The big story this week in the NHL was Sidney Crosby for the Pittsburgh Penguins being sidelined for approximately 6 weeks after undergoing core muscle surgery. The Penguins are tied for 7th in the Eastern Conference with 22 points so it will be interesting to see how they survive without Crosby. Injuries have been an early story line with the Penguins as both Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin missed some time in the early season and have only played 7 games. The Penguins are tied for 11th in goals scored but the main reason they are winning games this year is their defense is tied for 5th in goals allowed as they have gotten solid goaltending from Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry who have combined for a 2.61 GAA and .910 save percentage. In an ultra-competitive Eastern Conference the goal for the Penguins would be to try to stay at least within shouting distance of the playoffs once Crosby comes back around Christmas time.
The hottest team in the Eastern Conference has been the New York Islanders who have won their last 12 of 13 and now have the 2nd most points in the conference only trailing the Washington Capitals with 32 points but having played 3 more games than the Islanders. The same formula that worked last year in giving up the least amount of goals continues into this season as the Islanders lead that category again with only giving up 39 goals on the year. The gamble of not resigning goaltender Robin Lehner in the off season has paid off handsomely as both Thomas Greiss & Semyon Varlamov have combined for 2.29 GAA and .928 save percentage. And what is most amazing is that it could easily be a 13 game winning streak since they had a 3-0 lead against the Penguins entering the 3rd period but blew the lead and lost 4-3 in OT on November 7th.
If the playoffs started today the Tampa Bay Lightning would be on the outside looking in. What is the reason for the slow start? After leading the league in goals last year they are only tied for 20th in goals with 51. Through 15 games Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point have only combined for 14 goals. Last year's Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy is off to a little bit of a rocky start with a 3.01 GAA and .905 save percentage and back up goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who was outstanding as a back up last year for the Carolina Hurricanes, has struggled with a 3.76 GAA and .906 save percentage. I'm expecting the Lighting to eventually take off as they swept a two game series against the Buffalo Sabres in Sweden and have also played the least number of games in the league.
Most pundits weren't sure if the Montreal Canadiens overachieved last season just missing out on the playoffs but it looks like the Habs will be in the mix again this season for a playoff spot as they have won their last 7 of 9. Jonathan Drouin (7 goals, 8 assists), Brendan Gallagher (8 goals, 6 assists) and Thomas Tatar (6 goals, 9 assists) are off to solid starts offensively and defenseman Shea Weber is back in all star form tied for 9th in scoring for defensemen with 14 points including 5 goals. Goaltender Carey Price with an already early heavy workload is off to a good start with a 2.65 GAA and .916 save percentage. The Habs have to hope they can keep Weber and Price healthy the entire regular season since they don't have a ton of depth on the blue line and Price's backup Keith Kinkaid has been a disaster with a 4.35 GAA and .879 save percentage in 3 games.
Let's give the Ottawa Senators a lot of credit after a tough start losing their first 7 out of 8 games but bouncing back to win their last 4 of 6 games. They were unanimously projected to be the worst team in the NHL but have proven to be a competitive team night in and night out and the future should be bright with such a young roster. They are a still a major long shot for the playoffs this year but the Sens have a nice young core to build around with Brady Tkachuk, Anthony Duclair, Connor Brown, Thomas Chabot, Erik Brannstrom, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. If they can develop one of their young goaltending prospects in Filip Gustavsson or 6'7 Mads Sogaard this will be a contending team in the future.