1. New York Islanders: 63 Points (29-15-5)
The Islanders enter the all-star break on a six-game point streak, having won eight of their last 11 games. This has led to a pretty fun scenario where the Isles have more points than the Leafs heading into the break, allowing for the always polite Long Island fanbase to take shots at John Tavares. Last weekend the Islanders had two straight 19-shot shutouts against the Caps and the Ducks. The Isles are being powered by their .942 even strength save percentage.
The Islanders have made a remarkable 180 and have gone from one of the worst defensive teams in the league to one of the best. Last season they allowed a league-worst 293 goals, equating to 3.57 goals against per game. This season, though, they are the league’s best, giving up just 112 goals or around 2.5 per game. They have shaved off an entire goal against each game under Trotz, which is a huge reason why they are in first place in the Metro heading into the break.
2. Washington Capitals: 60 Points (27-17-6)
The Caps have not only lost their last seven games, they have also given up 21 goals in their last three. They have now given up six or more goals in three of their last four games, hitting bottom in that fourth game when they were shut out. This has seen the Caps go from first place in the Metro to two points away from the bottom wild card position. To make things worse, the Caps will be opening up after the break against the Flames, a playoff team in the West, but at least it will be at home.
The team is looking for home runs and playing overly aggressive which is leading to way too many chances for the other team. This will be a huge test for first time head coach Todd Reirden. A lot of teams can struggle with this, but it’s even harder when you have a team this full of veterans listening to a rookie head coach.
The Caps must completely revamp the way that they are playing hockey and thinking about the game. They cannot continue to play defense as poorly as they have been, because they will not be able to win until they do.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 59 Points (28-17-3)
The Blue Jackets penalty kill is one of the best in the league, at an 82.9% success rate. However, their power play is as bad as the penalty kill is good. At just 14.6% they are sitting in 28th place in the league. Their struggles with the man advantage prompted the Blue Jackets to hire Martin St. Louis to help the team in this area. St. Louis was a great two-way player who was able to play on top power play and penalty kill units and will bring a great perspective to a team that is struggling to put it together.
This also comes at a good time as the Blue Jackets have fallen into a slump heading into the break with back-to-back losses. This will give the coaching staff plenty of time to draw up new special teams strategies. When they return, they can test out their new strategies with some good opportunities. They play the Sabres, Jets, Blues, and Avalanche in their first four games. Those teams rank 9th, 12th, 19th, and 26th respectively on the penalty kill which should help them get their confidence back.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 58 Points (26-16-6)
Matt Murray made headlines in the Penguins game against the Arizona Coyotes. When he was run into by Jakob Chychrun and no penalty was called he voiced his displeasure with the no call to Tim Peel, which led to a penalty which ended up costing them a goal against in a game that ended up going to overtime. I like this move — I don’t think goalies and the crease are protected enough by the refs. When you also consider all of Matt Murray’s concussions and injury issues, this is an important issue for him, if this caused another concussion his whole season would be in jeopardy, if not more.
Happy #PenguinAwarenessDay, to the best Penguins fans we know!— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 20, 2019
Show off your penguin knowledge and you could win two club tickets and a pair of tickets to the @National_Aviary.
Let's see what you've got: https://t.co/eOyPFfCK5k pic.twitter.com/A7PIoE3NTF
I would also think that, much like quarterbacks are in the NFL, goalies have the largest impact on a game and touch the puck more than anyone else on the ice. When you take that into consideration with the fact that the NHL wants to reduce goalie padding, there is a lot for goalies to complain about. I would also think the NHL would want to protect them, so they don’t run into issues that Pittsburgh and Montreal have had with hurt goalies hurting the team in the long run in the standings.
5. Carolina Hurricanes: 54 Points (24-20-6)
The Canes end the Western Canada road trip with five out of six possible points and now sit just four points out of the playoffs heading into the all-star break and bye week. The Canes played this road trip mainly with 11 forwards and seven defensemen but that didn’t stop them from scoring. The biggest contributor is also a new face in town: Nino Niederreiter.
The new winger has four goals in four games with two two-goal games. Niederreiter has been playing on a line with Sebastian Aho, and that line is playing incredibly well. Niederreiter wins a ton of battles along the boards and behind the net, but still has the ability to finish or find players in better position. He has come in and made Micheal Ferland a redundancy, allowing the Canes to trade him for more pieces.
When your parents get to watch your first NHL victory in person pic.twitter.com/mANxEmf7L6— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) January 24, 2019
Alex Nedelkjovic won his first NHL start last night stopping 24 of 26 shots that he faced. This is the first time he has seen any NHL action since the 2016-2017 season, when he had one relief appearance in which he stopped all 17 shots that he faced. Nedeljkovic is a smaller goalie, listed at 6’0” but does look much smaller than what he is listed. As an undersized goalie he has to rely on movement to shut down angles which leads to a more frantic look and feel, but also more excitement.
6. New York Rangers: 49 Points (21-20-7)
There is a lot of disbelief around Ryan Spooner being put on waivers by the Edmonton Oilers after they traded Ryan Strome for him one for one. With everyone criticizing the Oilers’ move, it’s worthwhile to look to see just how well Strome has worked for the Rangers.
It was big for the Rangers to bring a center back in the deal. Strome has been able to fill in for Kevin Hayes who has been out for the last five games with an upper-body injury. He has thirteen points on the year, but 11 of them have come in the 29 games that he has played with the Rangers, which includes six goals and five assists.
The Rangers are also looking to move a center at the deadline, and Strome allows them to do that without taking a large step back. He is under contract through next year at just $3.1 million. Strome’s presence allows them to move Kevin Hayes, while getting younger and saving money. Even if he doesn’t want to stay with the Rangers long term, it still gives them another piece to move next year in the rebuild that certainly has more value than Spooner.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: 44 Points (19-23-6)
The Flyers are currently in their bye week and now would be a great time to hire a new coach. Since Dave Hakstol was fired on 12/17, Scott Gordon came up from the AHL to coach on an interim basis. However, since Gordon got to Philly not much has changed. While they did enter the break on a three-game win streak, his tenure also features an eight-game losing streak. The Flyers’ special teams are still terrible, with a combined rank of 58 out of 62.
Here's Wayne Train-ing a couple of good boys. pic.twitter.com/tbhtMmlWPP— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 23, 2019
A second mid-season coaching change would be an aggressive move, since the new coach would not have a lot of time to implement a new system. But, they need to get a long-term solution in place, or a system that the younger players can build around. It’s also not like the Flyers are trying to win now; for purposes of a rebuild, if they tank the rest of the season with a new coach (a la the Colorado Avalanche last season with Jared Bednar) it could set them up for success down the road.
8. New Jersey Devils: 43 Points (18-23-7)
The Devils will limp into the break on a three-game losing streak. After taking an electric 8-5 win against the Blackhawks, the Devils struggled to keep it going. One interesting story to keep track of is Cory Schneider’s road to return from injury. In his first rehab start in the AHL, Schneider allowed two goals in the first period in an eventual 2-1 loss to Syracuse. In his second start last night against Rochester, he let up six total goals on 27 total shots.
These have been less than ideal starts for Schneider, but he needs these starts to gain confidence and conditioning. He has been out since 12/15 with an abdominal strain and hasn’t been able to workout while recovering from this injury. He is likely to play one more game this Saturday before the Devils start up again next Monday. Hopefully he can find his game before then, so he can return to the NHL with some confidence.