game homestand playing two divisional foes.

To start the week, the Rangers lost 4-1 to the Blues for their second loss in a row. David Perron put home the game-winner for the Blues halfway through the opening stanza as Brian Elliott made 25 saves in the Rangers’ road loss. Out shot 27-16 in the first forty minutes of the game, the only goal New York registered was from Michael Del Zotto late in the second period. Dan Girardi had a rough night as he was minus-3 in 26:15 TOI. Anton Stralman was the only visitor who ended the game with a plus-1 rating as Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves in the loss. The game marked the fourth time all season Lundqvist made 30 saves in a loss.

Two days later, New York edged out a 3-2 win in Phoenix over the Coyotes with a last-second victory. Scoring with .1 seconds left in the third period, Brad Richards potted his fourth game-winner of the season to hand the stunned Mike Smith his tenth regulation loss of the season. Richards’ goal was the second of the period for New York as Marian Gaborik scored just over a minute into the third for his 17th of the season. With the addition of his power-play goal in the first period, Gaborik had a two-goal night. Getting his seventh start of the season, Martin Biron had 21 saves in his sixth victory on the year. Erik Christensen was the lone Ranger to finish with a minus-1 as New York won their fourth road game in the month of December.

Last night, New York’s week concluded with a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils in Jersey. In a game that featured four fighting majors and two ten-minute misconducts in the first 1:47, Gaborik potted the game-winning goal in his second straight two-goal effort. Carl Hagelin had a shorthanded tally late in the third period as Lundqvist denied 30 of the 31 Devils’ shots on net. Assisting on Artem Anisimov’s second period goal, Gaborik was one of two Rangers on the night with three points as Derek Stepan had a three-assist game. Anisimov had a two-point game with a primary assist on Gaborik’s first goal of the game.

Due to an injury-riddled blue line, the Rangers called up a pair of defenseman from the Connecticut Whale (AHL affiliate) this week.

Stu Bickel made his NHL debut last night as he had an assist and 2 PIM in 11:40 TOI against the Devils.

Taking part in his first Rangers’ game since late October, Tim Erixon also played against the Devils last night. The 23rd overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft went pointless, had no shots, and an even rating in 9:36 TOI.

For the upcoming week, New York takes on two of their closest rivals for three games. Starting with a game against the New York Islanders tomorrow night, the Rangers then host the Flyers on Friday night. Concluding the week on Monday, the Rangers host the Islanders again for the clubs’ fourth meeting of the season.

Pittsburgh Penguins: 2-1-0. The Penguins are currently enjoying a two-game winning streak after losing four of their previous five games. As six of their 15 goals on the week came from their power play, the Penguins dominated the Sabres on Saturday before holding on to a one-goal victory against the team against the top of the NHL standings last night. With two games against two Southeast Division opponents, the Penguins have a chance to improve their winning streak to four games.

In their only loss of the week, the Pens dropped a 6-4 decision on the road to the Ottawa Senators. Finishing off a crazy second period where both teams combined for eight goals, Zenon Konopka put home his third goal of the season for the game-winner as only six seconds remained on the clock before the second intermission. Steve Sullivan led all Pens in points with a goal and two assists as Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz both had two points. Matt Niskanen scored his second goal of the season on the power play, but finished the game minus-3. Brent Johnson allowed five goals on nineteen shots for the loss and his first game of the season with a save percentage of less than .800 (.737). Pitt’s four goals is the most they have scored in a loss this season.

As they finally put an end to their losing ways, the Pens handed an 8-3 drubbing to the visiting Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. Malkin led the way with a hat-trick, which included the winner with 2:30 left in a first period where the Pens out scored Buffalo 4-1. With the addition of two assists, Malkin had a five-point game as he was the only player in the game with more than two points. Jason Williams had his first goal of the season and Simon Despres had his first goal in the NHL early in the first period to give the Pens’ the two-goal lead. Ryan Miller allowed five goals on 15 shots, while Jhonas Enroth earned the loss with eight saves on 11 shots. The game was the Pens’ second five-goal victory of the season with the first being their 5-0 win against the Islanders on November 21st.

Carrying their momentum into Tuesday’s game, the Pens gained a 3-0 advantage before holding on for a 3-2 victory at home against the Chicago Blackhawks. Tyler Kennedy’s fourth of the season late in the second period was the game-winning goal as both Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg scored in the third period for the Hawks to cut the Pens’ lead to only one goal before running out of time. Kunitz’ extended his goal streak to three games with a power-play tally in the first period as James Neal scored his 19th of the season in the second period. Marc-Andre Fleury’s 36 saves marked a season-high for the netminder in any of his wins and his second highest save total all season (40 in OTL to Blues on November 23rd).

Pittsburgh completed a handful of roster moves this week, one of which was an NHL debut.

Carl Sneep took part in his first ever NHL game on Saturday for the Pens. Earning an assist while going plus-1 in 16:19 TOI, Sneep was rewarded for his strong game with a return to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL affiliate).

As for other moves,  Williams returned to the Pens’ roster after being assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton earlier in the week. In his games against the Sabres and Blackhawks, Williams had a goal and an assist with a plus-1 rating.

Playing in his first games for Pittsburgh since the middle of November, Eric Tangradi had an even rating with a shot on net in 24:22 TOI against the Sens and Sabres this week.

Returning to the line-up after missing 19 games with a broken wrist, Ben Lovejoy played last night against the Blackhawks. In a plus-1 effort, Lovejoy had an assist and a shot on net in 16:18 spent on the ice.

Looking ahead, the Pens will try to beat the Winnipeg Jets on Friday in the teams’ second meeting of the season. Returning home for their third home game in four games, Pitt takes on the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.

New Jersey Devils: 2-1-0. After extending their winning streak to four games, the Devils finally fell last night as they were beaten by the Rangers in Jersey. The loss drops the Devils to 2-4-0 against the rest of the Atlantic Division this season with one of those wins coming against the the Flyers in a shootout on November 3rd. In their two games in the upcoming week, the Devils look to top a pair of clubs from the Southeast Division who are still struggling despite recent coaching changes.

Having off Wednesday and Thursday, the Devils started the week on Friday with a 6-3 victory against the visiting Dallas Stars. Petr Sykora potted his second game-winner of the season late in the second period, a period where the Devils out scored the Stars 3-1 to enter the final twenty minutes with a 4-2 lead. Zach Parise had a goal and three assists for his first four-point game since January of 2010. Sykora, Patrik Elias, and Ilya Kovalchuk each had a goal and an assist, while Adam Larsson had a two-assist night to round out the group of five Devils on the night with two points or more. Johan Hedberg registered the win with 33 saves, 16 of which came in the third period. The win was the Devils’ second home win in their last three games in Jersey.

Playing the next day in Montreal, the Devils pulled off a 5-3 victory against the Canadiens. Elias had a two-goal night featuring the game-winner 1:31 into the third period. Sykora and Dainius Zubrus each had a goal and an assist as Kovalchuk had a two-assist game. David Clarkson netted his 11th of the season and had a game-high six shots on net. Clarkson will most likely score more than 17 goals this season, which is his career-high for goals in a season set back in 2008-2009. Martin Brodeur had a 23-save win as he provided his third straight game with at least twenty saves. The win marked the Devils sixth win in a seven-game span.

Last night, the Devils suffered their first three-goal loss in December with a 4-1 loss at home to the Rangers. Travis Zajac was the lone Devil to score last night putting home his first goal since March 15th. After stopping the four shots he faced in the first period, Brodeur allowed three goals on the final 16 shots he faced for a 17-save loss. Newly acquired Kurtis Foster joined Kovalchuk as the only two Devils to go minus-3 on the night as nobody on New Jersey’s roster ended the game with a plus-rating. The Devils had 24 PIM on the night, 22 of which belonged to three players (Eric Boulton with 10, Clarkson with 7, and Cam Janssen with 5). The Devils will have plenty of time to redeem themselves for this loss as the teams face five more times this season.

For the Devils’ roster, two key players returned from injuries while Nick Palmieri took part in more games for the Albany Devils (AHL affiliate).

Returning to action after missing 30 games, Zajac played in his first game of the season on Friday. In his first three games of the season, Zajac had a goal on 10 shots posting a minus-2 rating.

Also making his return in the Stars’ game, Anton Volchenkov played after missing three games due to a hand injury. Volchenkov had six PIM and a shot on net in this week’s games.

Palmieri was assigned to Albany this week and had eight shots and six PIM with a minus-2 rating in three games.

Staying in Jersey, the Devils take on the Washington Capitals tomorrow before traveling to Carolina for a match-up against the Hurricanes on Monday.

New York Islanders: 2-1-0. Needing two shootouts for their victories this week, the Isles grabbed four of the possible six points as they still sit at the bottom of the Atlantic Division. Despite being on a two-game winning streak, the Islanders have gone six straight games without winning in regulation. The Isles also pulled off winning two games while only scoring a total of five goals this week. The Islanders look to keep their win streak intact with three difficult games ahead.

Completing their fourth home game in a five-game span, the Islanders dropped a 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Thursday night. Jamie Benn’s eighth of the season 4:33 into the third period was the game-winner as Dallas scored two goals in the first five minutes of the third to win. Kyle Okposo had a goal and an assist for his second two-point game in the Isles’ last three games, while Michael Grabner provided his ninth goal of the season in the first period. Taking part in his first game with the Islanders this season, goaltender Kevin Poulin made 26 saves on 29 shots for the loss. John Tavares had an unfortunate night as he posted a game-high six shots, but finished pointless with a minus-1 rating. The loss dropped the Islanders to 0-3-1 in their last four games.

Two nights later the Isles traveled to Minnesota to deal the Wild a 2-1 loss in a shootout. Frans Nielsen scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Islanders the extra point in a game where they out shot the Wild 36-21. Andrew MacDonald scored his second of the season halfway through the second period giving New York the lead before Cal Clutterbuck scored in the third period to force the game past regulation. Al Montoya made 20 saves for his first win in his last four starts. Okposo’s hooking minor late in the second period was one of only three minors in the game as Minnesota’s Jarod Palmer and Warren Peters committed the other infractions. The victory was New York’s first shootout win of the season.

Last night the Jets fell in front of their home crowd to the Islanders by a score of 3-2 in a shootout. Nielsen scored another decisive goal in the shootout as his tally notched the extra point for Long Island, while P.A. Parenteau scored on his opportunity earlier in the shootout. Parenteau also scored in the first period for the Islanders, while Grabner posted his 10th of the season early in the second period. Evgeni Nabokov earned the win blocking all 19 shots he saw in 26:20 TOI with the addition of a save on Kyle Wellwood in the shootout. No Isle found themselves plus-2 on the night, but Dylan Reese did manage to go minus-2 in 14:12 time spent on the ice for Long Island.

In addition to Poulin making his season debut this week, Calvin de Haan made his NHL debut against the Stars. The defender was plus-1 with 2 shots on net in 13:01 TOI.

As for Long Island’s injuries, MacDonald and Nino Niederreiter (as well as Nabokob) returned to action this week as both played against the Wild and the Jets.

Along with his goal against the Wild, MacDonald had an assist with a plus-1 rating over the two games.

As for Niederreiter, he was minus-2 with 2 shots on net in his return from a concussion that sidelined him for five games.

The Islanders end their three-game road trip with a visit to Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers tomorrow night. On Friday night, the Isles return to Long Island to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs before ending the week with another trip to Madison Square Garden on Monday night.