Bruins whiz kid, disgraceful Sabres, more in NHL's plus/minus for week
The week's most notable positives and negatives from around the NHL:
• The kid is here to stay. The Bruins decided this week to keep David Pastrnak, the 18-year-old Czech forward who was their top draft choice in 2014, past his entry-level cutoff point of nine games before he had to be returned to the AHL. That means GM Peter Chiarelli sees him as an NHLer for keeps. It’s quite a jump for Pastrnak, who scored two goals apiece in Boston’s victories this week against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay while getting some ice time with the suddenly hot Milan Lucic and David Krejci. That made him the youngest Bruin to record a goal since Patrice Bergeron in 2003. It has been a year of growth for Pastrnak, who picked up seven points in five games at the World Junior Championship. He was also the leading scorer with the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence, with 27 points and a +14 rating in 24 games, and now has the distinction of being the youngest player to skate in both leagues this season.
• Jets center Mathieu Perreault has been sizzling during his last five games, during which he has produced six goals and three assists, including a four-goal performance in Winnipeg's 8-2 victory over Florida on Tuesday as his team chased All-Star Roberto Luongo from between the pipes. The effort gave coach Paul Maurice his 500th win as an NHL head coach. “It’s something very special,” Perreault said after the game. “Obviously the bounces are going my way.” It’s remarkable to think that through his first 19 games of the season, Perreault had just three points, all assists, and was having trouble finding his game. The 27-year-old now has 15 goals for the season, three off his career high that he established last year with Anaheim.
• Of course Nick Foligno was named an All-Star captain because the game is being played in Columbus, but it was still a great tribute for the Blue Jackets forward to get the nod along with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, who is one of the NHL’s acknowledged great leaders. Foligno is having a breakthrough campaign, and a consistently strong one, for a team that has been up and down all season. In 40 games, he's already matched last season's career-high of 18 goals, and his 21 power-play points rank third in the league behind Kevin Shattenkirk of the Blues and Claude Giroux of the Flyers. He also has an eight-game point streak of 11, and, best of all, he doesn’t have to play for his woeful hometown Sabres.
• The Islanders wouldn’t be where they are without the superb play of their goalie Jaroslav Halak. The 29-year-old Slovak netminder is heading to Columbus for the All-Star Game as a replacement pick after the injuries to Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (groin tear) and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (knee). Some people criticized the Islanders for signing Halak during the off-season to a four-year, $18 million deal, but the club has done much worse with long-term goalie contracts in the past. Earlier this season, Halak set the franchise record by winning his 11th straight game, eclipsing the old team mark held by Hall-of-Famer Billy Smith. After that streak ended with consecutive losses, Halak promptly went on another seven-game streak. He made 27 saves in a huge 3-0 win on Tuesday, marking just the second time that an Islanders goalie—Smith was the other—to shut out the Rangers on Madison Garden ice.
• Is it worth losing your dignity over Connor McDavid? Really, the Sabres have looked utterly disinterested since the start of the year while dropping nine straight games including a 7-0 drubbing by the struggling Wild on Thursday night. Minnesota got well in a hurry against a Sabres team that looked as if it had turned a corner with four straight wins in mid-December. That was before this recent collapse. The Sabres haven’t won at home since Dec. 27 or on the road since Nov. 29. And the ease with which teams are scoring against them is truly amazing. Minnesota’s Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon scored on long, stoppable shots from opposite points in Buffalo's dreary second period on Thursday. In their franchise record nine straight losses, the Sabres were outscored 39-9 and have now surrendered 75 more goals than they've scored during this forgettable season.
• If you plan to retire a player’s jersey number, at least do it with some class, as if you mean it, as if you care. The Sabres sent Dominik Hasek’s No. 39 to the rafters on Tuesday night, but it almost seemed like an afterthought. The entire proceedings lasted just 20 minutes and featured appearances from only two former Sabres, Danny Gare and Rene Robert, who have also had their numbers retired by the organization. None of Hasek’s family members or former teammates participated in the ceremony. Not a single member of the Buffalo's management came onto the ice to be with Hasek.
Compare that to the 90-minute love fest that Teemu Selanne received in Anaheim and you can see why the Sabres are taking flak for being a lost organization in more ways than one. Granted Selanne was a far more popular figure among fans and teammates than Hasek, but if a team isn’t ready to give a Hall-of-Famer the proper fete he deserves then don’t have the ceremony until you’re ready to make it look and feel like it's something from the heart.
• Well, that changed quickly, didn’t it? The Rangers went from being the league’s hottest team to one that suddenly can’t score. They'd earned points in 13 of their previous 14 games prior to suffering back-to-back shutout losses this week to the Islanders at home and the Bruins on the road. The Blueshirts' sudden offensive power outage took the glow off their superb three-game sweep of the California teams during a recent journey to the West Coast. Excluding an empty-net goal by Rick Nash in their 3-1 win at San Jose that concluded the road trip, New York has now gone 164 minutes and 47 seconds without a goal against a goaltender who was between the pipes. The last one was Chris Kreider’s in the first period against the Sharks. Against Boston, the Rangers missed Derek Stepan, who suffered an upper-body injury against the Islanders, but their game, which had been so good for a month, has suddenly gone missing.
• The dismissal of coach Randy Carlyle simply took too long. Now, by the time Toronto’s players manage to get acclimated to what Peter Horachek wants them to do, it could be too late to fix everything that ails the team in time to make the playoffs. After an 0-for-3 in California in which the Kings, Ducks and Sharks outscored them by a combined 9-1, the Maple Leafs have now dropped six of their seven games in 2015 and sit seven points behind fourth-place Boston in the Atlantic Division with their next game in St. Louis, another tough task. Defenseman Roman Polak’s goal in the second period against San Jose was the Leafs’ only tally on their entire trip, and their first after being blanked for a little more than 133 minutes. They'd also gone just under 170 minutes of play on the road without scoring. Even more disheartening, they were outshot 42-25 by the Sharks in a regression to their old ways under Carlyle. James Reimer actually played pretty well in making 39 saves, but Toronto's netminders had been under constant seige before Horachek took over and the team cut its shots-against averagedown to a respectable 22.7 per game. If the Leafs' inability to score continues much longer, they're doomed to being also-rans.