Shootout surprise -- For all his brilliance, Sidney Crosby is nothing special at shootouts. He came into Wednesday's game against San Jose 0-for-4 this season and 9-for-32 in his career.
So instead of doing something fancy, Crosby went back to basics -- skating straight in and rifling a wrist shot through Brian Boucher's pads to give the Penguins a 2-1 shootout win against the Sharks.
"I just tried to give him a different move. Just from watching him the first couple of times, I thought there was some room in the five-hole," said Crosby, who played despite being weakened by flu-like symptoms.
The win moved the Penguins within one point of eighth-place Florida in the Eastern Conference playoff race and was their third win in a four-game homestand. The lone defeat was Sunday's 3-0 loss to Detroit.
"In the last three weeks we've played better and sometimes the result is not always there, but you could see it's coming," coach Michel Therrien said. "We just have to build on this game."
The Penguins, who went to the Stanley Cup Final last spring, have 26 games remaining and know they've got to pick up the pace or risk missing the playoffs entirely.
"We've just got to keep going -- it's our playoffs," Crosby said.
Zach attack -- Zach Parise was sitting there when the New York Islanders' turn came around in the first round of the 2003 Entry Draft. The son of former Isles' star J.P. Parise seemed like a perfect fit -- an offensive-minded player on a team that needed offense.
Instead, then-GM Mike Milbury opted for the son of another former NHL star -- Kent Nilsson's son Robert -- leaving Parise to drop to the New Jersey Devils. He's made them pay ever since, a process that continued Wednesday when he scored twice and set up New Jersey's other two goals in a 4-2 victory over the Isles.
The two goals gave him a career-high 34, second in the NHL to Alex Ovechkin. He and linemates Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac have become one of the League's most-feared units.
"This year I'm playing a little more confident, sometimes taking that extra second and that makes a big difference," Parise said. "I just feel good on the ice right now. Travis is having a great season and so is Jamie. We are all kind of feeding off each other."
In four games against the Isles this season, he has 4 goals and 10 points -- much to the enjoyment of an ex-Islander, Devils coach Brent Sutter.
"He competes for everything he gets," Sutter said of the 24-year-old left wing. "That is why he is as successful as he is."
Bulin Wall stands tall -- For a guy who the Chicago Blackhawks couldn't give away in October, Nikolai Khabibulin is having a heck of a season.
Khabibulin was supposed to be on the way out after the Hawks signed Cristobal Huet last summer. They put him on waivers, found no takers and have since seen him earn a steady role in a rotation with Huet.
Khabibulin stole a game Wednesday for the Hawks at Atlanta, making 36 saves in Chicago's 3-1 victory against the Thrashers.
"He put on a show tonight," coach Joel Quenneville said. "He was spectacular and the reason we won. We weren't our best, but at the same time he was. You need those type of games. We've had a few this year."
If Quenneville sticks to his rotation of starting Khabibulin one game and Huet the next, Huet will be in net Friday night at St. Louis, where Chicago will end an eight-game trip, the NHL's longest trip this season.
The Blackhawks, 5-2 since dropping two straight at home, have gotten a 13-9-3 record and 2.41 goals-against average from Huet.
Eventually, however, Quenneville wants one to beat out the other for the No. 1 job.
"Goalies have stolen some games for us this year," Quenneville said. "You don't count on those, but sometimes you need them."
Confidence booster -- The Ottawa Senators are probably too far behind the top eight in the Eastern Conference to make a playoff push. But they're playing with a renewed sense of purpose since last week's coaching change that put Cory Clouston behind the bench after Craig Hartsburg was let go.
The Senators improved to 2-1-1 since the coaching change with a 3-1 victory at Buffalo, completing a home-and-home sweep of the Sabres. They won consecutive games for just the sixth time this season and will try for a season-high three in a row Tursday night at Philadelphia.
"It's a very upbeat locker room right now," said captain Daniel Alfredsson, who credits Clouston for emphasizing a more aggressive forechecking style. "Initially, it's been a real big lift for us. We seem to generate more momentum for ourselves."
The biggest momentum-generator for the Senators came from their penalty-killing unit, which killed off a triple minor to defenseman Jason Smith in the third period.
"That was obviously the momentum swing for us," Clouston said, referring to how his team prevented the Sabres from scoring with Smith in the box. "It picked our bench up, gave us a lot of momentum. It was just a great morale boost."
Waiting for history -- Mike Green can make history by scoring a goal in the Washington Capitals' next game. But that won't take place until Saturday, when the Caps visit Tampa Bay -- so for now, he'll have to enjoy sharing the record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman with Mike O'Connell.
Green earned a share of the mark Wednesday night when he beat Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with a rising wrist shot at 10:32 of the second period -- his seventh game in a row with at least one goal. He added a second with 57.6 seconds left in the middle period to get the Caps even at 4-4, though they wound up losing 5-4 in a shootout.
O'Connell scored in seven consecutive games in 1983-84, when he finished with 18 goals. Green already has 21, more than any other defensemen (and most forwards) despite playing in only 42 of the Caps' 55 games. He missed 13 with injuries.
"Things just seem to be rolling lately," Green said afterward. "It feels pretty special. I honestly didn't even realize (the record) until yesterday. I tried not to think about it before the game, but I'm pretty happy right now."
Green has scored two goals in back-to-back games and has six-straight multipoint performances -- a feat accomplished by only three other defensemen: Paul Coffey, Bourque and Bobby Orr. He's scored 9 goals and 16 points during his streak.
"If you don't shoot, you’re not going to score," he said. "Right now, if it's on my stick, I'm shooting it. When you feel good -- and right now I feel really good -- I'm going to take the shot."
Bet that his teammates will do their best to get the puck onto his stick Saturday night.
Making amends -- One night after making life miserable for his coach, Minnesota forward Antti Miettinen did the same for the Colorado Avalanche.
On Tuesday, Miettinen inadvertently flattened coach Jacques Lemaire at practice after a chase for the puck got too close to the coach. Lemaire had X-rays on his left arm, though there was no break -- only a rough night of sleep.
But after Miettinen finished off a pass from Andrew Brunette with 1:11 left in regulation for the game-winner in Minnesota's 3-2 win against the Avs, Lemaire was more than willing to overlook the accident -- and his team's sloppy effort for much of the night.
"You've got to be lucky," Lemaire said, "because it's not the proper way to win games."
The Wild now have 59 points, leaving them tied for sixth place in the West.
"It's been a rocky road there, you know, when you look at it. You look at how we win, we do win, but I'd love to be a little more solid in the way we play," Lemaire said.
Streak snapper -- The ice-cold Phoenix Coyotes snapped a six-game losing streak by beating one of the NHL's hottest goaltenders.
Ilya Bryzgalov won a goaltending battle against Dallas' Marty Turco, stopping all 33 shots he faced in the Coyotes' 1-0 victory -- their first in seven games since the All-Star break.
"I told him before the game that he was going to face one of the best goalies in hockey tonight," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "I'm proud of him. He answered the bell."
Bryzgalov has three shutouts this season, two against Dallas, including a 1-0 shootout win Jan. 10. He's 3-1-1 against the Stars this season and has 71 saves in his last two appearances against Dallas.
"We beat a great team tonight," said Bryzgalov, who performed an impromptu Russian dance for his teammates in the locker room after the game. "They're playing great hockey right now. We beat them on the road and this is a huge win."
Dallas was 7-1 in its previous eight games overall and 9-2-2 in its previous 13. But the Stars were unable to solve the 6-foot-3, 208-pound Bryzgalov.
"He's a big goalie who takes away a lot of space," defenseman Stephane Robidas said. "They block a lot of shots and take away the middle of the ice. We spent a lot of time in their zone but we couldn't get enough scoring chances. They lost six in a row and they were a desperate team."
Phoenix will look to make it two in a row Thursday night against Vancouver at Jobing.com Arena. Gretzky hopes this is the start of something big.
"It's a sign of a nice little streak for us the other way," Gretzky said. "They're a good hockey club and we just got fortunate that we got one more goal than they did. Both goalies were outstanding."
Party time -- With a four-game trip on the horizon, the Edmonton Oilers gave their fans something to remember them by: a laugher.
The Oilers got goals from seven players on the way to a 7-2 pasting of the Montreal Canadiens, delighting a sellout crowd at Rexall Place that saw the Habs drop their seventh in a row on the road.
The game was never in doubt after Edmonton scored four times in the opening period, and the blowout win was a nice change for the Oilers, who've had 9-2 and 10-2 losses at home earlier in the season.
"It's nice to be on the other end for a change," defenseman Sheldon Souray said.
Things went so well for the Oilers that coach Craig MacTavish was able to give his fourth line some power-play time in the third period -- and saw Liam Reddox score on a deflection less than 30 seconds into the man advantage.
"That's the best we've executed all year long," MacTavish said with a smile. "That was just surgical precision. It was just incredible. We draw that play up literally every game, and it was executed to precision.
"It was one of those nights -- one of those crazy nights."
Scott strikes again -- Scott Niedermayer came into Wednesday night with 10 regular-season overtime goals -- more than any defenseman in NHL history. No. 11 was a little bit different.
Niedermayer's backhander beat Miikka Kiprusoff 55 seconds into OT to give the Ducks a 3-2 win againstr the Calgary Flames. What made this one different was that it was scored in a rare 3-on-3 situation; the teams took coincidental roughing minors at the end of regulation, leaving both sides with a lot of open ice.
That was a perfect situation for Niedermayer, one of the NHL's best skaters, to score his second of the night.
"It doesn’t happen too often," he said of playing 3-on-3. "There was a lot of room to skate and I tried to take advantage of that. I was a little lucky on the goal. You put it on net and you never know. I was just trying to get it on net and it got deflected in by the defenseman’s stick."
It was only the second goal scored during a 3-on-3 situation this season -- Calgary's Jarome Iginla had the other on Jan. 21 during the first period of a 5-4 win against Columbus.
The victory gave the Ducks a home-and-home sweep of the Flames, following Saturday's 2-1 win at Calgary. Anaheim has won nine in a row against Calgary at the Honda Center.
Most important for the Ducks -- the two points put them alone in fifth place in the Western Conference playoff scramble.
"They are all big for us where we are right now," Niedermayer said. "We need every point we can get. Kiprusoff played well. There is no doubt about it. I think it was good on our part that we kept doing the things you need to do."
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report
Contact John Kreiser at firstname.lastname@example.org