1. Carolina Hurricanes: 56 Points (25-7-6)
The Carolina Hurricanes' goaltending is getting some recognition around the league. Pyotr Kochetkov won Rookie of the Month for December and Antti Raanta won the Third Star of the Week last week. The two netminders combined for four shutouts over the Hurricanes’ winning streak.
Another piece that has been incredibly important for the Canes this year has been Martin Necas. Necas scored his 17th goal of the season last night which sets a new career high for goals just 38 games into the season. This beats out his rookie season in 2019-2020 when he scored 16 goals in 64 games played.
Koochie is a genius for this pic.twitter.com/Y9gJTelKOO— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) January 4, 2023
With Necas’s high-level performance, it's easy to forget the discourse around the forward this offseason. He was coming off a season where he regressed from the prior season. He scored 40 points in 78 games, one fewer than the previous season where he scored 41 points in just 53 games. In the 2021-22 season, he was often demoted to the fourth line. This led to a lot of speculation that he could be dealt in the offseason, or that he would be unwilling to re-sign with the Canes.
He eventually signed a two-year contract with a $3 million cap hit. When the current contract expires he will still be an RFA under team control. The previous two seasons and the impact of COVID restrictions on players were felt both on and off the ice and were specifically tougher on younger players who didn’t have families for extra support. It is great seeing him back on the ice having a great time and thriving both offensively and defensively.
2. New Jersey Devils: 49 Points (23-11-3)
Ever since December 6th, the New Jersey Devils have only won two games. In that time frame, they have a 2-7-2 record. The only team with a worse record in that time frame is the Montreal Canadiens. When drilling down into the Devils' results, their weakest results have come against the Metropolitan Division where they have a 6-5-2 record. In comparison, the Canes have a 10-2-0 record against the Metro. The Devils were able to thrive early from a schedule that focused heavily on home games against Western Conference teams.
It shouldn’t shock Canes fans to know that a player flying under the radar has been defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton ranks sixth among defensemen in points and goals with 31 and eight respectively. He has points in his last two games including an assist against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday. He has already surpassed his point total from last year of 30 and is on pace to have the most productive year of his career.
3. New York Rangers: 48 Points (21-12-6)
The player that stood out the most in the New York Rangers game against the Carolina Hurricanes last night was K’Andre Miller. Miller has been constantly progressing in the right direction, but his ability to play big minutes last night and find the scoresheet ultimately led to the Rangers' win. He recorded a goal and an assist to bring his season total to three goals and 17 assists. He ranks second on the Rangers in scoring for defensemen all on his entry-level contract.
MILLER!!!! THE RANGERS HAVE THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/J2mVKJjGjR— Rangers on MSG (@RangersMSGN) January 4, 2023
Miller’s currently paired up with Jacob Trouba which has hurt his possession numbers. He overall still has better possession numbers and production than Trouba who is making over $7 million more than Miller. Miller could easily be considered the Rangers' top shutdown defenseman which is why they use him with their biggest liability. The Rangers still have plenty of years of team control as he will be a restricted free agent without arbitration rights at the end of the season.
4. Washington Capitals: 48 Points (21-13-6)
The Washington Capitals received a bit of a boost last night with the return of T.J. Oshie. Oshie had only played in five games before last night. After recovering from an injury to return on December 9th, he only played through December 17th before he was re-injured. Oshie failed to find the scoresheet in his first game back but did log 15:55 of ice time which included a minute on the powerplay. It is good to see that the Caps do not need to ease him back in the lineup and he can slot right back in.
Even when the Capitals are fully healthy, one player who will not be sent down is Sonny Milano. The Caps took a bit of a chance on Milano signing him to a one-way contract worth $750k that was unable to be buried in the minors. In 27 games he has scored six goals and has 18 total points. Two of those goals have been game-winning goals. He has done this while joining the team mid-season without any kind of training camp.
5. New York Islanders: 46 Points (22-15-2)
Matthew Barzal scored his 100th career goal on Sunday in a 4-1 loss to the Seattle Kraken. The game was also Barzal’s 400th NHL game. He now ranks 12th among the 2015 draft class which is headlined by Connor McDavid and his 274 goals. He is also the second Islander to hit that milestone from the 2015 draft class, Anthony Beauvillier scored his 100th goal on December 23rd against the Florida Panthers.
Local kid gets on the scoresheet and the pic.twitter.com/8gZrbFAbwT— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) January 4, 2023
The Isles had entered Tuesday tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins with 44 points, but sitting outside of a playoff position due to tiebreakers. The Isles have been an inconsistent 4-4-2 in the 10 games leading up to their showdown against the Vancouver Canucks. In this timespan, they have gone just 1-30 in their powerplay attempts. Over the full season, their power play ranks just 27th with an 18.4% success rate. The lack of success on the power play has made it hard to overcome weaknesses in other areas of their game.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins: 44 Points (19-12-6)
The Pittsburgh Penguins are now 0-3-2 in their last five games. Their long-term outlook looks a little better as they are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. The Penguins' most recent loss came on an international stage at the Winter Classic, a 2-1 loss against the Boston Bruins. Penguins starting goaltender Tristan Jarry left the game in the first period with some discomfort and was replaced by Casey DeSmith. There has been no word on the long-term effects of Jarry’s injury.
The Penguins were also without defenseman Kris Letang at the Winter Classic. Letang left the team earlier in the week after the unfortunate news of the passing of his father. Letang will be out indefinitely while he returns home to his family. The Penguins organization will be supporting him and his family with everything they need in their tough times.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: 35 Points (14-17-7)
Philadelphia Flyers goaltender, Carter Hart, has yet to return to play after being injured in the game against the Carolina Hurricanes. During the second period of the game on December 23rd, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen cross-checked Seth Jarvis into Hart. He left the game after playing less than 10:00 after coming in in a relief effort. But in a completely counterintuitive manner, the Flyers have gone 3-0-0 since losing their top goaltender.
The kids can play.— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 3, 2023
Seven points recorded on the stat sheet last night in Anaheim were credited to Flyers who are 25-years-old or younger.
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As the season has moved on, the calls for a Flyers rebuild have gotten louder and more legitimate. There is a feeling now that it could be a legitimate move for the Flyers ownership to consider who for the longest time refused the idea. In recent weeks there is now the thought that center Kevin Hayes could be bought out at the end of the season. The centerman has had spats with head coach John Tortorella and as crazy as the move sounds, it has gained traction. Even Elliotte Friedman discussed the possibility on the 32 Thoughts podcast. This is still while Hayes leads the Flyers in scoring.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets: 24 Points (11-23-2)
The Columbus Blue Jackets were able to snap their seven-game losing streak against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. Since that game, they have finally seen some good news on the injury front. Patrik Laine re-joined the team on Monday after a run-in with COVID and played last night against the Senators. This is the third time that he has missed time this season. Defenseman Nick Blankenburg wasn’t in the lineup Tuesday, but has traveled with the team and is expected to return later in the week. They play the Washington Capitals on Thursday and the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, either could see his return.
Blankenberg will return with Adam Boqvist who returned just before the Christmas break. This would mark the first time in over a month that the Blue Jackets would have four of the defensemen in the lineup that they started the season with. The Blue Jackets still have six players on injured reserve.