1. Pittsburgh Penguins: 53 Points (24-8-5)
The Penguins have only lost one game in regulation in the month of December. They have had some recent scares, but have been able to make up deficits against the Carolina Hurricanes and the New Jersey Devils to keep this streak intact. On the offensive front, Sidney Crosby has extended his league lead in goal scoring and now has 25 goals in 31 games. That puts him on pace for 63 goals, which would be his career best and the most by any player since Alex Ovechkin’s 65-goal season eight years ago.
Unfortunately for the Pens, goaltender Matt Murray left last night’s game after the second period with a lower-body injury. Though Marc-Andre Fleury has played more games than Murray, he has a lower save percentage and a higher goals against average. The Penguins did receive some good news in the form of Trevor Daley coming back from injury. Daley’s impact was noticeable in the game against the Canes last night as he was able to stop multiple scoring chances.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets: 52 Points (24-5-4)
The Blue Jackets’ streak continues and is now tied for the fourth-longest win streak in NHL history, although remarkably it still isn’t enough to give them the division lead. They do have four games in hand on the Penguins, so it may only be a matter of time.
Their 13 game streak is now only four games behind the record of 17, set by the 1992-1993 Penguins. The toughest test for this team and the streak will come against the Minnesota Wild on New Year’s Eve who is also on an 11 game win streak. Both teams play tonight, and if they win, Saturday’s game will be the first time that two teams carrying win streaks of ten or more games have played each other.
The play of the Jackets’ goaltenders has been admirable. During the streak, Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McIlhenney faced on average 30 shots per game and have only let up 21 goals. Bobrovsky has played in 11 of the 13 wins and over that span has a .944 Sv% which is the league's best since November 29th. The Jackets’ 67 goals against is second only to the Wild who have let up 66 but played one fewer game. The play of the goaltenders has been the biggest factor in why this team is at the top of the division.
3. New York Rangers: 49 Points (24-12-1)
Despite being in third place in the Metro, the Rangers would be first in any other division in the NHL. The Rangers are 7-3-0 in their last ten games but were on a two-game losing streak before their come from behind win against the Senators on Tuesday. This was a huge win for a team that let up seven goals in back to back games and looked dead in the water just three minutes into the game.
With the team down two goals early in the first, Derek Stepan yelled and pleaded with the team to get back in gear. He decided to take things into his own hands and scored two goals in the second period to bring the game back to a tie. The Rangers now have some life, but will need to continue this emotional push in their game against Arizona tomorrow night.
4. Washington Capitals: 44 Points (20-9-4)
The Caps only have three losses in their last 10 games. However, those three losses have all come in their last four games. Luckily for the Caps, they have a home and home series with the Metro basement dwellers, the New Jersey Devils, which should provide them with at least three points in the standings. The Caps have been led offensively by none other than (shock!) Alex Ovechkin. In the last seven games, he has four goals and three assists. Justin Williams is a close second with four goals and two assists.
While the Caps have been middle of the road in scoring, just 18th in the league, their defense and goaltending have been among the league's best. Throughout the entire season, Washington’s 70 goals against ranks third and their 28.3 shots against pet game ranks sixth. The reason it's been so hard to score on the Caps is that they have been dominating possession. The Caps 52.22 CF% is also ranked fifth in the league.
5. Philadelphia Flyers: 44 Points (20-13-4)
Since having a 10 game win streak of their own, the Flyers have struggled. In the five games following the streak the Flyers are only 1-3-1, earning only three points in five games. They still maintain a seven point lead over the Canes for the second wild card position, but this is exactly what the Canes needed to have a chance to stay in the playoff race.
The biggest reason for the Flyers’ dip in performance is their plummeting shooting percentage. During their win streak, the Flyers’ 10.3% shooting percentage was fourth in the league. Over their last five games, this number has fallen to just 3.4%. No matter how good your goaltending is, you can't win games with a shooting percentage that low. The good news for the Flyers is that forward Sean Couturier returned last night from a 16 game absence due to injury. As he settles back into the lineup the Flyers play will improve.
6. Carolina Hurricanes: 37 Points (15-11-7)
Before losing to the Penguins last night the Canes had a three-game winning streak. The Canes dominated the game in the shots department, outshooting the Pens 45-26 but were unable to tip the scales in their favor. While it was good to see that the Canes could skate with the league's best team, it's frustrating that they could not come away with at least a point to help climb the standings.
The worst news for the Canes and Canes fans came before the game was even played. As Justin Faulk was just finally hitting his stride, he has been sidelined by a lower body injury. He is now listed as week to week, and Ryan Murphy has replaced him in the lineup. Murphy had a solid game in Faulk’s absence, but the injury has shifted the Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin pairing to the top of the bill. Both defensemen registered over 20 minutes in the loss to the Pens.
7. New York Islanders: 34 Points (14-14-6)
The Islanders were on a losing streak but have quietly righted the ship and have won three straight. During this streak, multiple players have averaged one point or more per game, led by Anders Lee who has three goals and one assist. A big relief for the Islanders is that Andrew Ladd has finally started scoring. Ladd has three goals in two games, bringing his season total to seven goals.
Throughout the month of December, the Islanders have had a 10.3% shooting percentage which should be plenty good enough to win games. However, their defense has been horrendous. The Islanders let up on average 35.8 shots per game, so despite Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss’s save percentages being over .910 they are still letting in goals.
8. New Jersey Devils: 33 Points (13-15-7)
The Devils have been on a constant slide since Taylor Hall’s first injury earlier in the season. Before the injury, the Devils were in fourth place, but without Hall’s scoring and the goaltending play coming back down to earth, the Devils slid down the standings. Unfortunately for the Devils, they just lost Hall again who is day to day with a lower-body injury. This is not the Devils’ only injury; they also lost center Vernon Fiddler, who is out three to four weeks with a lower-body injury of his own.
These losses won’t help the Devils who have a 1-8-1 record from their last ten games. This record can be summed up easily by the Devils continuing inability to score goals. Over their last ten games their 16 goals are the fewest in the league, due mainly to a huge drop in their shooting percentage. In November their shooting percentage was 8.3%, which isn’t stellar but it's enough to win games. In their last ten games, though, it has dropped to 6.5% which is tied for the fourth-worst in the NHL.