Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)
For this week’s Atlantic Division three stars of the week, Pittsburgh Penguins forwards Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Sidney Crosby are ranked one, two, and three, respectively, for their fantastic performances last week, combining for 10 goals and 16 assists in four games.
First Star: Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins – The Pittsburgh Penguins scored 20 goals in their last four games with Evgeni Malkin figuring into half of that total, posting six goals and four assists, including three multi-point games. Malkin has been one of the hottest players in the NHL lately, and, since the return of teammate Sidney Crosby, his game has only gotten better. On the season, Malkin has 45 goals and 50 assists for an NHL-leading 95 points. With nine games left in the season, Malkin should make a serious run at passing his previous career high of 47 goals.
Second Star: James Neal, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins – Malkin’s linemate for most of this season, James Neal, has also been quite prolific over the last week. He amassed four goals and five assists in his last four games, including a hat trick. The 24-year-old has slowly crept up the NHL scoring race and is now tied at fourth in the NHL in both goals (35) and points (76), numbers that obliterate his previous career highs. Like Malkin, Neal has nine games left in the regular season and could very easily hit 40 goals and 80 points before all is said and done. If he does in fact hit the 40-goal mark, he would be the first Penguins winger to do so since Jaromir Jagr and Alex Kovalev accomplished this feat in the 2000-01 season. It would also be the first time since 2000-01 that the Penguins had two or more 40-goal scorers on their roster.
Third Star: Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins – The Penguins captain has made an instant impact since his return from a concussion on March 15th. Through his last four games, Crosby has seven assists. Maybe even more impressive is the fact he has done it on the Penguins third line, with Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke as his wingers. Crosby’s presence on the ice has really opened up space for not only his linemates, who have combined for seven goals and six assists in five games, but the entire team, as it has scored five or more goals in four of the five games since his return. Dating back to his initial return in November of 2011, Crosby has two goals and 19 assists in 13 games, a 1.61 points per-game-pace which is identical to the rate he was producing before he went down with his initial concussion in January of 2011.
Atlantic Division Notebook
New Jersey Devils – The Devils host the Maple Leafs tonight and will hope to take advantage of a reeling Toronto squad who has been outscored 13-2 in their last two games. New Jersey has been offensively anemic of late, scoring only five goals in five games.
New York Islanders – The Islanders reportedly re-signed goaltender Evgeni Nabakov to a one-year contract worth 2.75 million dollars. Nabakov has a 17-18-3 record this season with a .912 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average.
New York Rangers – The Rangers will host the Buffalo Sabres tonight in what should be an exciting interstate matchup. The Sabres are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and stand just a point behind the Washington Capitals for the eighth and final seed in the playoffs. The Rangers, meanwhile, are 5-5 in their last 10 but have won their last two.
Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers beat the Washington Capitals last night 2-1 shootout win. Claude Giroux was the only goal-scorer for the Flyers, and Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds scored in the shootout. It was Ilya Bryzgalov’s ninth win in 11 games, a stretch in which he has a 1.24 goals against average, a .956 save percentage and four shutouts.
Pittsburgh Penguins – With their 5-1 win over the Nashville Predators last night, the Penguins clinched a playoff berth. It was also goaltender March-Andre Fleury’s league-leading 40th win of the season. With 30 goals in their last six games, the Penguins are now the top-scoring team in the NHL, scoring an average of 3.22 goals per game on the season.
Follow Ian Altenbaugh on Twitter @Ianaltenbaugh