This past week in the NHL was quite confusing, because some of the top teams in the league weren’t playing like they should be. Also, a top star in the league will spend significant time on injured reserve. The division races are all tightening up, in this week’s Week in Review.

Metropolitan Division

As of this morning, we have a new leader atop the Metropolitan. The Washington Capitals, winners of 3 straight and 7 of their last 10 games, have overtaken the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins (1-2-0 last week, including 2 divisional losses). Strong play by Alexander Ovechkin and crew have finally payed off, becoming the team to beat in the Metro. Meanwhile, the Penguins have started to slide, losing key matchups to division rivals New Jersey and Philadelphia, and have fallen to 1 point behind the surging Caps. The New York Rangers (1-2-0 this week) and the Carolina Hurricanes (2-1-0) are now tied for third, and for now the last playoff spot, despite minor struggles. The Rangers have reverted back to their scoring struggles, scoring 3 goals in their last 3 games, and the Canes who have been without goalie Cam Ward, who may return soon from another injury. Meanwhile, New Jersey is within striking range of those teams, winning key games against the Rangers and Penguins, flanking a tough luck loss to the Kings in a 2012 Cup Finals rematch. The NY Islanders are also 1 point back of the playoff spot, who also won 2 of 3 this week. Columbus got points in every game they played this week, but only won one game, and continue to drop in the standings, now fluctuating between 7th and 8th with the Flyers, who are starting to get things moving, getting 5 points out of 6 possible. The Metro is becoming increasingly convoluted as we continue into the season, and it won’t sort itself out easily until the end of the season.

Atlantic Division

The Tampa Bay Lightning went 2-1-1 this week, but took a massive loss when Steven Stamkos went down with a broken tibia. He still does not have a timetable for his return, though bench boss John Cooper insists he will come back this season. Either way, the rest of the team has to shoulder the load, and make up for the lost offense, and most importantly, hold off the rest of the division. From the looks of the other teams though, it might be a bit easier, based off of recent play by the 2-6 seeds. The Boston Bruins continue to give up the fewest amount of goals in the NHL, and with a 2-1-0 week, they are keeping pace with Tampa, and seem to be the favorite team to take over the top spot with the Bolts’ lack of their top player. Toronto split a home and home with Buffalo, and added a tough OT loss in Minnesota, but remain right in the race, quietly treading water, tied with Boston. The Detroit Red Wings are having a bizarre streak, losing 5 games in a row, but all in OT or a shootout. This week, they lost 3 shootouts. Because they are at least picking up points in those losses.They too are tied with the B’s and Buds with 25 points. Montreal seems to be slipping a little bit, not winning a game this week, but still hang on to the 2nd wild card spot over Ottawa, who are struggling in their own right, losing 2 of 3 this week. Those two teams had a very interesting playoff series last year, including some line brawls, and with a potential playoff spot at hand, they could be at ends again this year. The Florida Panthers seemed to have played spoiler to last week’s Top 5, beating (handily I might add) the [Mighty] Ducks and Avalanche, in one of the more confusing stretches of the season. Buffalo finally won in regulation again, but both them and the Panthers are way back from the big race at the top of the Atlantic. Everyone is speculating when the Lightning will fall from the top spot, and a 3 way tie for second will make this a dog-fight for first.

Central Division

This division had a massive makeover of Michael Jackson proportion this past week. The Chicago Blackhawks won 2 of 3 this week, but gave up 7 goals (somehow) to the offensively challenged Predators. The Hawks are now atop the division, and the surging Minnesota Wild (winners of all 3 this week and 4 in a row) have passed both the Blues and Avalanche for second in the Central. The competition for Minnesota hasn’t been spectacular, but they have shown that they can play strong defensive hockey, just letting up 4 goals this week (Chicago gave up 7 in one game to the Preds, to put that in perspective). St. Louis went 2-1-1 this week, but one of those wins was against division rival Colorado. The Blues to me, are one of those quiet, dark horse contenders, but they haven’t had playoff success recently. They are playing well though, and are starting to turn heads with their young core. And then we have the Colorado Avalanche. Last week they were riding Mile High, but now they have come back down to Earth, losing to the Canes, Blues, and Panthers, and not recording a single point in the standings. They have fallen to 4th in the Central. It remains to be seen how quickly they can get out of this funk, because we all know how very capable and dangerous this team really is. Because of the gravity of the Avalanche’s losing streak, the Dallas Stars’ winning streak, winning all 3 games this week, has gone almost completely unnoticed. The Stars are 4 points behind Colorado now, adding a potential 5th team to this powerful race. Winnipeg won 2 of 3 this week, and remain 2 points behind Dallas. The Jets need to string some wins together in order to have a chance at catching someone. The Nashville Predators’ only win this week was the blowout of the Blackhawks, and have had significant offensive struggles outside of that win. They have to start putting the puck in the net, because without goalie Pekka Rinne for a while, they have to score to stay alive. The shake up from this week might not be the only one we have over the season, but this one was a huge one, and could be very telling for the rest of the season.

Pacific Division

The Anaheim [Mighty] Ducks had a tough week, losing twice in the Sunshine State and in OT to Carolina. My guess is that they are only hitting a minor skid, because they have had so many road games. Their trip ends tonight in Pittsburgh before flying back to the Pond to take on New Jersey. The San Jose Sharks won all 3 of their games in Western Canada, before laying an egg in Chicago, but are now 1 point behind the suddenly struggling [Mighty] Ducks. They are starting to get back to their winning ways of the first month of the season. The Phoenix Coyotes continue to surprise everyone, getting 5 points out of 6 this week, including wins over Tampa and St. Louis. They have won 8 of their last 10, and are tied with the Sharks for second in the Pacific. The L.A. Kings took a tough shootout loss in Buffalo before sweeping through the 3 New York metro teams, and are just 3 back of Anaheim, and right back in the race. Vancouver played twice this week and got 1 point to show for it, and are slipping out of contention slowly, but still remain within reach of the Kings for the 4th and final spot. Calgary is starting to freefall now, losing all 3 games this week, but are giving time to their future guys like Sven Baertschi and Sean Monahan to grow in experience. The Oilers’ only win this week came against those Flames in a Battle of Alberta match, and have called up Mr. Universe, Ilya Bryzgalov, to their NHL team. Arguably the media’s favorite player to interview, he likely won’t help the Oilers out of their misery, but may help stop the bleeding a little bit. It seems as if the top teams in the division are establishing themselves, but those top teams are all standing on nearly even ground.

Top 5

1) Chicago Blackhawks – They climbed to the top of the Central this week, and considering their league-leading offensive arsenal, I don’t see them giving it up anytime soon.

2) Minnesota Wild – They have 4 road games this week, culminating with one against division rival St. Louis. That will be a litmus test for them, to see if their recent winning ways are for real.

3) Phoenix Coyotes – They finally have owners that care. Seems to help, right?

4) Los Angeles Kings – I know that the Metropolitan division is historically bad. But anytime you sweep through the New York metro area, giving up 2 goals in the 3 game set, you should get some recognition. Here’s to you, L.A.

5) St. Louis Blues – Closing out a Top-5 sans Eastern teams, they still only have 3 regulation losses. I can name a few that have had that many in a single week.

In the box this week

Montreal forward Daniel Briere and goalie Peter Budaj. About 3 minutes remained in the first period of a tilt Friday night between the Canadiens and the Blue Jackets in Columbus. Jackets’ D-man Nikita Nikitin (master of the double name) wound up for a slap shot and tripped over his own feet, somehow. The puck squirted back to Columbus forward Artem Anisimov, and with that, we have our worst goal ever. Take a look:

I know Jackets’ forward Jared Boll was in the crease causing Budaj havoc. But after Briere chops the puck into the air, Budaj should have been able to locate the puck. Instead, we have another wacky bounce goal, that goes up there with some of the ones we’ve had so far. That goal was important too, as it put the Jackets up 2-0, and the Habs lost 3-2.

Tune in next week to see if the fallen top teams can rebound.

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