The Production Pair –
|Adding defenseman Brian Rafalski has given the Red Wings unprecedented blue line production.
Detroit's signing of veteran defenseman Brian Rafalski
during the summer didn't get the attention that some of the big-name deals did. But adding Rafalski has given the Wings unprecedented blue line production.
Reigning Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom entered the weekend as the NHL's top-scoring defenseman, with 40 points in 45 games. Rafalski is second with 37 points, two more than Dallas' Sergei Zubov.
No defense pair in at least the last 20 seasons has finished first and second in points among defensemen. The closest combinations were in 1997-98, when Lidstrom was first and Detroit teammate Larry Murphy finished fifth, and 1993-94, when Brian Leetch of the Rangers finished second and Zubov was fourth.
Going back to the 1970s, the Boston Bruins nearly had the top two defensive point producers in 1974-75, when Bobby Orr led the all defensemen -- and the NHL -- in scoring with 135 points and teammate Carol Vadnais finished with 74, one less than Montreal's Guy Lapointe.
Coming to Detroit from New Jersey is doing wonders for Rafalski's offensive production. He had a career-high 55 points with New Jersey last season, but at this pace he will finish with 67, shattering his previous best.
A tale of two cities — Marty Turco has been one of the NHL's top goaltenders for several years, but not because of his play against Detroit. The former University of Michigan goaltender dropped to 1-9-5 lifetime against the Wings when they beat him 4-1 last Wednesday — and when the two teams met again Saturday, Stars coach Dave Tippett started backup Mike Smith, who played well in a 3-0 loss.
In contrast, Turco is almost unbeatable when he faces the Chicago Blackhawks. He got the win in Dallas' 3-1 victory Wednesday at Chicago to improve to 13-2-1 all-time against the Blackhawks, with a 1.65 goals-against average and three shutouts.
Turco also stopped a penalty shot in the win against Chicago and has stopped the last nine penalty shots he's faced since Ottawa's Mike Fisher beat Turco with the first penalty shot the 32-year-old goalie faced in the NHL.
Firing blanks — Did Jason Blake leave his shooting touch in Long Island?
Blake signed a five-year deal with Toronto last summer after scoring 40 goals for the New York Islanders in 2006-07. But his first season as a Leaf hasn't gone the way he or his new team had hoped. Blake has just eight goals in 44 games with the Leafs, though it's not for lack of trying. He's fourth in the League with 189 shots on goal, including six in Thursday night's 5-2 loss at Los Angeles, but has scored on just 4.2 percent of them. That's a huge drop from last season, when he scored on 13.1 percent of his 305 shots, the best shooting percentage of his career.
Blake is the only player in the top 20 in shots on goal who has yet to crack double figures in goals. At his current pace, he will take 352 shots on goal — and score just 15 times.
Missing in action — A lot of people wondered how much Buffalo would miss Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, who left the Sabres as free agents during the summer. Judging by the Sabres' first-half performance, the answer is: Quite a bit.
The Sabres reached the halfway point of their season this week; Game 41 was a 2-1 shootout loss at New Jersey that left Buffalo at 19-18-4 for 42 points. They were 29-9-3 a year ago for 61 points. The reason for the 19-point decline: Not enough goals. Buffalo allowed 119 goals through 41 games this season, the same as 2006-07 — but scored just 121, a drop of 39 from last season's 160.
The Sabres' offense has been wildly inconsistent. In their 19 wins, they scored 85 goals, an average of 4.5 per game. In the other 22 games, they managed just 36, an average of 1.6 per game.
Revenge? — The Ottawa Senators had a tremendous first half, racing out to a big lead in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference standings. It would have been even bigger if they could have handled the Washington Capitals.
Though the Caps are in the bottom three in the East, they've been world-beaters against the Senators this season, winning all three meetings and scoring 18 goals — six per game — against a team that averaged 2.5 goals-against in its other 38 games. Ottawa lost three times against Washington — and just seven times in regulation against the rest of the League.
Ottawa gets a last chance Tuesday against the Capitals in Washington. To beat the Caps, they'll need to slow down Alex Ovechkin, who has five goals and eight points in the three games.
Sunshine, at last — Unlike most Northeasterners, the Pittsburgh Penguins rarely have had much fun in Florida — until this week.
The Penguins posted a sweep of their two games in the Sunshine State this week. Tuesday they defeated the Florida Panthers 3-1 against and Thursday they defeated the Lightning 4-1. The two wins were only one less than the Penguins had managed in their previous 20 visits to the two Florida-based teams since 2002-03.
The Penguins' victory against Tampa Bay especially was sweet. Pittsburgh had lost 12 straight games to the Lightning during the past three-plus seasons. Even the arrival of Sidney Crosby hadn't helped; they were 0-5-3 against the Lightning since Crosby's arrival in 2005.