1. Carolina Hurricanes: 46 Points (20-6-6)
The Carolina Hurricanes have improved their point streak to 12 games and Pytor Kochetkov’s personal point streak of 10 games matched a franchise record for goaltenders set previously by Cam Ward.
The Canes have now won six straight games without their best player Sebastian Aho and that’s no small feat for a team that historically has lacked depth scoring.
Since the Hurricanes lost Aho on December 6th, they have had 10 different goal scorers, with seven of those players being multi-goal scorers.
Through that time Stefan Noesen has led the team in goals with three. It was also great to see Teuvo Teravainen get his second goal of the season, and second goal in three games. The Canes are always a better team when he is willing to shoot the puck. He has a great release and has the ability to pick a corner, and provides that vital scoring depth that the team has been looking for.
But back to Kochetkov. His first game this season came on November 10th and since then, Kochetkov has a .923 save percentage and a 2.01 GAA which rank sixth and second respectively for goalies who have played 10 or more games. Kochetkov was also the first Hurricanes goalie to earn back-to-back shutouts since Kevin Weekes in 2003. He was just under 5 minutes away from getting his third shutout in five games last night. He does not look like he will be slowing down anytime soon and is going to make the coaching staff and front office make some really tough decisions.
2. New Jersey Devils: 44 Points (21-9-2)
After losing two straight to open the season, the New Jersey Devils hadn’t lost two straight until last Monday. They had a 13-1-0 record in the month of November and looked to be in the driver’s seat of the Metropolitan Division. However, in December the Devils are just 2-5-2 which has seen them lose their stranglehold on the division.
On December 9, the #Canes trailed the New Jersey Devils by nine points in the Metropolitan Division standings.— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) December 21, 2022
11 days later they're now in sole possession of first.
The Devils goaltending has really struggled since the start of December. We saw it first-hand last night with four goals on 16 shots between both goaltenders. Both Vitek Vanacek and Mackenzie Blackwood rank 55th and 67th respectively in save percentage for the month of December.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 42 Points (19-9-4)
The Pittsburgh Penguins were handed their only loss of December by the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday, but they were able to bounce back against the New York Rangers last night in a 3-2 win to claim third place in the standings.
The Penguins were happy to have Jason Zucker back in the lineup last night as he recorded an assist in his first game back after missing two straight. The Penguins have now won eight of their last nine.
IT'S A NINE-GAME POINT STREAK FOR EVGENI MALKIN! pic.twitter.com/NveviXn9uA— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 21, 2022
In two weeks the Penguins will be taking on the Boston Bruins at Fenway Park for the 2023 Winter Classic. This will be the sixth outdoor game that the Penguins have played in and the third Winter Classic the Bruins have hosted. However, there is no rest for the weary, the Pens will have four more games between now and the Winter Classic. The Penguins will take on the Canes for the second time in three games tomorrow.
4. New York Rangers: 41 Points (18-11-5)
After a week of fans complaining, the New York Rangers have reunited the kid line. Previously, Gerrard Gallant had Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, and Kaapo Kakko split amongst the top six. However, in their last game against the Chicago Blackhawks, they were reunited as the second line. Despite being hit up high and late in the game against the Blackhawks, Chytil was able to play last night against the Penguins.
Kreids, H/T Nonna Troch (+ Vince) pic.twitter.com/Wdb72HOlN6— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) December 21, 2022
After 10 days out of the lineup, winger Vitali Kravtsov re-joined the Rangers on the fourth line on Thursday. He scored his second goal of the season on Sunday. Both of his goals have come in the month of December despite only playing in seven games this month. He was slotted in over Julien Gauthier. Gauthier had a strong start to the season to earn a permanent place in the lineup but with only one assist in his last nine games, the Rangers opted to see what they have in Kravtsov.
5. New York Islanders: 38 Points (18-13-2)
New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin has a record of 0-5-1 in his last six games and has not won a game since November 25th. Sorokin has had a mix of underwhelming performances and bad luck. In three of his last four starts he failed to register a save percentage over .900. Since the start of November, both Sorokin and backup Semyon Varlamov have identical .923 save percentages. However Sorokin has a 7-7-1 record while Varlamov has a 6-2-1 record in that timespan.
NHL Video Highlight - Clayton Keller scores against the New York Islanders to make it 5-3. pic.twitter.com/PVZKNrHzs4— Coyotes Game Bot (@CoyotesGameBot) December 17, 2022
On Monday Sorokin had a great performance but fell victim to the bad luck side. He stopped all 47 shots he faced but earned a shootout loss. With Varlamov listed as day-to-day, Sorokin will have plenty of opportunities to break his winless streak. A .926 save percentage should be good enough to win games but the Islanders have fallen back in the standings to fifth. They do not have the offense to score four goals if they need to. They rank 16th in goals for per game (3.15), 18th in shots for per game (31.1), and their powerplay ranks 21st (20.4%).
6. Washington Capitals: 38 Points (17-13-4)
After months of speculation, Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom looks closer to returning than previously thought after he started practicing with the team in a full-contact jersey. The center only played a half of last season due to a lingering hip injury and at the time he had declined to have surgery but admitted later he was playing through pain. This offseason he opted to have the surgery to fix his hip which comes with a lengthy recovery time. While he may not be completely ready to take to the ice, it is a huge step forward that he is able to take some contact in practice and gives everyone on the ice a lift.
Ovechkin celebrating Gustafsson's first career hat trick pic.twitter.com/GpuhZHDrHK— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) December 18, 2022
Alex Ovechkin has been hitting new milestones, being only the third player to hit the 800 goal mark last week off of a hat-trick against the Chicago Blackhawks. Just two games later against the Toronto Maple Leafs a much more surprising hat-trick occurred. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson scored his first three goals this season in a 5-2 win against the Leafs. Those three goals also equal 23% of his total points this season and 8.6% of his career goals total at that point. He followed that up by scoring another goal last night against the Red Wings to take his goal total up to four.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: 29 Points (11-15-7)
The John Tortorella vengeance tour made another stop at Kevin Hayes. Hayes is the Philadelphia Flyers leading scorer with 29 points in 31 games, but was routinely been benched for entire periods and most recently was healthy scratched. When asked about the benching Tortorella said “I’ve got to look at the big picture of what this team is going to be, what the standard is, of how we have to play. That far outweighs losing some offense in a particular game.”
Don’t think John Tortorella liked this play from Kevin Hayes at the end of the second period pic.twitter.com/UdYRa7aMJy— Travis Ballinghoff (@travieballin26) December 16, 2022
The Flyers are also losing forward Lukas Sedlak. Sedlak asked to have his contract terminated so he could play back in Czechia closer to his family. Sedlak had three goals and five assists for the Flyers and had previously been with Torts in Columbus for three years. This is also not the first time that he has asked to be released, he did the same in Columbus. This season he was claimed off of waivers from the Colorado Avalanche.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets: 22 Points (10-20-2)
This may sound shocking, but the Columbus Blue Jackets have another addition to their IR list. This time captain Boone Jenner has been placed on IR with a broken thumb that required surgery. He is expected to miss the next four weeks. Jenner has 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 total points, he leads the team in goals and ranks second in total points. Center Josh Dunne has been recalled in his place. Dunne has five goals and six assists in 24 games with the Cleveland Lock Monsters.
On some brighter news for the Jackets, Johnny Gaudreau matched a franchise record for most points in a players first 30 games with the team. He matched Andrew Cassels who scored 33 points back in the 2002-2003 season. This is seven more points than Artemi Panarin managed to get. Gaudreau has been a consistent performer even while his linemates have been in and out of the lineup — Patrik Laine has missed two stints due to injury and now Boone Jenner is out for the next month.