Chris Pondy/Icon SMI)
In the weekly edition of the Central Division’s Three Stars, two members of the St. Louis are joined by a Columbus Blue Jacket. While it has certainly become no surprise to see the Blues represented among the week’s top performances, it is surprising to see the Blue Jackets’ goaltender grab the top spot.
Here, then, are the Three Stars of the Week in the Central Division for March 2-8.
First Star: Steve Mason, G, Columbus Blue Jackets – The man between the pipes during the club’s four-game winning streak, Mason’s week started with a 30-save performance in Saturday’s 5-2 win over Phoenix. In Wednesday’s return match with the Coyotes he was even better, making 38 saves in the 3-2 win. Last night against the Kings, Mason left the game with an injury in the second period but still picked up the win with 16 saves in his team’s 3-1 victory. The much maligned Mason has backstopped the Blue Jackets to their best stretch of the season and could very well be rescuing his job for next season in the process.
Second Star: Jaroslav Halak, G, St. Louis Blues – With the amazing run that the St. Louis Blues have been on, it is becoming old hat to see their goaltender mentioned among the top players in the division. A winner in his last seven starts including three this week, Jaroslav Halak is keeping pace with some of the record numbers that Tim Thomas posted for Boston last year. For the week, Halak was beaten only one time in all three of the Blues games, a testament to both his fine play and that of his teammates, as well.
Third Star: Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis Blues – In just his second season, Pietrangelo has become the top defenseman on what is currently the top team in the NHL. The Blues overall leader in average ice-time per game and their leading scorer among defensemen, the 22-year-old collected five assists on the week, giving him a total of 41 points on the year. Piertrangelo and fellow rising star Kevin Shattenkirk are anchoring the Blues defense and becoming two of the league’s most promising players at their position.
Central Division Notes
Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks hope that Jonathan Toews is close to a return after the All-Star center skated for the first time in a week. Although there is still no time-table for when he will be ready for game action, his return to the ice is certainly a positive step. The club will be without their captain as they begin a three game home-stand that includes a meeting with the East-leading Rangers tonight and then the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The suddenly red-hot Blue Jackets may be on a four-game winning streak, but they will really get to see what they are made of this weekend as they will play a home-and-home against the first-place St. Louis Blues on Saturday and Sunday. With the Blues on a three-game streak of their own, something will have to give in the battle of first vs. worst.
Detroit Red Wings: On a two-game skid, the Red Wings will look to get back on track this weekend starting tonight when they host the Los Angeles Kings. They will then board a plane and head to Nashville to kick off a four-game road-trip starting against the Predators on Saturday night. Pavel Datsyuk returned to practice on Thursday for the first time since his knee surgery and Nicklas Lidstrom also skated. Both players are hoping to be back at some point during the road-trip.
Nashville Predators: The Predators rebounded from a poor defensive effort on Tuesday with a solid one against Colorado last night. Sergei Kostitsyn’s tally with 32 seconds left in the second period would turn out to be the winner in the club’s 4-2 win. The team will have a big chance to cut into Detroit’s four point cushion for second place in the Central at home on Saturday night, their lone game this weekend.
St. Louis Blues: The NHL’s top team will have a good chance to extend their division, conference and league leads in a home-and-home with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Although it will be a match-up of the league’s first and last place teams, the Blues will not be able to look past the Blue Jackets who are playing well during a season-high, four-game winning streak.