1. Washington Capitals: 56 Points (26-12-4)
The Capitals would be in buy mode to try to go back-to-back, but what more can they really add? They are rotating their healthy scratches because no one truly deserves to be there. Currently Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd have been rotating in and out every game because both are playing well when they are in the lineup. The only player who is being scratched regularly is Dmitrij Jaskin who they claimed off of waivers before the season.
Jaskin is by far the odd man out, but Todd Rearden believes that he is improving every day and deserves more playing time, but what can the Caps do? They have only $13,000 in cap space so they are unlikely to be able to really add another high dollar player. This highlights Andre Burakovsky’s redundance; he is not needed in a top six role and there are cheaper bottom six options for the team. Moving him would allow the Caps to dump $3mil in salary and get a solid return as he is a pending RFA. A Burakovsky trade would also open up more time to the players down stream to get larger roles with the team and more time on ice.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 54 Points (24-13-6)
The Penguins have been dominant recently. They are 9-1-0 in their last 10 games and 14-4-1 since the start of December. The Penguins entered the final month of 2018 in second to last in the Metro before rocketing up to second place, just one point behind the Capitals for first. In their last 18 games, three separate players have scored at over a point per game pace: Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Phil Kessel. Just outside of this threshold, Jake Guentzel has 16 points and 10 goals in this same time span.
The crazy thing is that their defense hasn’t been stellar during this time span. They have allowed the third most shots since December began but have only let in the second-fewest goals in this time. Their .946 even strength save percentage is the highest in the league and when you combine that with their 9.6% shooting percentage, they are playing out of their minds. Their 104.2 PDO since December shows that this level play is likely not sustainable, and it’s probable that they will level off later in the season.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 51 Points (24-15-3)
Well...it looks like the Artemi Panarin saga is over. High-Bank Distillery, a Columbus-based institution, is offering him a lifetime supply of vodka if he re-signs.
Granted, I don’t know if it’s good vodka, but that is worth at least an additional million per year. I don’t see any Chicago, New York, or LA based distillery offering this same deal. Seems like they are going to need to step up their game.
In other news, it looks like the Canes did make the right move with Riley Nash. In 41 games this season, the forward has only registered one goal and three assists on just a 2.7% shooting percentage and a below average 48.57% corsi for. It actually looks more like the Bruins are incredible using Hurricanes re-treads like Nash and now Joakim Nordstrom, not that they are incredible players.
4. New York Islanders: 50 Points (23-14-4)
The Islanders came into Tuesday’s game against the Hurricanes on a six-game win streak that predated Christmas, thanks largely to contributions from their young players Devon Toews and Josh Ho-Sang. However, with Valtteri Filppula being activated off of IR, Ho-Sang was returned to the AHL. In his 10 game stint with the Islanders Ho-Sang had just two points, but was effective on the ice. Ho-Sang leads the Islanders in possession with a 58.88% corsi for, and 75% goals for.
Crazier yet, every player that has played on the ice with Ho-Sang has a better Corsi percentage than without him. He played the most time on a line with Brock Nelson and Anders Lee who both had 57% corsi for with him on the ice. When they play without him, those rates fall to just 42% and 47% respectively. The 13% average difference increases when you look at his second line. His second most used deployment was with Leo Komarov and Filppula who see a drop in their corsi for by an average of 17% when Ho-Sang is not on the ice. It is no surprise that when they sent him down they lost their first game without him.
5. Carolina Hurricanes: 45 Points (20-17-5)
The Hurricanes are 6-2-0 in their last eight games and currently have a five-game winning streak, their first since 2016. They are managing this while without one of their top players, Jordan Staal. During this five-game span Justin Williams has scored three goals and has five total points, mainly from his net-front presence. In 2019 he has been an impact player that is affecting the outcome of matches as much as he is leading from the locker room.
The defense has also been getting involved in the scoring sheet. Since the start of the year Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin have combined for five goals, including a goal and four assists on the power play. Hamilton has been playing as advertised when he first came to Carolina. It is obvious that he is a natural power play quarterback. When Justin Faulk is on the ice, they rely on him for shots from the point, whereas Hamilton has a better ability to find the open player with quick passes and get into high danger areas.
Greg McKegg gets his ABC11 closeup: pic.twitter.com/Q0TJ71WiFE— Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) January 9, 2019
The last piece of the Canes win streak is Greg McKegg. The forward came over from Pittsburgh win the Josh Jooris trade and re-signed with the Canes in this past offseason. In the 2017-2018 season McKegg played 26 games before getting traded. He has proven to be a valuable bottom six player, as he drives to get the puck and gives the Canes toughness and more physical presence in front of the net. In his three games with the Canes he has two goals and two assists and is making a strong case to stay with the team after Jordan Staal returns.
6. New York Rangers: 41 Points (17-18-7)
The Rangers are starting to play like everyone expected them to, but the good news is that the sell-off at the deadline will come as a much easier pill to swallow. The Rangers have now lost four straight games and have only four wins since the start of December. In their last four games they have been outscored 22-5, which is what happens when you have the league worst .899 even strength save percentage combined with a second-worst 71.7% penalty kill since December.
The Rangers issues don’t end there. Yhey have been struggling offensively with the fewest shots and the third-fewest goals in the league in this same time span. In their last 16 games only two players have five or more even strength goals: Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast, who missed two weeks in December. Now the Rangers are without their top scorer, Kevin Hayes, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. The Rangers have the fewest ROW in the league and will slowly continue to fall in the standings until they get to the bottom.
7. New Jersey Devils: 39 Points (16-19-7)
The Devils will obviously be sellers at the deadline, but the main issue will be who to sell. They have six unrestricted free agents, only three of whom are under the age of 30 and could bring significant return: Egor Yakovlev, Marcus Johansson, and Keith Kinkaid. There normally isn’t a large market for goalies at the deadline, and the last two times a team has traded for a goalie it’s been due to injury: Ben Bishop going to the Kings in 2017 and Petr Mrazek to the Flyers in 2018. The other issue is that most teams making a playoff push are in that position due to goaltending.
This leaves only Yakolev and Joahnsson under 30, but Johansson is the only player that could bring significant return. Johansson has struggled with injuries the past two seasons only playing a combined 60 games with 11 goals and 29 total points. However, he does have top six still and has produced 40 or more points in five of his nine seasons. Drew Stafford, Brian Boyle, and Ben Lovejoy are 34, 33, and 34 respectively and are far less likely to return any legitimate value for the future. The Devils have a LONG rebuild ahead.
8. Philadelphia Flyers: 36 Points (15-22-6)
The Flyers are a ship without a captain…and crew…and wind…and a current. They still don’t have a long-term coach in place and they have now tied an NHL record by starting their seventh goalie — and it’s only midway through the season. On Tuesday the Flyers started Mike McKenna, who was claimed off of waivers from the Vancouver Canucks. The Flyers are now using a combination of McKenna and rookie Carter Hart as they lost Calvin Pickard on waivers and lost Brian Elliott, Anthony Stolarz, and Michal Neuvirth to injuries.
They have to ask themselves now if they really want to have Carter Hart, their hopeful savior, stay around this team. Goalie development is tough, and when you keep him around to get shelled on a bad team without much leadership, is it good for him long term? Since winning his first two games he has now lost five straight, with a .895 save percentage. The Flyers would be better off letting him succeed in the AHL for the next season or two and let him come in when the team is ready to compete again.