Well, we’re really getting to the final lap of the season now, aren’t we? Teams have between 7-9 games remaining in the regular season, with some already imagining possible playoff opponents, some wondering if they can force their way past game 82 and some with their minds on golfing trips.
Granted, not every guy on a bad team is coasting. Some players are trying to turn auditions in 2016-17 into full-time gigs in 2017-18 … and so on. Some teams just really relish playing the spoiler.
Let’s take a look at Saturday’s busy 12-game schedule, then.
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BRUINS 2, ISLANDERS 1
-- For such an enormous game, it seems like this one was more "tight" than anything else, with the two teams combining for less than 40 SOG. Either way, it's an enormous win for the Bruins.
Going forward, Boston is a good bet if you want to make some lower-level add/drops. They play six of their last seven games at home, and while their competition is fairly tough ... some of those teams might have less on the line when they see them. (The Capitals might want to rest players on April 8, for instance.)
The Isles, on the other hand, play a road-heavy schedule. They close out March with two of three at home. After that, though, it's four straight road games followed by a season-closer vs. Ottawa in Brooklyn. The Islanders play some lower lights down the stretch, but you can bet the Devils would enjoy spurning them in their two remaining head-to-head games.
-- John Tavares scored the Isles' only goal, giving him 13 points in as many March games. This extended his current point streak to six games, pushing him to 28 goals and 65 points in 2016-17.
-- Riley Nash ended up being the hero for Boston, scoring the next two goals of the game. He's been on a random two-game tear, scoring three goals and one assist in that span. If you want an idea of how unreliable this hot streak likely is (and seven goals - 15 points in 74 games doesn't raise red flags), consider that Nash's three goals in the past three GP have come on three SOG. Yeah.
BLUE JACKETS 1, FLYERS 0
-- Talk about sweet, sweet revenge for Sergei Bobrovsky. He may have driven the final nail into the Flyers' playoff hopes, aka the team that swiftly gave up on him for Ilya Bryzgalov despite some early signs of promise. That was back in the days when the Flyers were an entertaining circus of a mess, rather than today's buttoned-down, generally bright if a little bit dry setup under Ron Hextall.
Anyway, Bob made 36 saves for this shutout as Philly carried much of the play. He's now at 40 wins and seven shutouts with a splendid .934 save percentage, having only allowed three goals in his last four starts. He's really starting to pull away from the Vezina pack.
-- Alexander Wennberg was the game's only goal-scorer, generating his 13th tally of the season. This marked the Swede's first goal since Feb. 26, a 12-game goal drought. He only managed two assists during that slump, too, so it felt a bit like he hit a wall. Even so, he's still enjoying easily the best year of his young career. In fact, his 42 assists eclipses last season's 40 points. Overall, he has 55 points in 2016-17.
-- Michael Neuvirth hasn't been credited with a win since Feb. 19. Not exactly ideal for a guy the Flyers decided to "proactively" re-sign.
SABRES 5, MAPLE LEAFS 2
-- Does Buffalo have some spoiler potential? They've won three of their last four games, beating the Ducks, Red Wings and now Maple Leafs while losing a close one to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. They have games against teams playing important games, including another against Toronto, one against the Islanders and contests vs. division title contender, so watch those frisky Sabres.
-- No surprise that Jack Eichel is leading the charge. He was outstanding in this one getting two goals and an assist as Buffalo rattled off three unanswered goals.
The time he missed really obscures how deadly he's been. He's close to a point per game (53 in 54 GP) and he's really firing the puck, generating 220 so far this season. His 4.1 SOG per game leads the NHL.
-- Auston Matthews scored here, too, giving him 34 goals and 61 points in 74 games this season. He was assertive on Saturday, firing six SOG. He's not too far behind Eichel as far as pulling the trigger early and often goes; he has 250 SOG in 74 GP. That's the seventh-highest total in the NHL.
-- Frederik Andersen suffered an injury in this one, and the extent of the damage is currently unknown. Keep an eye out for updates either on Sunday or during the week.
OILERS 4, AVALANCHE 1
-- If only Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could play every game against Colorado. After two assists in their last win against the Avalanche, RNH managed a goal and an assist in this one.
-- Laurent Brossoit grabbed the third win of his NHL career here. He's making a decent argument to be Edmonton's backup next season ... or at least to get more reps with a veteran who gets a two-way contract, or something.
-- Sven Andrighetto scored Colorado's only goal, giving him five on the season. He also has four points in his past five games. This change of scenario is doing wonders for Andrighetto; he has seven points in 11 games with Colorado after he managed eight in 27 GP for Montreal this season.
-- Leon Draisaitl closes in on 30 goals with his 27th. While his multi-point streak ended at six(!) games (3G, 10A!), his overall point streak extends to seven. This is already easily the best season of his blossoming career, with 70 points in 75 games.
-- Connor McDavid assisted on that tally, giving him 88 points this season. He had a three-game multi-point streak going, while he's also on a seven-game point streak.
RANGERS 3, KINGS 0
-- If the Kings weren’t done by Saturday, they’re pretty much done now. Kings fans can still complain about Jonathan Quick's injury and how that affected their season, but they're likely not complaining as loudly after he lost (giving up two goals on just 19 SOG). Quick's numbers are fine, but at 5-3-1, he's not setting the world on fire upon his return, either.
-- Derek Stepan had been griping about scoring woes not that long ago, so getting a GWG - his second of the season - is a nice boost.
That goal pushes him to 50 points on the season, his fourth consecutive 50+ point season.
Really, he was pretty close to 50 in the streak-destroying 2012-13 season, managing 44 points in 48 GP. In 2011-12, he had 51 points, so if you omit that season altogether, he's hit at least 50 for five straight "real" seasons.
In an age of reduced scoring expectations, that isn't too shabby.
-- The Rangers have enjoyed a great backup for Henrik Lundqvist in Cam Talbot and now Antti Raanta, who recorded his fourth shutout of the season. With the Swede dealing with a mixture of injuries and struggles recently - not usual for him, but typical for most - the Rangers have to be delighted that they made the right call on another No. 2.
-- Z Boys Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello both managed two-assist games on Saturday. Zuccarello's been similarly reliable for 50-ish points like Stepan lately, though Mats has actually shown another gear of explosiveness here and there, even.
PANTHERS 7, BLACKHAWKS 0
So, to start, Jonathan Marchessault managed a hat trick on Saturday, continuing his improbable push toward 30 goals. He has five tallies in his past two games, giving him 28 goals and 48 points in 67 games this season. His 15.8 shooting percentage is a little high, but a healthy 2017-18 could smooth some of that out (so maybe he could flirt with 30-ish goals and 50-ish points if things go well next season).
-- Marchessault might not have even had the best Saturday for a Panthers player named Jonathan, as Jonathan Huberdeau generated a goal and three assists in his own right. Huberdeau's close to a point per game in 2016-17 with 21 points in 23 games. I think it's reasonable to picture him slightly improving on 2015-16's career-highs, maybe falling somewhere around 25 goals and 65 points in 2017-18 ... if he can stay healthy.
-- Aleksander Barkov had a goal and two assists, giving him 51 points in 59 GP. This is his second straight 50+ point season despite being limited in 2015-16, too (59 points in 66 games). He's never played more than the 71 games he managed in 2014-15. Florida needs to figure out how to get these top guys at least to 70+ games next season.
-- James Reimer grabbed his first shutout of the season, stopping 25 SOG. His record is modest at 16-14-5, but with a .920 save percentage, there's reason to expect strong work once the Panthers get everything together. They're closer than many critics will acknowledge.
CANUCKS 4, WILD 2
-- This marks Minnesota's ninth loss in its last 11 games. They played four of five (March 18-25) at home, losing all but one ... so it's difficult to make out a clear message other than that maybe they've been playing over their heads for some time. With Nashville gaining steam, the Wild could be in trouble come playoff time. They get some chances to right the ship with four of their next six at home (and then two road games against cellar dwellers in Colorado and Arizona). Certainly a cause for concern, but maybe not panic. Perhaps it's really about lowering expectations?
-- Reid Boucher scored twice (giving him six goals on the season), but it's more interesting to note Bo Horvat's two assists. Horvat broke a three-game point drought, giving him 49 points in 73 games this season. He's generating career-highs basically across the board.
-- Brock Boeser scored his first goal in his first career game, firing four SOG in 12:44 TOI. As the 23rd pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, there's some intrigue here; he scored 16 goals and 34 points for North Dakota this season, actually quite a bit lower than his output in 2015-16 (27 goals and 60 points). Still, he might be someone the Canucks are eyeing for the near-to-midterm future.
FLAMES 3, BLUES 2 (OT)
-- Sean Monahan scored the OT-winner here, his second OTG of the season and fourth GWG. He pushed his goals total to 25 and assists to 27, pushing him to 52 points in 75 games. He also has six points in his last four contests. He'll need a hot run to match his last two seasons (62 points in 2014-15; 63 in 2015-16). Still, this is a comfort for those who were worried that he was falling off a cliff after signing a new deal.
-- Matthew Tkachuk returned to action, failing to score but generating two PIM, four SOG and one hit in 16:28 TOI.
-- Another strong performance from Brian Elliott, who improved his record to 24-14-3 on the season. Elliott is 15-2-1 since the beginning of February.
CANADIENS 3, SENATORS 1
-- In an era of teeth-gnashing about three-point games and "charity points," it's refreshing that the Canadiens might win the division title because of their March dominance of the Senators:
March 18: 4-3 shootout win against Ottawa
March 19: 4-1 win against Ottawa
March 25: 3-1 win against Ottawa
Remarkably, they've lost their three other games since March 14, though the picture since Feb. 21 is of a team turning it around (11-4-1 since then).
-- Shea Weber scored his 17th goal of the season, his 12th on the PP. He hammered six SOG to get there. If he gets three additional goals, it'll be his second consecutive 20+ goal season and the third time in four years he's done so. He's already at four straight 40+ points. Weber is also close to 200 goals (183) and 500 points (485) for his fantastic career.
-- Carey Price stopped 31 out of 32 shots to improve to 34-18-5 on the season. Ignoring his injury-ravaged 2015-16 season, his wins: 34 in 2013-14, 44 in 2014-15 and now 34.
-- Big game from Andrei Markov, who collected two goals and an assist. With that, he has 35 points in just 56 games. No wonder he was so salty about age questions at the World Cup.
CAPITALS 4, COYOTES 1
-- Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal in this one, becoming the third player in NHL history to score at least 30 for his first 12 consecutive seasons. Even that streak-killing season couldn't do him in, as he had 32 goals and 24 assists for 56 points in 48 GP in 2012-13.
Overall, he has 62 points in 74 games this season. He reached his 400th PPP on that goal, by the way.
-- Kevin Shattenkirk generated two assists, giving him eight points - all helpers - in 11 games with the Washington Capitals. Half of those have come on the PP. He's already at a career-high with 50 points, his first time hitting 50. He's probably due for his first Capitals goal, too, with 30 SOG in 11 GP.
-- With his fourth win in a row, Braden Holtby is now at 39 wins (a ridiculous 39-11-6 record) alongside a tasty .927 save percentage. He's been at .920 or better all but one year in his career (and always since becoming the true full-time guy in 2014-15). If he grabs one more win, it will be three straight seasons with at least 40 wins. So far, only Bobrovsky has 40 this season. Last season, Jonathan Quick was the only other goalie to cross 40 with exactly that many (Holtby had 48). Four did it in 2014-15.
PREDATORS 7, SHARKS 2
-- Yikes, the Sharks have lost six straight, falling into a virtual three-way tie with the Ducks and Oilers (Anaheim currently holds the edge).
Much of Martin Jones losing four of his last five and three straight comes down to poor goal support, but this one was rough, with Jones allowing seven goals on 34 SOG.
-- On the other end of the ice, Pekka Rinne stopped 26 out of 28 shots for his fifth consecutive win, pushing him to 30 victories (30-16-8) on the season. It's been a nice - unspectacular, but nice - rebound season for the 34-year-old, who just crossed the 500 games played barrier.
-- Craig Smith is on fire all of a sudden. He generated three assists on Saturday, extending his point streak to three games (six assists). He also has seven assists in his past five games. During that time, he has one SOG. Total. Weird. In his previous 66 games in 2016-17, Smith only had 17 points.
HURRICANES 3, DEVILS 1
-- Wow, the Hurricanes are really on a roll, having won three in a row and generally grinding it out. They've got at least a point since March 9 (7-0-3). They play their next four games at home.
-- Eddie Lack's been playing especially well, having won four games in a row himself. He's allowed just seven goals in his last five games. Do they really have a chance to jump back in? I don't know, but if they stay hot it could end up being very close.
-- Jeff Skinner grabbed his fourth GWG of the season and 30th goal of this campaign. He has a five-game goal streak and points in six straight (7G, 2A). Overall, he has 10 goals and four assists for 14 points in 13 March games. Goodness.
-- Sebastian Aho scored two goals on as many SOG, extending his own point streak to six games (3G, 5A). He has 23 goals and assists, giving him 46 points in 73 contests during an electric rookie season. He won't get much Calder hype in a crowded year, but at 19, the 35th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft is looking like quite the gem for Carolina.