Bill Streicher/Icon SMI)
With four teams jockeying for playoff seedings, the Atlantic Division saw some heated play over the past week. No player this week performed better than Philadelphia goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who has been sensational since the trade deadline. Below are the Atlantic’s top performers for the week of March 2nd-8th.
First Star: Ilya Bryzgalov, G, Philadelphia Flyers – After looking shaky for much of the season, Bryzgalov has tightened up his game for the stretch run. In the past week, he has made three starts and posted a 0.67 goals against average, a .981 save percentage, and two shutouts. What has been particularly impressive is that Bryzgalov has done this without the help of defensemen Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, and Pavel Kubina, all of whom are out with various injuries. Since the February 27th trade deadline, Bryzgalov has been on fire, posting a 4-1 record and allowing only six goals over that span. In his last 11 starts, Bryzgalov is 7-2-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
Second Star: Ilya Kovalchuk, RW/LW, New Jersey Devils – In four games over the last week, Ilya Kovalchuk has managed four goals, two assists, and 18 shots, including a hat trick last night in a 5-0 win against the New York Islanders. It was the second hat trick Kovalchuk managed in 23 days after going two years without one. Kovalchuk has played the bulk of the season on the Devils top line with Zach Parise and rookie center Adam Henrique. The trio has been extremely effective, scoring almost 40 percent of the Devils goals. The explosive offensive output aside, Kovalchuk has played particularly inspiring hockey of late. He has back-checked relentlessly, played both special teams, and has been a presence on every inch of the ice.
Third Star: Jordan Staal, C, Pittsburgh Penguins – In the 12 games since his mid-February return from injury, Jordan Staal has seven goals and eight assists and has provided a much needed secondary source of offense for Pittsburgh, centering the Penguins second line between Steve Sullivan and Pascal Dupuis. In the last week, Staal appeared in three games where he managed a goal, three assists, nine shots on net, and a +6 rating. On the season he has 22 goals and 14 assists through 46 games and is well on pace to surpass the career-high 29 goals he scored as a rookie.
Atlantic Division Notes
New Jersey Devils – Defenseman Marek Zidlicky recorded two assists in the Devils’ 5-1 win last night over the New York Islanders. It was the first points Zidlicky recorded as a member of the Devils. Martin Brodeur picked up two wins last week, putting him at 649 in his career.
New York Islanders – Speedy winger Michael Grabner was a healthy scratch in last night’s 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. Grabner has suffered through a variety of minor maladies this season and has only 15 goals through 63 games, a far cry from the 34 goals he managed last year.
New York Rangers – Captain Ryan Callahan left the third period of last night’s game and didn’t return. Brandon Dubinsky missed last night’s game because of a broken nose, he remains day-to-day. Defenseman Michael Sauer remains out indefinitely with a concussion.
Philadelphia Flyers – Defensemen Kimmo Timonen, Pavel Kubina, and Andrej Meszaros as well as forward Jakub Voracek all missed last nights game due to injury. Rookie defenseman Brandon Manning was recalled to fill in for Kubina and played almost 15 minutes. Manning brings a solid, puck-moving presence to the Flyers blueline.
Pittsburgh Penguins – The Penguins will host the Florida Panthers tonight in their fourth matchup of the season. Pittsburgh is 2-1 in the series and has not lost to the Florida Panthers on home ice since January 3rd 2009. Amidst a seven-game winning streak, the Penguins have outscored opponents by more than two goals, averaging 3.86 scored while allowing only 1.41.