So, we have about a month left in the season. Question: does it feel like it’s flying by or does it feel like it will never end? Or could it somehow be a little of both?
However you feel, you must admit that there are a lot of interesting races down the stretch. The Metro Division is crazy competitive, while other battles could serve to be serious tug-o-wars. It should be fun and exhausting, aka the mark of any worthwhile sporting activity.
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BLUE JACKETS 3, ISLANDERS 2 (OT)
-- Things have been bumpy for Thomas Greiss lately - some might argue since he finally got paid - but he really bailed the Islanders out so they could at least grab a loser point in this one. The Blue Jackets generated a 38-22 SOG advantage, so kudos to Greiss for helping the NYI get what could be a crucial standings point.
-- Coming into this season, Cam Atkinson had 16 GWG and one overtime-winner. He set a career-high for goals last season with 27.
Well, let me rephrase that: it was a career-high, as he hit goal 33 on Saturday. It was his third overtime game-winner and seventh GWG of the 2016-17 season. Sixty points is easily a career-high in that category, too, and his +14 is (you guessed it) far and away his best work in a single season. He's managed his 33 goals on 209 SOG, making for a higher shooting percentage than usual (15.8), but not such a high mark that you can't forecast a 30-goal, 60-point follow-up in 2017-18.
-- Where would the Islanders be without John Tavares? I imagine the team doesn't want him to think about where he'd be without the Islanders (*cough* dragging him down *cough cough*).
If you want another way to look at how impressive Atkinson's breakout season really is, consider this: Tavares has fewer goals (27 to Atkinson's 33) and just one more point (61 to 60) and Tavares has appeared in one more game.
RED WINGS 5, AVALANCHE 1
-- This was the Avalanche's final visit to Joe Louis Arena against the Red Wings. Looking back at that bloody, fantastic rivalry and where those two teams are right now ... you have to wonder how many years will pass before these franchises face off in a game that's big for both of them (at least as deep into the season as mid-March).
-- Tomas Tatar scored two goals in about 90 seconds, pushing his season total to 20 goals. Tatar added an assist in this game, giving him 38 points on the season and quite the overall night (three points, +3, four SOG and one hit).
-- Promising sign for Dylan Larkin as far as next season goes: in nine March games, he has eight points. Compare that to just 19 points in his previous 59 contests this season and you can see a useful turnaround. He stands as a confounding guy to rank for next season.
-- Speaking of confounding, do we just need to accept that Nathan MacKinnon as a very good player who maybe will end up with one foot in "superstar" and the other in the "almost" category? He has 15 goals and 45 points in 70 games last season, an even slower pace than last season's 52 points in 72 games. He's now an 8.2 shooting percentage guy in his career with this season's rough 6.8 mark, backing up concerns that he may lack that high-end shooting skill to be a true star.
That said, he won't turn 22 until around training camp time ... so you're justified in reasoning that a leap could still come very soon.
BLACKHAWKS 2, MAPLE LEAFS 1 (OT)
-- In his second NHL game, John Hayden scored his first goal. After only receiving 8:44 TOI on his debut, his ice time shot up to 15:29 on Saturday, and he justified it in more than just that tally by generating a nice four SOG.
Hayden is coming off scoring 21 goals and 34 points in 33 games for Yale as a third-rounder (74th overall) from 2013.
-- Ryan Hartman, meanwhile, as Chicago's first-rounder that same year (30th overall). Hartman broke a nine-game pointless funk (last scoring on Feb. 23) with the overtime game-winner. This marks his 16th goal (27 points) and fourth GWG of 2016-17 for Chicago.
-- Auston Matthews helped the Maple Leafs grab a valuable charity point in this one, collecting his 32nd goal of a remarkable rookie season. Matthews had gone seven games without a point, so he probably felt almost as excited as Hartman to finally get on the board.
-- Corey Crawford has won three in a row, giving him 29 victories so far this season. He's in a strong position to match or best his career-high of 35 W, set last season. He's one win away from his fourth consecutive 30+ win season, and really the lockout is likely the only reason he doesn't have seven in a row, as he managed 19 wins in 30 games in 2012-13.
RANGERS 3, WILD 2
-- While Chicago won its fourth in a row, Minnesota is now on a four-game losing streak; the Central Division crown is starting to pull away like a car driving too quickly for you to possibly follow along.
-- Despite a modest 9:59 TOI, Oscar Lindberg stood out offensively for the Rangers, grabbing a goal and an assist on Saturday. He was the only Rangers player who generated a multi-point game in that win.
-- Antti Raanta's season: 15-7-1 with a fantastic .921 save percentage. Can't blame a GM for at least being tempted to imagine Raanta as their guy (and the next Cam Talbot/Martin Jones-type who graduates from backup duties to being the top guy).
-- I feel like Eric Staal's trip to the Lazarus Pit is fairly well-documented at this point (he scored his 24th goal on Saturday, matching his best total since 2011-12), so let's pivot to Matt Dumba.
Like some other Wild youngsters, it feels like he's delivering on the hype now that Bruce Boudreau's in charge. He was the only other player on the ice surface in this one with a multi-point game, grabbing a goal (his ninth) and assist (pushing him to 29 points on the season). He managed 10 goals last season, so he's at least scratching the surface of his considerable potential.
CANADIENS 4, SENATORS 3 (SO)
-- After winning six in a row, Carey Price fell to Chicago on March 4. He bounced back here, however, collecting his 32nd win (28 out of 31 saves) as Montreal carved out a two-point advantage over Ottawa for the Atlantic title.
-- Erik Karlsson grabbed his 14th goal of the season and now has 65 points in 70 games. He has four straight seasons of at least 65 points (again, the lockout ruins everything, as he also had 78 points in 2011-12). Throwing out that streak-killing 48-game season, Karlsson's a goal from having at least 15+ goals in each non-lockout season for five straight seasons.
/catches breath, shakes fist at that lockout. Dark times.
-- Brendan Gallagher, the last two seasons:
2015-16: 19 goals, 21 assists - 40 points, +13 in 53 games
2016-17: 8 goals, 14 assists - 22 points, +1 in 53 games
The SOG difference is considerable but not huge; he fired 173 SOG last season and 156 so far in this one, with a 5.1 shooting percentage in 2016-17. I'd expect him to be a 20-ish goal and 40-ish point guy going forward - and there's still room for even more - but injuries/etc. or not, this has been a big letdown.
CAPITALS 5, LIGHTNING 3
-- With this win, Washington became the first NHL team to punch a ticket to the 2017 playoffs. They don't have a ton of breathing room ahead of the Blue Jackets and Penguins, but that aside, this has been quite the run so far.
There's also a pleasing symmetry to the Capitals clinch a playoff berth in a game where they hit 100 standings points. Nice.
-- T.J. Oshie managed a hat trick on Saturday, pushing his season goals total to 29. He grabbed an assist, too, giving him 49 points in 58 games. It's somewhat surprising that this could be the first season where he hits 30 goals, as 29 is already a career-high.
-- Seems like Justin Williams still has "it" or at least a healthy portion of "it." He scored hi 20th goal of 2016-17 at age 35. It's been a long time since he's rally lit up scoreboards; he hit 22 goals three times since 2007-08. Before that, he did manage consecutive 30+ goals for Carolina in 2005-06 and 2006-07. I doubt he gets 30 here, but there's a solid chance he exceeds that 22-goal mark.
-- Ho hum, another Nikita Kucherov goal. Actually, make that two, pushing him to 33 already this season.
HURRICANES 4, PREDATORS 2
-- I get the impression that it's too late for the Hurricanes, but they seem like they could be a dangerous spoiler down the stretch. During a road-heavy second half of March (more or less), they beat the Rangers, took Toronto to OT, won and went to OT against the Isles, beat the Wild and then defeated the Predators. Impressive, though I imagine that their optimism may waver during a four-game road trip that begins on Sunday.
-- Jeff Skinner scored two goals, giving him 25 on the season. He also has four goals and an assist, grabbing five points during a four-game span where he failed to generate a point in just one contest. With two straight 25+ goal seasons and 82 GP last season, I wonder if we can exhale about Skinner; seems like he MIGHT be over his concussion issues. Let's hope, because the game's better off with players like him.
-- Filip Forsberg is now at 29 goals, that much closer to managing back-to-back 30+ goal seasons. He had 26 in 2014-15, so he's been a dynamic weapon for some time in Nashville.
-- Eddie Lack has been picking up his play lately. He has three wins in his last four games, allowing one goal twice and two goals on two other occasions. At this pace, he might even finish the season with a save percentage at or above .900.
BLUES 3, COYOTES 0
-- Jake Allen generated a 31-save shutout, his fourth shutout of the season. He's really been playing better under Mike Yeo, and with Brian Elliott out of town, he collected a new career-best with his 27th win of 2016-17. I still wonder where he really ranks (I'd say mid-tier starter with a little room to move either way) in the grand scheme of things.
-- If there was a category for goalies who played well despite their teams hanging them out to dry, Mike Smith would probably be leading by a healthy margin this season. His overall numbers are just so-so, but I'd imagine there would be quite a few more ugly losses without Smith possibly turning his career around.
-- Alex Pietrangelo scored his 10th goal in this game (also a GWG). It's his best goal total since 2011-12. He had 11 goals in 2010-11 and 12 in 2011-12, so this is already one of his better seasons from a production standpoint. He matched 2015-16's 37 points to boot.
DUCKS 2, SHARKS 1
-- Goalies can be frustrating, eh? Ages ago, I was confounded by Devan Dubnyk’s struggles (that year he played a game for the Predators), sort of dismissed him … and then he caught fire. I originally loved the “why not?” logic of the Ducks nabbing Jonathan Bernier, eventually thought that maybe he really was damaged goods … and now he’s tearing it up. The former Kings first-rounder has only allowed 12 goals in eight games in March.
-- Martin Jones really hasn’t been bad himself, allowing two goals or fewer in his past eight appearances. Unfortunately for him, the Sharks’ offense has inexplicably gone dry, so he’s gone 4-3-1 during that span despite his steady performances.
-- Jakob Silfverberg scored the GWG here. That makes it 20 goals on the season, matching a career-high that he set in 2015-16. He’s already at a career-best with 42 points, too.
-- Brent Burns hasn't scored a goal since Feb. 18, but it's his overall production that's a little more worrisome. He's been blanked in seven of his last eight games, though he did churn out three assists against the Capitals on March 9.
The important thing is that he isn't getting trigger shy; he generated three SOG on Saturday and has 17 in his last three games. The goals will come ... though it's understandable if he can't match his previous pace. It's plausible that no human (or human-Wookie hybrid) can sustain such a pace for very long, especially as a defenseman.
OILERS 2, CANUCKS 0
-- With the GWG, Connor McDavid now has 25 goals on the season and 80 points, regaining the lead in the Art Ross race for at least a night. Hot take: he's good.
-- Also real good: Cam Talbot. He made 33 saves for the shutout here, setting a new career-high with his sixth of the season. The Canucks actually generated a shots advantage in this game, so Talbot needed to be sharp.
-- Frustrating times for the Sedin twins. Daniel Sedin has been unable to score in March, generating a two-assist performance on March 13 but failing to get a goal or an assist in any of his other eight games so far in March. Henrik Sedin has only enjoyed a slightly better March with a goal and three assists for four points in nine games.