Need to know: Hawks-Sharks stage a thriller
February, 6, 2013
By Craig Custance | ESPN.com
• It might be a little too soon to call it a Western Conference finals preview, but the much-anticipated game between the Sharks and Blackhawks, who are both off to fast starts this season, didn’t disappoint. With goals from Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels in the first 5:18, the Sharks had an early lead, but the scoring was far from over. By the time the period was completed, there were six goals total. Patrick Kane’s fifth and sixth goals of the season later in the game won it for the Blackhawks, 5-3. It was a game that featured offense, a major penalty that shouldn’t have been a major penalty (Andrew Desjardins’ match penalty for a hit on Jamal Mayers has already been overruled) and ultimately another Blackhawks win. Chicago now has a three-point lead on San Jose atop the Western Conference standings.
• On Jan. 29, the Islanders beat the Penguins 4-1 in Pittsburgh in a game that gave the Penguins their third loss in four games. Captain Sidney Crosby said it was a bit of a wake-up call for his team. Well, the Penguins are wide awake and got payback on Tuesday night with a 4-2 win over those Islanders. The goaltending duo of Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun continues to work well together, with Fleury getting the win with 32 saves. The win is Pittsburgh’s fourth consecutive since losing to the Islanders. Crosby got a bit of a scare after he was hit in the face with a deflected puck, but later returned.
• The Devils used an impressive penalty kill as an important part of their arsenal during their run to the Stanley Cup finals last spring, and coach Peter DeBoer has it clicking once again. They beat the Rangers 3-1, and were a perfect 5-for-5 in killing penalties. That said, New York might not be the best test for the Devils' penalty kill. Even with stars Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, the Rangers' power play has been anemic this season, ranking last in the league. That’s a problem for a team that is expected to challenge for a Stanley Cup.
• Korbinian Holzer scored his first career NHL goal in helping the Maple Leafs win their fifth game of the season, downing the Capitals 3-2. James van Riemsdyk scored twice, capitalizing on a miscommunication behind the net between goalie Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Tom Poti for one of them. In case you’re wondering, van Riemsdyk’s six goals would be enough to top the Flyers' scoring list.
• Speaking of the Flyers, they won’t need as much scoring as usual if Ilya Bryzgalov continues to play the way he’s been playing. He turned in another impressive performance, this time against the Lightning in a 2-1 win. He finished with 22 saves and has arguably been the Flyers' best player this season. Tom Sestito scored twice for the Flyers against Tampa, matching his career goal total.
• The Kings need more production from their forwards and got signs it might be coming in a win over the Blue Jackets. Mike Richards scored his first goal of the season and added an assist. Justin Williams entered the game with a total of two points this season and eclipsed that number with a three-assist night. Also, Jeff Carter remains wildly unpopular in Columbus, where fans booed him throughout the night. He scored his fourth goal of the season. Brandon Dubinsky's check from behind on Rob Scuderi also earned Dubinsky a call from Brendan Shanahan.
• It might be time for the Sabres to find another option in goal behind Ryan Miller, with Jhonas Enroth losing again. Ottawa beat the Sabres 4-3, and Enroth remains winless this season after allowing three goals in the first 11:05. According to Buffalo News writer Mike Harrington, Enroth is 0-10-3 in his past 13 decisions. The Sabres continue to struggle in the faceoff circle, another issue among the growing problems in Buffalo.
• The Flames had an impressive 4-1 win in Detroit but suffered a tough loss on the injury front. A collision between Miikka Kiprusoff and Johan Franzen ended Kiprusoff’s night after two periods (lower body). Backup goalie Leland Irving was perfect in relief. Jarome Iginla can remove his name from the goal-less column, scoring his first of the season on a wrister.
• On the road for more than two weeks, the Predators capped off their trip with a (rare) 6-1 offensive outburst over the Blues. Nashville hasn’t played at home since Jan. 21 and despite issues scoring goals, managed to win four of seven games during its tough road trip. The Preds will spend a big chunk of February in Nashville, with eight of their next 11 games at home.
• The Jets captured an ugly 3-2 overtime win over division rival Florida but will take it to improve to 4-4-1. Mark Stuart joined a night of many unlikely scorers, with his first goal since Dec. 3, 2011, against the Devils.