March is a revealing month for NHL fans and their teams. As the push or the Stanley Cup Playoffs intensifies, some teams see their chances of making it in brighten while other teams dreams' begin to dim.
Let's switch on this Monday's Weekly Warmup:
All Aboard in Philly
The proverbial bandwagon of come-lately fans suddenly attracted to a winning team is about to go standing-room-only in Philadephia. The Flyers are riding a nine-game winning streak going into a tough showdown with Atlantic division leader Boston visiting Tuesday. Philly itself is tied in record (41-20-7) with Washington for first place in the Metropolitan division-the Capitals have one more regulation and overtime wins (ROW) than the Flyers, which is the tiebreaker if teams have the same record at the end of the season. The resurgence can certainly be partly credited to new coach Alain Vigneault's steady hand, poised to repeat deep postseason runs in previous stops at Vancouver and New York (Rangers). One example: the team has avoided losing two games in a row since early January. Other positives for the Philly faithful and those better-late-than never fans: The Flyers are dominant at home with a 25-5-4 mark. They are 30-9-5 against the Eastern Conference and 16-4-4 against the Metro squads, strong evidence this team is a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup Final berth.
Hart of the Matter
Hey, Everett, we hear you: Philadelphia is streaking but let's not forget former Silvertips goalie Carter Hart is in the middle of it, sporting his own seven-game winning streak. OK, all props, including some history. Hart is the first NHL goalie ever to notch two winning streaks of seven games or more before he turns 22. He won eight in a row last season. He's also won eight straight at home and is 20-2-2 overall at the Wells Fargo Center. He's 9-1-0 with a 1.91 goals against average and .934 save percentage in his first 10 games since returning from an abdominal strain he suffered in a mid-January practice, keeping him on the injury list for a month. Silvertips fans are not shocked; the local fan favorite won his first game as a 16-year-old for Everett in a shutout over the rival Seattle Thunderbirds and was the first goalie picked (48th, second round) in the 2016 draft.
Down Side in Dallas
A lengthy March losing streak can unhinge any team's playoffs confidence. One example is the New York Islandsers have fallen top three in the Metropolitan division to sixth place due to a six-game losing skid. For the Dallas Stars, a five-game winless streak is the wrong sort of reminder. This team started the season 1-7-1 before winning 36 or two-thirds of its next 54 games. But following a second straight loss to Western Conference wild-card contender Saturday, Dallas is looking a bit wobbly. When March started, the Stars were staying close to Central division top teams St. Louis and Colorado. Going into Monday's games, the third-place Stars (82 standings points) are far closer to fourth place (and the nothing-guaranteed wild-card scramble) than second-place Colorado (90 points). Problems that need attention: More consistent goaltending, likely to be improved by Ben Bishop's return, and getting more scoring chances in what hockey analytics experts describe as high-danger areas, such as shots closer in front of the opposing net e or a rebound attempt (goalie has made the first save) within three seconds of the original shot (not giving the goalie much opportunity to re-set). Dallas will host the New York Rangers Tuesday night and Florida Thursday.
The NHL is "considering every conceivable option" in response to the coronavirus, Commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday. One potential league-wide move already instituted by some clubs over the weekend is to close locker rooms, bringing players to a media podium instead. For beat reporters, this is not untenable. "It's different than fans being in the stands, particularly ... our players play in an enclosed environment," said Bettman. "We're focused on the fact that the tightness, the crowdedness and the intimacy of postgame availability may need to be adjusted while we're focusing on the coronavirus." The commissioner addressed speculation some NHL games may be played without fans: "I don't want to create any speculation or hysteria. There are obviously a variety of consequences that we may have to focus on, and we'll do that at the appropriate time. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here, OK? We're staying on top of it and we're in constant communication with our clubs and the [NHL] Players' Association. We're going to deal with this in as thorough, professional, on-top-of-it manner as possible. But let's everybody take a deep breath."
Games to Watch This Week
NHL scheduling can't get much better than Monday's matchup in Edmonton with the host Oilers and visiting Vegas Golden Knights squaring off with first place in the Pacific division on the docket. Vegas is 38-24-8 with 84 standings points and Edmonton (37-24-8) is two points behind with one less game played. Minnesota, counted out of the postseason by any number of media members , currently sits in the first wild-card qualifying spot; the Wild's week is Vegas at home Thursday, then at Philly Saturday and back home Sunday versus Nashville, which going into the week is one point out of the same Western Conference playoff qualifying.
Video: CAR@PIT: Geekie collects three points in NHL debut
'Geekie' Out on This Debut
Saturday morning, Carolina rookie was in Charlotte getting ready for an American Hockey League game. Later in the day, he was called up by the NHL Hurricanes and directed to get to Pittsburgh for his NHL debut in Sunday's against the Penguins. He called his parents and girlfriend immediately and they figured out how to get from rural Manitoba (three hours west of Winnipeg) to Pittsburgh. Fast-forward a storybook ending: Geekie scored two goals and added an assist in a meaningful 6-2 win for Carolina. More fun stuff: Geekie scored on his NHL shot-a feat previously achieved by, wait for it, Carolina head coach Rod Brind'Amour as St. Louis Blues rookie in 1990. Plus, NHL Seattle fans take special note: Geekie was drafted by Seattle GM Ron Francis and assistant GM Ricky Olczyk in the third round of the 2017. Last season, Geekie was a key member of the Charlotte Checkers winning the AHL championship, including notching eight goals and 10 assists in 19 postseason games.
Goalie Guessing in Edmonton
While Edmonton's dynamic scoring duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl get most of the attention in the Alberta city, media members and fans alike are beginning to wonder just who is the team's No. 1 goalie and presumptive starter for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While Mike Smith has looked the part for most of this season, Mikko Koskinen is casting some 1-A doubt into the equation. Koskinen stopped 45 of 46 shots in a 4-1 win over Columbus Saturday and 42 of 43 earlier the week in a 2-1 overtime win at Dallas. In between, Koskinen relieved in Chicago after Smith gave up four goals on 21 shots, finishing the game with a perfect 10 of 10 saves and an Oilers near comeback. EDM coach and former NHL Seattle hockey advisor Dave Tippett admits to a difference from previous NHL head coaching jobs in Arizona and Dallas: "I've always had a No. 1 guy and the second guy you're sliding in and everybody knows when the second guy is coming in. We don't really have that second guy. Every time you put a goalie in, he's the guy and away you go. But there's a good feeling on this team that whoever we put in can get the job done."
48 and Counting … to 50 Goals
Boston's David Pastrnak is leading the NHL in a tight goal-scoring race on the strength of a goal he notched in a rousing rivalry game loss to Tampa Saturday. Alex Ovechkin is at 47 goals, scoring two third-period goals in another rousing rivalry overtime loss to the New York Rangers in which Mika Zibanejad scored five goals (not a typo!). Ovi tied the game at 4-4 midway through the third period, then tied it again at 5-5 with 43 seconds left. Zibanejad scored the third, fourth and fifth goals for NYR, setting up quite the Ovechkin-Zibanejad duel. Zibanejad scored the OT winner 33 seconds into the extra period. Toronto's Auston Matthews is third with 46 goals.
Spotlight on NHL Seattle
As part of Canada's SportsNet network celebration of International Women's Day, SportNet's Christine Simpson interviewed NHL Seattle staffers Cammi Granato (pro scout) and Alexandra Mandrycky (director of hockey strategy and research) as part of a feature about the franchise's policy of inclusion and diversity. Here's a look in case you didn't catch it on SportsNet.