Around the League
The Boston Bruins are on an 11-game winning streak and became the second team to crack the 100-point barrier after a win over the Avalanche on Friday. During that 11-game stretch, only the Lightning managed to score more than two goals against them. The Bruins’ plus-76 goal differential now leads the league, and barring some kind of prolonged slump in their last 12 games of the season, will lock up top spot in the Eastern Conference. Even non-believers of home ice advantage have to concede the Bruins are statistically better at winning on home ice with a league-high 28 wins at The Garden.
The Bruins should have an easy path to the Stanley Cup Final – which would be their third appearance in just four years – with the Penguins missing several key players. The Bruins are a known quantity, but just thinking about beating them can be mentally draining. The Rangers, who have been much better on the road than at home, will have a chance as long as Henrik Lundqvist stays at the top of his game (questionable), while the Flyers need Claude Giroux to play at an elite level over the next couple of months (unlikely). Between the four teams, the Bruins are by far the most balanced and most experienced group.
Offense: Tyler who? The key piece in the trade that sent Seguin to Dallas ended up being Reilly Smith and his 19 goals, not Loui Eriksson, the Swedish winger who has struggled with injuries this season and scored just eight times through 49 games. If Smith and David Krejci both reach the 20-goal plateau, like the St. Louis Blues, the Bruins will boast five 20-goal scorers. The majority of the team’s players have played so long together that each of them seem to know their roles intuitively, and certainly buy into the team concept that it doesn’t really matter who scores as long as the game is won.
Line matching is even more prevalent in the playoffs, and the Bruins will win every time that happens. Krejci and Patrice Bergeron create matchup headaches because both are capable two-way players, and when opposition defenses focus on shutting down Krejci, Bergeron takes the reins and wreaks havoc with Brad Marchand at his side. Chris Kelly and Eriksson form a solid base for the third line, while Dan Paille, Greg Campbell and Shawn Thornton continue to be the league’s most consistent fourth line.
Defense: The Bruins have re-tooled their defense on the fly, becoming more mobile with additions such as Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and even Andrej Meszaros, who was acquired from Philadelphia at the deadline. Zdeno Chara isn’t as effective as he once was, and there have been instances where he’s been slow getting to the puck, though he still uses his massive wingspan to good effectiveness. Because the B’s forwards are so responsible in their own end, it helps lessen the pressure on defense to begin breakouts, especially with Hamilton, Krug and Kevan Miller still relatively green. After finishing 26th on the power play last year, the Bruins have improved to fourth, in large part to Krug and Chara’s combined 15 power play goals. Limiting Krug’s room to skate through the neutral zone and making Chara chase the puck when the Bruins are pinned in their defensive zone could create space and scoring chances for the opposition.
Goaltending: Tuukka Rask’s career save percentage with nearly 200 games played is .927. Sure, that number may come down slightly over the next few years, but that’s comparable to Roberto Luongo’s career save percentage (.919) and Henrik Lundqvist’s (.920), both of whom are considered the league’s top goaltenders of the past decade. That’s also not mentioning that Rask leads the league in even strength save percentage with a .942 mark. Rask is hot-tempered and, like virtually all goalies, doesn’t like being scored on, but he rarely allows more than one bad goal. That sort of mental toughness will serve him well in the playoffs.
Outlook: It would be quite shocking if the Bruins don’t make it the Eastern Conference Finals. They’re deeper than everyone else, not to mention relatively healthy, and though they lack an elite go-to scorer, get steady contributions from all four lines and all three pairings. The only hiccup the Bruins might face is if one of their key players gets injured, since the team doesn’t have a lot of quality depth beyond its regular players. Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner and David Warsofsky will serve as black aces, but none have the ability to make significant contributions yet. If the Bruins make the Finals, the Blues (should they make it) will present an interesting challenge, since the two teams are considered to be the most well balanced and play similar, defensive styles. If you thought the Blues-Kings series was a slugfest, the Blues and Bruins might put each other in the hospital before the Stanley Cup is even awarded.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid
St. Louis Blues (Ryan Miller*) at Philadelphia Flyers (Steve Mason), 1:00 PM
Tampa Bay Lightning (Ben Bishop) at Pittsburgh Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury), 1:00 PM
Detroit Red Wings (Jimmy Howard*) at Minnesota Wild (Darcy Kuemper*), 2:00 PM
Ottawa Senators (Robin Lehner*) at Dallas Stars (Kari Lehtonen), 3:00 PM
Florida Panthers (Roberto Luongo) at Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Quick), 4:00 PM
Montreal Canadiens (Carey Price) at Toronto Maple Leafs (Jonathan Bernier), 7:00 PM
New York Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist) at New Jersey Devils (Martin Brodeur*), 7:00 PM
Carolina Hurricanes (Cam Ward) at Winnipeg Jets (Al Montoya), 7:00 PM
Boston Bruins (Tuukka Rask) at Phoenix Coyotes (Mike Smith), 9:00 PM
Calgary Flames (Karri Ramo*) at Edmonton Oilers (Viktor Fasth*), 10:00 PM
Washington Capitals (Jaroslav Halak) at San Jose Sharks (Antti Niemi), 10:30 PM
Injury News For Teams Playing Saturday
St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW – (right hand surgery) no return date set.
Jordan Leopold, D - (illness) will not play Saturday.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Brian Lee, D - (knee) no return date set.
Kris Letang, D – (heart) practicing, but no return date set.
Chris Conner, RW – (broken foot) out 4-6 weeks.
Joe Vitale, C – (upper body) will not play Saturday.
Beau Bennett, RW - (wrist) currently on AHL conditioning assignment.
Tomas Vokoun, G - (pelvis) no return date set.
Pascal Dupuis, RW – (knee) out for the season.
Paul Martin, D - (hand) practicing, game-day decision for Saturday.
Detroit Red Wings
Dan Cleary, RW - (knee) no timetable for return.
Stephen Weiss, C – (hernia) out indefinitely.
Pavel Datsyuk, C - (knee) no return date set.
Henrik Zetterberg, C – (back) out indefinitely.
Justin Abdelkader, LW – (leg) out two weeks.
Mikael Samuelsson, RW - (shoulder) no return date set.
Jonathan Ericsson, D - (finger) out 4-6 weeks.
Joakim Andersson, C – (broken foot) no timetable for return.
Darren Helm, C – (concussion) game-time decision for Saturday.
Tomas Jurco, RW – (broken rib) no timetable for return.
Jason Zucker, LW - (knee) expected to miss the rest of the season.
Niklas Backstrom, G - (abdominal soreness) Darcy Kuemper already named starter for Saturday.
Keith Ballard, D - (groin) did not practice Friday, doubtful for Saturday.
Josh Harding, G - (illness) no timetable for return.
Nathan Lawson, G - (lower body) considered game-time decision.
Craig Anderson, G - (undisclosed) Robin Lehner already slated to start.
Rich Peverley, RW – (heart surgery) no timetable for return.
Sean Bergenheim, LW - (lower body) game-time decision for Saturday.
Tomas Kopecky, RW – (concussion) out indefinitely.
Jesse Winchester, LW - (lower body) game-time decision.
Erik Gudbranson, D - (knee) day-to-day, no return day set.
Alex Petrovic, D – (upper body) placed on IR.
Jonathan Huberdeau, LW – (upper body) doubtful for Saturday.
Aleksander Barkov, C - (knee) out indefinitely.
Josh Gorges, D – (left hand surgery) no return date set.
Brandon Prust, LW - (upper body) out for the season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Jonathan Bernier, G - (groin) game-time decision.
Paul Ranger, D – (neck) no return date set.
Dave Bolland, C - (ankle) game-time decision.
New Jersey Devils
Ryan Carter, C - (upper body) probably for Saturday.
Tim Sestito, LW - (head) doubtful for Saturday.
Joni Pitkanen, D - (heel) out for the season.
Elias Lindholm, C – (illness) missed Thursday’s game, considered game-time decision.
Justin Faulk, D – (illness) game-time decision for Saturday.
Ryan Murphy, D – (upper body) doubtful for Saturday.
Mark Scheifele, C - (knee) no return date set.
Jim Slater, C – (lower body) day-to-day, game-time decision.
Ondrej Pavelec, G - (lower body) Al Montoya likely to start Saturday.
Chris Thorburn, RW – (foot) out indefinitely.
James Wright, C – (ankle sprain) out indefinitely.
Grant Clitsome, D – (back surgery) out for the season.
Dennis Seidenberg, D – (knee) possible return in the playoffs.
Johnny Boychuk, D – (foot) did not play Friday, doubtful for Saturday.
Adam McQuaid, D – (groin/hip) doubtful for Saturday.
David Schlemko, D - (lower body) game-time decision for Saturday.
Dennis Wideman, D - (upper body) likely out for the season.
David Jones, RW - (shoulder) will not play Saturday.
Anton Belov, D - (oblique) placed on IR.
Nail Yakupov, RW - (ankle) did not play Thursday, questionable for Saturday.
Jordan Eberle, RW - (knee) did not play Thursday, questionable for Saturday.
Jesse Joensuu, RW – (ankle sprain) no return date set.
John Erskine, D - (concussion) will not play Saturday.
Brooks Laich, LW - (groin) out for the season.
Mikhail Grabovski, C - (ankle) will not play Saturday.
Tomas Kundratek, D – (torn ACL) out for the season.
Aaron Volpatti, LW - (left shoulder) not cleared for practice.
San Jose Sharks
Tomas Hertl, C - (knee) no return date set.
Raffi Torres, LW - (knee) out indefinitely.
Brad Stuart, D - (upper body) game-time decision Saturday.
Blake Wheeler, RW, WPG – It took several seasons for the 27-year-old winger to establish himself in the league, but he’s done so quite emphatically with 59 points this season, including seven points and 15 PIM over his past three games. The Jets are in an uphill battle for a playoff spot with 11 games to go, and head coach Paul Maurice will need Wheeler to contribute more regularly. The big winger has the ability to do it, but his points tend to come in bunches and there are still times he seems to drift through the play. Wheeler has always been known to possess lots of skill, but only recently has it been realized. He may not be a reliable pickup down the stretch, but he’s certainly worth drafting next year.
Mark Giordano, D, CGY – Calgary’s best defensemen and one of the most underrated in the Western Conference, the Flames captain has seven points in his past six games, including a two-assist effort Friday against Nashville. If it weren’t for a broken ankle, Giordano would certainly get a mention as one of the league’s best two-way defensemen, but gets overlooked with Calgary’s poor record. Over the past month, Giordano has registered more than three shots on net five times, including nine shots against Phoenix and seven against Vancouver. He’s a valuable asset in any format, if you can overlook how bad the rest of his team is.
Gustav Nyquist, RW, DET – It’s no fluke – after making a conscious effort to shoot the puck more, Nyquist now has four goals in his past four games. With Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk’s return this season uncertain, Nyquist has carried the Red Wings offense, leading the team to consecutive wins over Pittsburgh and Toronto. What is a little eyebrow-raising is Nyquist’s ice time, skating over 20 minutes just once this month. Perhaps head coach Mike Babcock is saving Nyquist for the stretch drive, but you wonder what’s keeping him from playing Detroit’s best offensive performer just a little more.
Mike Ribeiro, C, PHX – He may be one of the best east-west type players in the league with his ability to control the puck in tight spaces, but it’s not showing on the score sheet with just one goal in his past seven games. The Coyotes have won three straight, but at the expense of Ribeiro’s ice time, who averaged 14 minutes of ice time during the winning streak but 21 minutes in the three games prior. Any team coached by Dave Tippett is where offense goes to die, and Ribeiro’s 44 points through 70 games is far off pace from his 49-point effort in 48 games last year with Washington.
Cory Schneider, G, NJ – Anointed as Martin Brodeur’s eventual successor, Schneider isn’t having a good month, posting just one win so far while allowing 18 goals in four games. He’s ceding playing time to Brodeur, and rightfully so, but goalies have no value at all when they don’t play. A win against Minnesota was a step in the right direction, but Schneider hasn’t allowed less than two goals in a game since February. The Devils are still gunning for a playoff spot and they’ll ride whoever has the hotter hand. Schneider just doesn’t have it right now.
Jeff Skinner, LW, CAR – The feisty winger is finding it difficult to replicate his 31-goal rookie season, having endured injuries over the past few seasons. He’s scored 26 times this year, but hasn’t done so in his past four games, and as a consequence, his ice-time has shrunk from 18 minutes a game to 15. There are rumors that sweeping changes will be made in Carolina this summer to shake up a team that lacks competitive spirit on some nights, and Skinner’s name has popped up on more than one occasion. He’ll need to perform much better down the stretch if he wants to stay.
Nicklas Jensen, RW, VAN – Take it from someone who watches a lot of Canucks games – this kid can play. The 2011 first-round pick has racked up 17 goals at the AHL and NHL level since January, including three goals in seven games for the Canucks. Though he isn’t blessed with a lot of speed or skill, he is strong on his feet and finds the open areas very well. Combined with the playmaking abilities of Henrik Sedin, who is suddenly playing with a surge of confidence, Jensen is getting a lot of good chances and he’s scoring regularly with his strong wrist shot. He’s also auditioning for a spot next year, which provides further incentive to perform over the next ten games.