Penguins may have Devils chasing

Penguins may have Devils chasing

March 13, 2018 3:00 AM

The letter was sent well past Christmas by two weeks, yet little Sid the Kid needed to make a request from Santa Claus.

“Dear Santa,” he first wrote in his best Pen-menship. “My team is almost in last place. Please make us win again. I promise to be good.”

Yes, it was Jan. 7 when Little Sid’s Pittsburgh Penguins had just 47 points through 44 games, but the three last-place teams in the Metropolitan Division (Islanders, Hurricanes and Flyers) all had 46 points and were poised to knockout the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions early.

So Santa tossed some magic sparkles on Sid’s favorite hockey team.

Over the weekend, the Penguins finally completed their long climb to overtake the Washington Capitals and move into first place. But instead of looking at the Pens, perhaps a more interesting take for bettors is how the New Jersey Devils remain in contention for the division crown.

A nice start kept the Devils even with the Capitals early on, but then the holidays came and New Jersey started to slip – but not completely. Entering their big West Coast road trip, which starts here in Las Vegas against “our” Golden Knights on Wednesday, New Jersey may rest in fourth place, yet they are only six points behind the Penguins.

Baseball-wise, that’s just three games back with 15 left. In other words, the Devils enjoy hiding in the weeds of the Garden State swamps, ready to jump like a snake. Just last week, New Jersey was the club that snapped the franchise-record 10-game winning streak of, arguably, the best team in hockey: the Nashville Predators. The previous week, the Devils also won in Pittsburgh.

As for the regular season, NJD may be too young a team to consistently bet on, but when the playoffs come around, this is one of those upset-makers people love. They’ve faced and conquered many challenges in the regular season, so if they just advance to the playoffs (they should by a whisker even as a wild card entry) any opponent in the Metro (or the Atlantic Division titleist) will not want to play them.

Although offensively-challenged LW Taylor Hall leads with 74 points; the next closest teammate is more than 30 points behind. The goalie tandem of Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider do enough to win. Their numbers don’t measure with the elite, but they are not anywhere near the bottom either.

Sure, Hall’s points streak just ended at 26 straight games. Sure, one of their goalies got hurt. Sure, no one predicted a playoff push. However, ever since winning the draft lottery last summer, the dark shadow of this franchise is slowly lifting.

Fleury milestones

With many of the team records by a first-year club wholly owned by the Vegas Golden Knights, next on the horizon are a series of individual marks and milestones.

Of course, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is right at the top despite missing two months of the season due to a concussion. Over the weekend, Fleury posted his 24th win of the season, passing both Cesare Maniago (Minnesota North Stars, 23) and Rob Tugnett (Columbus Blue Jackets, 22) for the all-time record.

Flower is also on pace to establish the GAA (goal against average) record. He stands at 2.16; the record is 2.24 by Manny Fernandez of the Minnesota Wild. In addition, if Fleury adds one more to his three shutouts he could have a record – depending on your definition.

The record is four if you don’t count the original doubling of the NHL in 1967-68, when all six new teams played in their own division. Thus, Maniago has the mark at six, followed by Glenn Hall of St. Louis with five.

With four shutouts are both of Philadelphia’s goalies from 1967-68 – Doug Favell and Bernie Parent – plus Fernandez and Tugnutt.

Among the skaters, most of the marks were first established by Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault of the Buffalo Sabres. Skating on a line known as The French Connection, Perreault is tops in points (72) and goals (38), while teammate Phil Goyette led with 46 assists.

In points, Knights leader Jon Marchessault (65) needs to average one every two games to reach the Perreault target. He recently skated past Cliff Ronning of Nashville (62).

Among assists Vegas forward David Perron’s 45 is just one short of the record, but he’s got company as Marchessault has 43. Both just surpassed the 42 set by Columbus’ Espen Knutsen and Vancouver’s Dale Tallon.

As for plus/minus, it’s all over except for the winner. The old mark was +20, set by Bobby Dollas (Mighty Ducks of Anaheim) and Igor Larionov (San Jose). Currently, five Knights are above 20, led by William Karlsson +38.