1. Washington Capitals: 49 Points (22-5-5)
Nicklas Backstrom returned to the Capitals lineup on Monday, marking the first time the Caps rostered their full line up this season. Backstrom missed eight games with an upper-body injury. In that span the team went 6-2-0 with six straight wins. However, Backstrom’s return did not go as planned as the Caps lost 5-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Caps looked out of sorts in the game with a newly shuffled lineup, but should be looked at as nothing more than going through their growing pains with their full lineup.
Drum roll please….— Washington ☃️ Capitals (@Capitals) December 10, 2019
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One fun thing with the Caps is how quickly their fans have come around on Jakub Vrana. Ever since his post Stanley Cup tattoo trip with Braden Holtby he has been popular with the fans. But this season his jersey sales have gone up to second in the team, behind only Alex Ovechkin. I think it was realistic to think he would sell, but pretty interesting that he is already ahead of fan favorites Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie. He does have 15 goals and 12 assists for 27 points in just 32 games played this season, so that production will raise your profile - and your popularity - quickly.
2. New York Islanders: 42 Points (20-7-2)
Noah Dobson, the 2018 12th overall pick, has been kept on the Islanders’ NHL roster all season. He cannot play in the AHL this season due to age restriction and has played eight NHL games this season. He has two more games before the Islanders must decide whether or not to burn the first year of his contract or send him back to juniors. With Nick Leddy out with a lower-body injury on Saturday, the obvious backup plan means more time for Dobson. However, his time on ice was reduced from 13:34 to 8:14 in Leddy’s absence during their game against Tampa Bay on Monday.
The Tampa Bay Lightning pic.twitter.com/CvRxs4ehwb— Nathan "Grav" (@NathanGraviteh) December 10, 2019
This was the lowest total for the rookie this season, who has just two points and four shots. This was also his first game since November 27th and only his fifth game since October 25th. It seems odd to keep him up since he hasn’t had a large role on the team yet and is missing playing time in the CHL. The Islanders may think that another year in juniors won’t help, but it seems questionable to think that keeping him in the NHL and only playing a game every two weeks helps him more.
3. Philadelphia Flyers: 39 Points (17-8-5)
The Flyers lost their leading goal- and point-scorer, Travis Konecny, indefinitely to a concussion on Saturday. Through the team’s first 30 games Konecny has registered 28 points and 11 goals, which is tied with Oskar Lindblom. He plays significant time at even strength and on the first power play unit. The hit by Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki was not penalized for the play. This marked the 9th concussion over a 14 day span in the NHL.
By my count, looks like 9 concussions in 14 days in the NHL. Only one suspension, one or two fines and almost no penalties. League and officials refuse to acknowledge a problem— NHL Player Safety Mod (@NHLSafetyMod) December 9, 2019
The Flyers also lost Philippe Myers to an injury in practice on Monday. While this doesn’t seem to be a huge loss, he has been flying under the radar and has the best rating on the team with a plus-14. He is ruled out for Wednesday’s game with back spasms but will join the Flyers on their three game road trip that runs through Sunday. The Flyers have not made a callup and will go with Robert Hagg on defense, which means the injury doesn’t seem to be a long term issue.
4. Carolina Hurricanes: 39 Points (19-11-1)
The Hurricanes started their Western Canada road trip with a 5-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers last night. The team looked great in all three phases with three power play goals, and killing a 5-on-3 and multiple penalty kills. The second unit of the power play scored two goals and both Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Dzingel scored goals, both of which have been struggling as of late. It was great to see the Canes battle through adversity to win their third game in a row.
Teuvo Teravainen leads all NHL skaters with a 62.00 CF% this season (among players with 150+ min 5v5 TOI). He is 4th in the NHL with 18 primary assists. The only NHL players with more primary assists this season are Leon Draisaitl (24), Connor McDavid (20), and John Carlson (20).— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) December 9, 2019
Sebastian Aho has been playing incredible as of late with seven points in the last two games including five goals. We see this every year with Aho: when he gets going he is impossible to stop. Let’s hope that he keeps this up for the foreseeable future. He now has 18 goals this season, which ties him with Auston Matthews for seventh in the league, and now has gone over 100 career goals.
Dougie Hamilton scored a goal from the red line last night that now brings him to 11 goals which ties him with John Carlson for the league lead for defensemen. His two points in last night’s game bring him up to 30 which is good for second in the league only behind Carlson’s insane 43. He and Carlson are the only two defensemen scoring at over a point per game pace this season.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 38 Points (17-10-4)
On Monday Tristan Jarry was named the NHL’s second star of the week. Jarry had two straight shutouts to end last week, and his scoreless first period in last night’s game extended his streak to a franchise record 177:15 which beat the previous record of 173:06 set by Tomas Vokoun in 2013. The streak came to an end, though, and things went downhill as he let up three goals in two periods in a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. He finished the game with a .880 save percentage.
One interesting piece in the Penguins lineup is that forward Alex Galchenyuk, who was acquired in the Phil Kessel trade, is playing on the fourth line. While he was injured early in the season, he has had a very uninspiring start to this season. He has just two goals and eight assists in 22 games, and a rough shooting percentage of just 4.8%. Now the Penguins will have to make a decision on what they want to do with Galchenyuk’s $4.9 million cap hit for the rest of the season. He is a UFA at the end of the season, and with his current play he is playing himself out of a contract in Pittsburgh and likely needs a fresh start.
6. New York Rangers: 33 Points (15-12-3)
One player to keep an eye on in the Rangers farm system is Vitali Kravtsov. The young Russian is known as a scoring phenom, and almost made the team out of camp. Last month Kravtsov requested to be loaned back home to the KHL rather than continue playing with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. The Rangers obliged, and he returned to the KHL to a team that is in last place, but scored only two goals and one assist in 11 appearances. He was then dissatisfied with playing there and with only one shift in two games, he was sent to the Russian second division, the VHL, where he has now played three games and posted only two points.
He has expressed interest now in returning back to North America, where he can be recalled due to only being loaned to the KHL. GM Jeff Gorton has a very interesting decision to make with his skilled prospect. For the past year Kravtsov has had the reputation of being entitled, but how will he continue the player’s growth and turn it into motivation? Gorton has to get him out of the VHL, which has been described as “playing on the moon” by players who spent time in that league, but will he be happy being away from home back in the AHL, or will he only be content in the NHL? It’s a situation that will be very tough to navigate.
7. Columbus Blue Jackets: 28 Points (12-14-4)
The Blue Jackets ended two streaks on Monday when they beat the Capitals 5-3. They ended their own four game losing streak and the Caps’ six game winning streak while also tying their best offensive night of the season with five goals. This game really highlighted just how inconsistent the Blue Jackets have been this season. They dominated the Caps game with Cam Atkinson scoring his sixth and seventh goals on the season. His seven goals are just behind Pierre-Luc Dubois’ team-leading ten. This has been the issue with the Jackets this season: they don’t have any one person that can change the game and take over on a consistent basis. Like the Hurricanes in years past, they have to fight for every goal.
When that’s the case, if the goalie isn’t locked in, they aren’t getting a win. This is exactly what happened on Monday when Joonas Korpisalo registered a .949 save percentage. Since the start of November they have been 6-3-1 in games where their goaltenders let up two or fewer goals. In games where their goalies have given up three or more, they are just 1-6-0. They have lost four games where their goaltenders have let up just two goals. That is asking too much of the goaltenders, specifically backup Elvis Merzlikins who is in his first NHL season and has yet to win a game in eight games played.
8. New Jersey Devils: 23 Points (9-16-5)
Normally when a team fires a coach, they hope for a bump in performance and that the team is fired up after knowing that their poor play lead to their coach losing his job. That has not been the case for the Devils, who now just have one point since John Hynes was fired on December 12th. They picked up their lone point in a shootout loss to the Blackhawks but have lost by a combined score of 12-7 in their three other games since the change behind the bench.
Now word is coming out that the Devils are likely to make a move with Taylor Hall as soon as possible to maximize their return. Getting Hall for more than a half of a season will mean more to an acquiring team than getting him for just the last handful of games and the playoffs. The deal could also be full of conditions, based on the acquiring team being able to re-sign him, similar to the Erik Karlsson trade that included four conditions and one specifically around if he re-signed with the Sharks. The Devils could receive a king’s ransom by trading Hall early and having a team re-sign him.