1. Washington Capitals: 60 Points (28-14-4)
The Capitals entered their bye week on top of the division after splitting a home and home with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Caps faced a tough game coming out of their bye, and were able to get a valuable point with an overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils last night. Considering how many teams come back from bye weeks with a loss, it’s not a terrible result.
Just because the Capitals weren’t playing doesn’t mean they weren’t making news. They released their stadium series jersey, which is above. The jersey is mainly navy, the first time since the Caps have worn a non-red home jersey since their black Capitol Building jerseys in Alex Ovechkin's rookie season. In that game, the Caps will take on the Maple Leafs on March 3rd in Annapolis, MD at the United States Naval Academy. I personally like the jerseys and always think it’s fun when a team switches up their color scheme.
2. New Jersey Devils: 56 Points (24-12-8)
The Devils did not buck the trend and opened play after their bye week with a 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. This week is a great opportunity for the Devils to put some space between themselves and the Columbus Blue Jackets who are in third. With three games in hand and a lead of only one point, they have the opportunity to pull away and get a firm grasp on second place.
Cory Schneider struggled to shake off the rust after the break giving up five goals on just 25 shots against the Flyers. In their win against the Islanders on Tuesday, Keith Kincaid made the start due to Schneider being out with the flu, and also manned the net in their win over the Caps although Schneider returned to the lineup to back him up.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 55 Points (26-18-3)
The Blue Jackets are also on their bye week, but they have been active in their downtime. Wednesday the Jackets claimed former Hurricane Jussi Jokinen off of waivers. This will be the Finn’s third team this year, splitting 32 games between the Los Angeles Kings and the Edmonton Oilers while registering just one goal and five assists. However, he has been very successful as a center winning 58% of his draws this season. Jokinen is initially slotted in as the Jackets’ third line center.
This move was largely spurred by injuries. They recently placed forward Sonny Milano on IR, expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a torn oblique. The 21-year-old winger has eight goals and five assists in his first full-time stint with the team. He joins Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Murray on IR. To bolster their NHL line up they have also recalled Tyler Motte from the AHL. Motte has played 29 games with the Blue Jackets this season but was sent down to Cleveland after only recording four points in that time span. The Blue Jackets now leave the bye week behind hoping rest and relaxation will help the team recover from injuries.
4. New York Rangers: 53 Points (24-17-5)
The Rangers returned from their bye week on Tuesday with a 5-1 win against the Flyers. Henrik Lundqvist started in net for the Rangers and recorded his 20th win of the season. With that win, he is the first goaltender in NHL history to have 20 wins in 13 consecutive seasons. The Rangers continued their success with a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres last night.
This stretch of the season is extremely interesting and important for the Rangers. Depending on how they play, their future could be drastically different. If they continue to win, they can try to buy one last time to make a run for a Stanley Cup. However, if they lose, they are likely to retool/rebuild. I have spoken about it before, but the Rangers don’t have a stocked farm system. They do have Brady Skjei and Jimmy Vesey on the team, but if they keep selling it will only delay the inevitable.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 51 Points (24-19-3)
The Penguins have now won four games in a row and are back in a playoff position. The funny thing is that just two weeks ago everyone was clamoring about how GM Jim Rutherford will fix this team. Well, when you are such a top-heavy team you are going to be streaky. With four solid lines like the Tampa Bay Lightning, you have enough players to pick up play and scoring when a player is slumping. The Penguins do not. When Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel aren’t all firing on all cylinders, you can’t expect the likes of Daniel Sprong to pick up the pace.
On top of that, the Pens were bitten very badly by the injury bug. Carter Rowney, Bryan Rust, and Chad Ruhwedel still remain inactive, but they have been able to plug other pieces back into their lineup and they are starting to win again.
The Penguins are in quite the predicament with their goalies at the moment. With starter Matt Murray having to take a leave of absence after the sudden passing of his father, Casey DeSmith played in net last night after Tristan Jarry gave up five goals in his previous start against the Anaheim Ducks.
6. New York Islanders: 50 Points (23-20-4)
Some good news for the Islanders: forward Josh Bailey has been activated off of IR and have resumed skating. Doug Weight told the media that he believes that Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ladd are feeling good and should return to the ice soon. The bad news on the injury front is that Casey Cizikas is out with a hand injury and will miss some time. On top of that Calvin de Haan and Nikolay Kulemin are also both still on IR.
To solve their goals-against issues, Garth Snow is looking to add a top-four defenseman before the deadline. The unfortunate thing for him is that the asking price for one of those is normally astronomically high. At this point, the Isles aren’t just looking for a playoff berth this season, they are also putting pieces around forward John Tavares to convince him to re-sign this offseason. The way that things have been going, it fully looks as if Tavares will test the open market this season. If it's not just about money but also being successful, a big acquisition may nudge him in the direction of staying in Long Island.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: 50 Points (21-16-8)
Last night the Philadelphia Flyers celebrated the career of Eric Lindros by retiring number 88. Lindros was one of the most exciting players in the 1990’s. I remember my Dad buying boatloads of wax packs of hockey cards with bonus Eric Lindros rookie cards because he was the “next Gretzky,” and that seemed promising. His career was cut short due to a string of concussions, five in two years. He is one of the first athletes I remember having issues with head injuries, but it still took another decade before people started realizing the impact that they have.
The Flyers were able to make it a happy occasion by winning the game in overtime. Michal Neuvirth was able to put together a complete game and stop 29 out of the 31 shots he faced. If he can heat up right when the Flyers are set to play the Devils and Caps in back to back nights, Philly can see their team move into a playoff position.
8. Carolina Hurricanes: 48 Points (20-17-8)
Coming out of the bye the Carolina Hurricanes are in an ultimate transition phase. The Canes sale is official and now Tom Dundon is the managing partner and majority owner of the team. In addition, the Canes are leaving the toughest part of their schedule, and are at a point where a playoff position is still within reach.
The Canes have played a division-low 20 home games so far into the season and have just two more home appearances to close out the season. However, once February starts the players are going to have some great home cooking for a month...seriously, the full month. In the month of February, the Canes have 13 games and only three come on the road. The first road game is on 2/15 and the remaining are from 2/24-3/1. This is a huge opportunity for the Canes, as over half of these teams are not currently in a playoff position.
A last note about the ownership change is that it’s great to see someone come in and bring excitement to the team. The Canes have announced the FANuary campaign which features discounted tickets, concessions, and parking for the next 11 home games to bring in more new fans and to get excitement in the building. The focus to make Carolina a destination for free agents has also started with an announcement of a planned upgraded performance center and new practice rink for the players. That’s not all, but it also looks like additional resources will be added to the scouting staff as well.