1. Washington Capitals: 39 Points (18-9-3)
With a hat-trick in the 6-2 dismantling of the Detroit Red Wings, Alex Ovechkin has moved back into first place in scoring in the league with 25 goals in 30 games. The most fun goal of the night was Ovechkin’s first. He took a shot that was so wide it had no hope of going in, in fact it was more likely to hit the corner than the net. However, Gustav Nyquest was in the way and the puck ricocheted off of him and into the net. That proves that it’s better to be lucky than good, even though he is both.
The league will need to be on notice because Tom Wilson has returned to practice after suffering a concussion. I can only imagine his revenge tour will only be worse than his normal play. In other injury news the Caps also got T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov back from injuries. No big deal but in their last game they combined for a goal and two assists, so good luck everyone else in the East.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets: 34 Points (16-12-2)
Everyone has had their eye on the Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin contract negotiations since the offseason. I have touched on this a couple of times already this season. Yesterday on NHL Network’s On the Fly Kevin Weekes, who shares an agent with Bobrovsky, gave some insight into the talks between Bobrovsky and the Jackets. He said the situation is becoming “untenable” and the relationship has deteriorated. Every day it seems that this is getting worse on and off the ice and that a trade will be in the future.
Since losing 9-6 to the Calgary Flames the Blue Jackets have dropped two out of their last three games giving up at least three goals in each game. You have to go back to November 19th to find a game in which they gave up fewer than three goals. With the defensive woes continuing John Tortarella switched his assistant coaches’ duties back to their original roles from previous seasons. The hope is that the changed voices will be able to get more out of the players to shape up their defense from top to bottom.
3. New York Islanders: 32 Points (14-12-4)
With Anders Lee and Tom Kuhnhackl injured, Lou Lamoriello called up Josh Ho-Sang from Bridgeport. Despite a new coaching team in Long Island, it is still more of the same for Ho-Sang. Barry Trotz said that he felt zero pressure to put him in the lineup, saying “You can’t go in going ‘I’ve got to get this guy into the lineup’ because, what? He’s got two goals in the AHL? Or he’s a prospect, or where he was drafted? We don’t work that way. This is about winning hockey games.”
The quote is specifically harsh because it really hammers home that Ho-Sang isn’t having a great year in the AHL. The funny thing is that the Islanders lost their game Monday in a five-round shootout to a division rival in Pittsburgh. It just seems like a situation that you could use a skilled winger for. But then again this is still the NHL, where speaking out about your organization or addressing your frustrations sets you back for years.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 32 Points (13-11-6)
Yesterday, the Penguins activated starting goaltender Matt Murray from injured reserve. Despite practicing on Tuesday, the Penguins decided to start Casey DeSmith for the sixth straight game against the Blackhawks last night. Murray was originally injured on Thanksgiving when he suffered a lower-body-injury. Goaltender Tristan Jarry has been sent back to Wilkes-Barre to make room for Murray.
Despite the Blackhawks having Patrick Kane, they have been struggling and it seems like that would have been a good game to get him back up to speed. It appears that the Penguins are happy to give him more practice time and allow him to serve as a backup while getting back up to speed. The target date for his next start is likely on Saturday against the Kings. While it will be on the back half of a back-to-back, it makes more sense than throwing him in against a dangerous Boston team who has won their last three games by a combined score of 12-7.
5. New York Rangers: 31 Points (14-13-3)
The Rangers seem to be a great trade fit with the Canes except for one thing: they are within the division. The Rangers have a couple of top six players that they would be willing to part with, and they are a disaster on the blue line. The Rangers could part with Mika Zibanejad, Jesper Fast, Vladislav Namestnikov, Pavel Buchnevich, or Kevin Hayes. I laid out in a post a couple of weeks ago why I don’t think Hayes will be moved, so I would remove him from the trade list.
Zibanejad is probably too much return for Justin Faulk on a one for one, but if the Canes also included a pick it could work. It is important to note the Canes are filled to the brim with contracts so they need to decide on which prospects are keepers and move on from some or trade picks. Vladislav Namestnikov on a contract year as an RFA could also be intriguing as an option on the wing, which could bump someone like Warren Foegele out of a top-six position - which at this point is probably needed to help scoring. It’s a bit of a gamble but the Canes need offense and his ability to score 20 goals would help.
6. Carolina Hurricanes: 30 Points (13-12-4)
Sara Civian at The Athletic wrote a great piece about Adam Fox, the defenseman who came over in the trade with the Calgary Flames this offseason. What is interesting is that the Hurricanes look to be able to sign the defenseman. Directly after the trade it seemed like he was unlikely to sign and that is why he was part of the deal. He looked to go the way of fellow Harvard player Jimmy Vesey to hit free agency and pick his own team.
Fox is averaging 1.89 points per game with Harvard, and wants to come to the NHL as soon as possible, which means he could join the team as early as this year after Harvard’s season is over. This puts even more pressure on the Hurricanes to trade a current rostered defenseman to make room for Fox. Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton are likely untouchable on trades, one for performance and one based on his contract, and with Calvin de Haan just signing this year it is unlikely he would be moved.
This leaves the only trade options as Justin Faulk and Brett Pesce. One or both players could be on the move, and Faulk seems the most likely. If you are willing to take an offensive defenseman with defensive issues, you might as well do it with a player that is six years younger. Faulk can also still pull in a huge return. If the Canes could get a top six forward immediately that would benefit both parties involved.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: 28 Points (12-13-4)
Heading into their Western Canada road trip Dave Hakstol split up Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux. The two have been playing on the same line since the 2016-2017 season and have combined for 21 goals and 35 assists so far this season. Despite a rough 7-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the lines settled in against the Flames. Giroux had two helpers on the top line while Couturier registered a goal and an assist on the second line.
Shuffling the lineup and even breaking up the top line isn’t out of the ordinary for Hakstol. He is a big believer in breaking up successful groups to spread out scoring across multiple lines. He did the same thing last season when he broke up his top line moving Jakub Voracek to the second line. Last season he shuffled them in early December which ended up sparking the Flyers to a six game win streak including sweeping a Western Canada road trip.
8. New Jersey Devils: 26 Points (10-13-6)
I know I have been focusing on Cory Schneider a lot lately but get this. His last win came on December 27th, 2017. He is now close to nearing an entire year without earning a win. He has a 0-15-3 record in his last 18 starts, and honestly, I don’t know what you can do with a goalie that is playing that poorly in a stretch like that. This is more than a standard case of the yips, and the Devils desperately need to find away to get a win out of the goalie making $6 million per year. If this was any larger market of a team, this story would be everywhere.
In other news General Manager Ray Shero acknowledged where his team is in the rebuild and said that they would stay the course to rebuild the right way. This is great news for Devils fans because it shows that ownership and management are on the same page. Last year they overperformed, but this shows that they acknowledge that as opposed to thinking that was the new status of the team. This is in stark contrast to the Philadelphia Flyers who thought their rebuild was over and have fired their GM.