1. Washington Capitals: 43 Points (20-10-3)
The Capitals have erased any thoughts of a Stanley Cup hangover with their early success, which has seen them largely avoid any criticism (sans Tom Wilson). However, one thing to look at is the performance of T.J. Oshie. Granted, he has been hurt for parts of the season, but his production has left something to be desired.
Oshie signed an eight year, $46 million contract before last season after recording a 56-point season at the age of 30. With just 15 points this season, four of which have come on the powerplay, he is only on pace to score 37 points. While this isn’t terrible production, he carries a cap hit of $5.75 mil through the 2024-2025 season. This would also mark the second straight year of declining production. This contract could end up being much worse much more quickly than the Caps were hoping.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets: 39 Points (18-12-3)
After struggling defensively to start the season, the Blue Jackets may have turned the corner over the last week. After giving up 3.77 goals per game over their first 26 games, they have finally been able to hold teams to just two or fewer goals in their last three games. This comes just one week after switching assistant coaches Brad Larson and Brad Shaw’s roles to handle the offense and defense respectively.
One piece of bad news for the Blue Jackets is the injury to Artemi Panarin. The skilled sniper missed Monday’s game against the Golden Knights with a lower-body-injury. The team did not think he would miss significant time, but he is listed as day-to-day. So far, they have not missed a beat without him in the lineup, winning 1-0 Monday over Vegas, but offensive production will be a problem moving.
3. New York Islanders: 38 Points (17-12-4)
It took Josh Ho-Sang all of three games to record his first goal of the 2018-2019 season. After being scratched for a week following his callup, the 22 year old winger has now started three straight games and has been getting significant time with 13:14 per game with 15 minutes in his most recent game. Despite initially having harsh words for Ho-Sang, Barry Trotz has seemed to turn the corner on him: “Since he’s come up he’s really playing the right way and you can see he’s got real good hockey sense and he’s got the speed and the skill.”
Trotz also mentioned that if he keeps playing this way, it will be a tough decision to send him down. These are important comments, given that before this stint in the NHL Ho-Sang was faulted for his lack of consistency and ability to play a full two-way game. He managed 38 seconds of time on the power play on Tuesday. With just two games remaining before the holidays, it will be interesting to see if Ho-Sang will get a larger role on the team and on the power play.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 38 Points (16-12-6)
A strange story came out yesterday that former Penguin Pascal Dupuis visited the locker room last weekend. After his visit he declared that there is a disconnect between head coach Mike Sullivan and players Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin. Granted, the statements were made in French on pre-game show, but they have created a controversy in Pittsburgh totally out of the blue and will add more fuel to the Kessel trade rumors.
The Penguins did receive some good news on the injury front. Kris Letang left Friday’s game against the Bruins with a leg injury after a collision with former Cane Joakim Nordstrom. Initially there were fears of a larger injury when Letang missed Saturday’s game against the Kings, but he was able to return Monday against the Ducks. He had an assist in the 4-2 loss. Patric Hornqvist was also activated from injured reserve and played against the Capitals.
5. New York Rangers: 35 Points (15-13-5)
The Rangers will have two to three players playing in the World Juniors this year. The ninth overall pick from the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Vitaly Kravtsov, will play for Russia and 2018 fourth round defenseman Nico Gross will play for Switzerland. Kravtsov is a typical Russian sniper, but he is scoring at an incredible rate this year in the KHL on a bad team. He has 17 points through is first 34 games which is more than Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov had at this point in their post draft seasons. He has the ability to light up the competition and become a star.
Following Vitali Kravtsov’s game today, here is how he compares to several former KHL players who are currently in the NHL in two breakdowns: their first 32 KHL games in the season following their draft year and their first 92 career KHL games (regular season + playoffs) #NYR pic.twitter.com/lETtNg6zn6— NYR Stats & Info (@NYRStatsInfo) December 4, 2018
The potential third player, Filip Chytil, is eligible for the Czech Republic but has yet to be loaned to his national team. Unlike most other players in the tournament, Chytil has played the entire year in the NHL playing top six minutes. However, this could be a good opportunity for Chytil to play in a larger, leadership role and could also provide valuable tanking time for the Rangers.
6. Carolina Hurricanes: 33 Points (14-13-5)
The Hurricanes dropped a couple of frustrating losses last week despite actually being able to score. First, they dropped a 6-4 decision to the Montreal Canadiens with Petr Mrazek in net. They followed this up with an incredibly frustrating shoot out loss to the Washington Capitals on Friday, which saw them blow a 4-1 lead and eventually lose in a six-round shootout. But the good news in all of this is that the Canes finally have the offense going again.
On Sunday the Canes faced the Arizona Coyotes and won 3-0. Andrei Svechnikov has four points in three games, and both Sebastian Aho and Justin Williams have five game point streaks. Having Svechnikov step up in the absence of Michael Ferland and Jordan Staal is exactly what this team needed. It proves that he can handle more ice time and it keeps the Canes somewhat close in the standings.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: 30 Points (13-15-4)
After surviving just three weeks after the Ron Hextall firing, head coach Dave Hakstol was shown the door on Monday after losing 11 out of his last 14 games. The final straw was a 5-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks last weekend. The Flyers’ hands were somewhat forced after reports came out that they were on track to hire former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
We interrupt this column for your Gritty Gif of the Week:
Both sides denied the report, but when Hakstol went to management asking for a vote of confidence, new GM Chuck Fletcher could not give him one, and in turn fired the head coach of over three years. Scott Gordon, the head coach of their AHL affiliate, will take over as the interim head coach. It is easy to see why the Flyers were targeting Quenneville as their next head coach, but It is a bad look to have the story leak. I think it shows the dysfunction in the organization and will make it tougher to hire their next head coach.
8. New Jersey Devils: 29 Points (11-14-7)
When Taylor Hall went out with an injury, everyone assumed that he Devils would lose until he came back. But, to everyone’s surprise, they picked up three of four points while Hall was out with a lower-body injury. Hall returned to the lineup on Tuesday — naturally, just in time for a 7-2 blowout at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
On the other hand, goaltender Cory Schneider is headed back to Injured reserve with a strained abdominal muscle. He started Friday’s game against the Golden Knights, but was pulled just 10 minutes in. At the time he had given up three goals on just seven shots. This brings his save percentage down to .862 and his goals against average up to 4.26. He has yet to win a game with a 0-5-1 record this season, and has now gone more than a full calendar year since his last NHL win.