1. Washington Capitals: 35 Points (16-9-3)
Tom Wilson is back in the news for a hit again. However, this time he was on the receiving end of a Ryan Reaves hit that sent him out of Tuesday’s game against Vegas. Wilson missed Thursday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes with a concussion that came from the hit. Reaves was ejected from the game for the blind-side hit that looked similar to Wilson’s hit on the Devils’ Brett Seney earlier in the season. While the hit was shoulder to shoulder, the issue came when the player hits the ice head first. The NHL is trying to get these types of hits out of the game. Both were late and could have been avoided.
Tom Wilson hurt after blindside hit from Ryan Reaves pic.twitter.com/xsrs7LSMLd— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 5, 2018
But when Wilson does get away with these plays, you will see teams bring in enforcers or match a physical player against him. Ryan Reaves isn’t a player that should be out against the Caps top line. He doesn’t have the skill, but he does match up against Wilson and can protect his teammates. This hit jumps out as a reaction to Wilson’s play and the fact he wasn’t suspended for his hit. If the NHL continues to be soft on borderline hits, I could see more of these types of plays happening.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets: 34 Points (16-10-2)
The Blue Jackets have had a bad week. They lost to the Flames and let up nine goals on Tuesday. On Thursday they lost to the Wild 4-2, both times with Sergei Bobrovsky in net. Bobrovsky let up eight goals on 26 shots midway through the third period on Tuesday. This lowers his save percentage to .901 which is his worst season total since 2011-2012 when he had a .899 save percentage. His 3.04 goals against average is the worst of his entire career.
It’s an odd move for a goalie that is in a contract year to leave him in through seven goals before pulling him after the eighth. Goalies are infamously headcases, so to let he guy get shelled and to demolish his self confidence in this game. Not only could this affect him in future games, but you can look at incidents like Patrick Roy in Montreal which forced a trade after a similar event. Not only are they going to have issues with his in-season happiness, they are also courting him in the long-term for a new contract.
3. New York Islanders: 29 Points (13-11-3)
Which brings us to the Islanders, where an interesting thing to keep an eye on is Lou Lamoriello’s aggressive player acquisition. With Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky on expiring contracts, how hard will Lamoriello go after them in the off season? Bobrovsky has been rumored to be interested, and Panarin wants to go to a larger market team. While the Isles normally play second fiddle to the Rangers in New York, would Lamoriello be able to work his magic to make the Islanders more appealing than the Rangers for Panarin? One thing he will be able to use is a brand new facility.
On the stadium front, the Islanders received positive news when it comes to their new arena. The Belmont Park site passed the environmental impact study which means they are one step closer to beginning construction. The study found the only impact the stadium would bring is more traffic. The Islanders are hoping to start construction in May so they can begin play in the 2020-2021 season — of course, only if the CBA is in place for the start of the season.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 29 Points (12-10-5)
The Penguins made their second shake-up trade this year when they traded Daniel Sprong to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Pettersson is a 22 year old Swedish defenseman who is playing in his second NHL season. In 27 games played this year, he has recorded zero goals and six assists. While he hasn’t shown to be a heavy scoring threat, he is 6’3” 177 lbs. At 6’3” he is likely to be able to put more weight on his frame to be a more imposing threat in the defensive zone. What he lacks in pure muscle he makes up for with a long reach which makes him annoying to play against.
The Penguins departed with Sprong who has played four seasons with the club and recorded only four goals and five assists. Though he is just 21 years old, he has struggled to contribute in a consistent basis in the lineup. With the Pens thin on defense, this trade makes sense for them, even if they move Pettersson to the AHL without needing waivers since he is in the last year of his entry level deal. He will also be an easy player to re-sign as a restricted free agent with a two-way deal allowing for added flexibility and depth on the blue line in coming seasons.
5. New York Rangers: 29 Points (13-12-3)
The Rangers have a five day break, the longest of the year outside of their bye week. The break comes at a good time for the Rangers, who have lost three straight games before getting some time off and some extra practice time. This also gives Pavel Buchnevich, Mats Zuccarello, Adam McQuaid and Vladislav Namestnikov time to come back from injuries. Buchnevich is the most likely to return Saturday, which is big for the Rangers who have struggled in his absence.
The Rangers’ record was 5-5-1 without Buchnevich and they have a 9-7-2 record with him in the lineup. Though he has struggled, only scoring five goals and four assists, he’s strong offensively and forces defensemen to play more responsibly. When you combine that with the loss of Namestnikov, who plays on the top line, and Zuccarello who has been their top scorer over the past few years, they need all the offense they can get.
6. Carolina Hurricanes: 28 Points (12-11-4)
The Canes are going with their red jerseys throughout the entire California road-trip. This is another fun and interesting thing that Tom Dundon wants to implement. He hates the white, away jerseys and doesn’t believe that they have any appeal, which I tend to agree with. In order to make this work the Canes had to petition each team to change their jersey preferences.
The fun game will be tonight when the Canes take on the Ducks who will be wearing their black jerseys, meaning that both teams will be wearing dark colors. I believe this is the first time that both teams will be wearing colors for a regular season game. However, no jerseys look appealing to fans when the team is playing poorly. The Canes have just four goals in their last five games, the worst of any team in this timespan.
Pierre LeBrun has reported that the Canes are “desperately trying to acquire a top-six forward” since they lost out on William Nylander. The Ducks are looking for a left-hand defenseman and could be a fit with the Canes as a trading partner. The Ducks are heavy on centers with Rickard Rakell and Adam Henrique as possibilities that could be available. The experienced Jakub Silfverberg would be another possible target at right wing. These three players are all under the age of 29 and have shown an ability to score. The rest of their top six players are just too old and wouldn’t fit into the Canes’ young team.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: 25 Points (11-12-3)
The Flyers have named Chuck Fletcher as their new General Manager and Rick Wilson as their new Assistant Coach. Fletcher served as the Minnesota Wild GM from May 2009 to April of 2018. He has also served as the assistant GM of the Penguins and the Panthers. Fletcher was part of the Panthers organization during the expansion years and was also part of the Wild rebuild. It seems weird to hire a GM with rebuild experience to head up a team that is not happy that they are still rebuilding. The Flyers are looking to get over the hump, not to continue the rebuild.
The move to Fletcher does seem kind of strange since the problem with the team doesn’t seem to be with the composition of the team. The issue has been on ice performance. If they were ready to part with their GM after a weak start, why would they give Ron Hextall an extra draft and offseason? He was able to continue with his plan to draft and signed a long-term high dollar deal with James van Riemsdyk. Why not give a new GM this time to implement the strategy?
8. New Jersey Devils: 25 Points (10-12-5)
Cory Schneider has not started a game since November 25th. In his last appearance, he came in relief for Keith Kincaid against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and still allowed a goal in just six shots faced. While most of the performance issue likely comes from off season hip surgery, this situation is very similar to the Scott Darling situation. Both goalies had rehab stints in the AHL at the beginning of the season, thus making it difficult to get into a rhythm and adjust to the speed early in the season.
Now the teams are fully relying on the other goaltenders and are only using them if they have no other choice. Schneider is signed through the 2021-2022 season at $6 million. That’s a ton of salary to potentially bury in the AHL, not to mention the risk of losing him for nothing on waivers. The issue for the Devils is that Schneider has a much higher ceiling than Darling, so they cannot be 100% confident that he would be able to clear waivers to get playing time at the AHL level.