Monday, December 23, 2013

Weekend wrap: Penguins hurt, but still hot

Each Monday, we’ll wrap up three of the biggest stories from the weekend and how they’ll play into the coming week.

Penguins Keep Streaking

The Pittsburgh Penguins won their seventh straight, earning a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames on Saturday afternoon, thanks to a goal and two assists from Sidney Crosby. That gave Crosby 54 points on the year, good for a six-point gap over Chicago’s Patrick Kane for the league lead. It was a good weekend for the Pens captain, who also moved into the top spot in the 24/7 MVP power rankings.

Crosby’s not the only Penguin enjoying a great season. Evgeni Malkin was scoring at close to a 100-point pace before being sidelined by a leg injury that’s kept him out for four games. Chris Kunitz continues to excel on Crosby’s wing, rekindling the debate around his Olympic chances. And James Neal, when he’s healthy and not suspended, has been a force.

And then there’s goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins starter has been excellent, putting up a 21-8-1 record to go with a 2.04 GAA and .923 save percentage. The latter two numbers would represent career bests over a full season, and in theory we should be talking about Fleury as one of the league’s best goalies so far. We’re not, of course, because it doesn’t really matter what Fleury does in the regular season anymore. He’s spent the last two years developing a reputation for playoff meltdowns, and isn’t likely to get much credit for gaudy numbers until he can post them in May and June.

The good news is that he’ll almost certainly get that chance, because the Penguins are going to roll into the playoffs. Pittsburgh has won 12 of its last 13 and 10 straight at home, and have moved to within two points of the Ducks for first place overall. They’ve also opened up a 13-point lead in the Metropolitan Division, a bigger gap than those enjoyed by the other three division leaders combined.

The Pens play their next four on the road, but the schedule isn’t especially daunting. Their next six all come against teams that are currently .500 or worse, including tonight’s matchup with the struggling Senators.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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