Don’t look now, but the Penguins are starting to warm up. The Pens went 3-1 for the second straight week and are 8-2-1 in their last 11 games heading into Christmas break. They’re finally at .500 for the first time since the beginning of November. The team has been grinding their way back from some unflattering play last month and had a winning week each week in December.
Their recent success, and much of their early season struggles, all begins with goaltending play. Casey DeSmith has been keeping the team afloat, while Matt Murray was working through his issues. DeSmith has been quite a surprise and is tied for third in the league in save percentage at .926 with early Vezina candidate John Gibson.
Matt Murray recently returned from time on injured reserve and may have finally turned his season around. Before his latest stint on IR, Murray was near the bottom in nearly every category for net-minders. In the 11 games he played in before returning from injury on December 15, Murray had a save percentage of .900 only three times. In the three games since his return, he has save percentages of .923, .969, and 1.000.
Hopefully whatever the injury was that was nagging him seemingly all season is fully healed. Casey DeSmith has been a godsend the last two seasons while Murray has struggled. It’s time for Matt Murray to earn his starting role back. If Murray is able to elevate his play to the level we’ve seen before, and DeSmith continues his high level of play this season, the Penguins will be able to take on any team in the NHL with confidence.
Pittsburgh began its last week before Christmas break with a disappointing home loss against the Anaheim Ducks. The Penguins led 2-0 early in that game before the Ducks would go on to score the game’s final four consecutive goals.
The Penguins may have been looking past Anaheim and thinking of the always-entertaining matchup against the Washington Capitals. It was the first game Tom Wilson has played against Pittsburgh since his hit on Zach Aston-Reese last spring, and he would likely have to answer for his actions in this game. That exact scenario happened less than 60 seconds in, and it didn’t end very well for Jamie Oleksiak, who dropped the gloves with Wilson before receiving several massive punches leaving Oleksiak bloodied and woozy. He only played nine seconds in that game and has since been placed on IR with a concussion.
In more positive news, the Penguins got some much-needed stellar goaltending from Murray and a heroic effort from Marcus Pettersson, which was the difference for Pittsburgh in a 2-1 victory over the Capitals.
They didn’t have much time to soak in that win, as the Minnesota Wild were waiting for the Pens’ return to Pittsburgh the following night. DeSmith replicated Murray’s performance the night before, and Bryan Rust would continue his goal scoring tear, netting both tallies in a second 2-1 regulation win for the Pens in a little over than 24 hours.
Murray then one-upped both of those efforts in a 3-0 victory over the Hurricanes on Saturday in Raleigh to wrap another winning week and begin the Pens’ Christmas break.
The Penguins will come out of break at home when they play against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night. The Pens will end 2018 on the road with a three-game road trip that begins next Saturday in St. Louis and will go through Minnesota before wrapping up in New York City against the Rangers after New Years. However, the Penguins likely won’t be celebrating at midnight in the Big Apple, as they’ll be playing in Minnesota on New Year’s Eve.
The Capitals remained in first place in the Metro for the fifth-straight week and were winners of five-straight heading into last week. The Caps were also 12-2 in their last 14 games, and Ovechkin had points in all 14 of those games. Then the Penguins came to town and put an end to that with another memorable game between the two rivals that the good guys wound up winning 2-1. It was the third of four games between the two teams in the regular season, with the final game taking place in March.
The Capitals got back to their winning ways with a hard fought 2-1 victory at home against Buffalo on Friday before shutting out the Senators 4-0 on Saturday night in Ottawa. Washington heads into Christmas break with the best record in the Metro and winners in 14 out of their last 17 games. The Capitals will return to action this week at home on Thursday when they face Metro opponent Carolina before heading back to Ottawa to play their second-straight Saturday night game against the Sens.
Sergei Bobrovsky had quite a week in Columbus. Bobrovsky got the start in all four games for the Jackets, and won them all while only allowing four goals and recording two shutouts in the four games. His season has been full of highs and lows, and this week may be the highest high for him to date.
The Golden Knights were in Columbus last Monday, and Nick Foligno scored the only goal in that contest 40 seconds into the third period, while Bobrovsky turned aside all 28 shots he faced for his first shutout of the year.
The Jackets would wrap up a six-game home-stand two nights later with a 2-1 victory over New Jersey, with Cam Atkinson scoring the game-winner on a penalty shot in the second period. Bobrovsky would start back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia and New Jersey. He would turn aside 34 shots against Philadelphia in a 4-3 victory, but saved his best for last in a 39 save shutout over New Jersey to begin Columbus’s Christmas break on a four-game win streak. The Jackets resume play with a set of back-to-back games in Columbus against the Rangers on Thursday night before facing off against the Maple Leafs on Friday in Toronto.
The Islanders were out west last week and won three out of their four games heading into Christmas break. The Islanders allowed only one goal in each of those three victories, and have allowed 98 goals this year, good for third fewest in the NHL behind Nashville (95) and Boston (96).
The Islanders began last week by scoring the games first two goals and never looking back in a 4-1 victory over the high scoring Avalanche on Monday before taking care of the Coyotes on Tuesday night by a final score of 3-1 in Glendale. New York would then go on to lose 4-2 against the Golden Knights in Las Vegas on Thursday for the second time in eight days, ending the Islanders’ four game win streak. Old friend Marc-Andre Fleury would pass Hall of Famer Tony Esposito for ninth all-time in victories with his 424th career win in that win for Vegas.
The Islanders finished their road trip with a 3-1 victory in Dallas on Sunday night, and sit two points behind the Penguins for third in the Metropolitan Division at the break. The Isles resume play on Friday night at Barclays Center, when they face the Senators before taking on the Maple Leafs in Toronto the next night.
The top half of the Metro is starting to pull away from the bottom half, and the Rangers have been slipping more and more as December rolls on. The Rangers lost three out of four games last week, with two losses coming after regulation. The Blueshirts now have a record of 2-3-4 in December.
New York plays very well at home, but are quite the opposite on their road as you can see by their 11-4-4 home record and 4-10-2 road record. This was going to be a long year for the Rangers, and it looks like the they’ve finally hit those expectations after a hot start.
The Rangers began last week at home against Vegas and lost that game 4-3 on an Alex Tuch goal two minutes into overtime. They wrapped up a three game home-stand with a 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night. New York allowed only 15 shots on goal — only one in the third period — and would score three third period goals of its own in that game, with the game winner coming short-handed with under a minute remaining before it added an empty netter.
The Rangers stumbled into their break with back-to-back losses in Toronto, 5-3, on Saturday before losing 3-2 in a shootout against Philadelphia on Sunday night. The Blue Jackets will play at The Garden on Thursday night before the Rangers hit the road to end 2018 starting in Nashville next Saturday night.
The Hurricanes stayed true to their script this season with another up and down week heading into Christmas. They started things off with a promising 3-0 shutout at home over the Coyotes, but lost the next game at home against the Red Wings 4-1. The Penguins were the next team to play in Raleigh, and Carolina ended up getting shutout 3-0 on Saturday night.
The Canes would wrap up a five game home-stand before Christmas on Sunday with a 5-3 victory over Boston, featuring two short-handed goals by Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho and throwback Hartford Whalers jerseys for the first time since their relocation to Carolina in 1997. The Hurricanes will play on the road against two Metro opponents this week when they visit the Capitals on Thursday night and then the Devils on Saturday afternoon.
The Flyers moved out of last place in the Metro last week, and got a preview of their future with the call up of 20-year-old goalie Carter Hart. He impressed the home fans in his first two games with a 3-2 victory over the Red Wings in his first career game, and stopped 31 shots two nights later in a 2-1 victory over the Predators. The Blue Jackets handed Hart his first career loss on Saturday in a 4-3 victory in Philadelphia.
The Flyers were in New York City on Sunday night and would lose to the Rangers 3-2 in a shootout to send them into their Christmas break. Philly came out of break with two games in Florida against Tampa Bay on Thursday and against Florida on Saturday night.
The Devils lost three out of four games last week, and were passed up by the Flyers, putting them back in last place in the Metro, as well as the Eastern Conference. Obviously, things are not going very well for them this year. Cory Schneider may be having the worst year ever by a goalie, and will likely go winless in the 2018 calendar year. He was put on IR last week and has a 0-14-2 record in 19 total games in 2018. He only had a save percentage of more than .900 once in those 19 games.
This year is further evidence of why Taylor Hall won the Hart Trophy last year. He’s having another great year with 11 goals and 37 points in 33 games. However, his current pace falls well short of his 39 goals last year, even though his current points-per-game pace would equal the 93 points he put up last year. He could turn it up at any time and only has one power-play goal so far this season. If/when the goals start going in at a higher clip for him, the Devils may turn their fortunes around but it may be too little, too late, with how tight the top of the Metro is as we hit the Christmas break.
Thank you everyone for reading again this week, and have a Merry Christmas. As always, don’t forget to vote for your game of the week!
18-12-6; 42 pts; 119 Goals For (8th in the NHL; 8th last week); 110 Goals Against (16th in the NHL; 21st last week)
3-1 record last week
Penguins blow 2-0 lead, allow four unanswered goals in 4-2 loss vs. Anaheim
Pittsburgh digs deep and guts out 2-1 win
Red hot Rust. Pittsburgh wins 2-1
First line puts it on cruise control in Pittsburgh win
Thursday, December 27 - vs DET, 7 p.m. ET
Saturday, December 29 - @ STL, 8 p.m.
- 10/13/18, D Justin Schultz - IR; fractured leg
- 12/18/18, D Jamie Oleksiak - Day-to-day; Concussion
22-10-3, 47 pts; 129 GF (T-3rd; 2nd); 103 GA (T-8th; T-16th)
2-1 record last week
Crosby Tops Wilson’s Knucks and Eller’s Pucks, Pens Win 2-1
Shorthanded but Not Out of Reach, Washington Wins 2-1
Washington Downs Ottawa 4-0
Thursday, December 27 - vs CAR, 7 p.m.
Saturday, December 29 - @ OTT, 7 p.m.
- 10/30/18, D Brooks Orpik - IR; Lower-body injury
- 12/11/18, D Christian Djoos - IR; Thigh surgery
21-12-3, 45 pts; 117 GF (T-10th; 7th); 109 GA (14th; 22nd)
4-0 record last week
Knights Lull Jackets in, Finish Them Off Before They Realize
New Jersey Devils at Columbus Blue Jackets
Blue Jackets Squeeze Past Flyers in 4-3 Win
Atkinson’s 23rd, Bobrovsky’s Shutout Leads Way to Weekend Sweep
Thursday, December 27 - @ NYR, 7 p.m.
Friday, December 28 - vs TOR, 7 p.m.
18-13-4 40 pts; 101 GF (25th; T-25th); 98 GA (3rd; T-5th)
3-1 record last week
Power play awakens, Hickey and Nelson injured
4 points on the trip already
We should’ve gone to bed
Heading home with a win
Friday, December 28 - vs OTT, 7 p.m.; Barclays Center
Saturday, December 29 - @ TOR, 7 p.m.
- 10/2/18, C John Stevens - IR; Undisclosed
- 10/2/18, LW Matt Lorito - IR; Undisclosed
- 11/13/18, LW Andrew Ladd - IR; Right leg
- 12/7/18, LW Tom Kuhnhackl - Day-to-day; Undisclosed injury
- 12/16/18, D Thomas Hickey - IR; Upper-body injury
- 12/21/18, D Johnny Boychuk - Day-to-day; Personal reasons
15-14-6, 36 pts; 102 GF (T-22nd; 24th); 115 GA (T-21st; T-19th)
1-1-2 record last week
VGK: 4 OT
Rangers Fight Back But Fall in Overtime to Vegas
Kevin Hayes Ends Rangers’ Slide with Late Shorthanded Goal
Rangers Fall to Maple Leafs 5-3 in Regulation
PHI: 3 SO
Rangers Fall to the Flyers in the Shootout
Thursday, December 27 - vs CBJ, 7 p.m.
Saturday, December 29 - @ NSH, 8 p.m.
- 11/20/18, LW Cody McLeod - IR; Fractured left hand
- 12/10/18, D Kevin Shattenkirk - IR: Separated shoulder
- 12/15/18, RW Jesper Fast - Day-to-day; Upper-body injury
15-15-5, 35 pts; 90 GF (30th; T-29th); 103 GA (T-8th; T-9th)
2-2 record last week
Canes Take Statement 3-0 Win; 3 Players Assigned to Checkers
Canes fall flat in disappointing 4-1 loss to Red Wings
Murray, Guentzel power 3-0 Penguins win; Bishop, Kuokkanen recalled
Finns lead Canes to big win over Bruins on Whalers Night
Thursday, December 27 - @ WSH, 7 p.m.
Saturday, December 29 - @ NJD, 1 p.m.
- 12/13/18, D Haydn Fleury - Day-to-day; Concussion
- 12/22/18, C Jordan Staal - Day-to-day; Upper-body injury
15-16-4, 34 pts; 104 GF (20th; 22nd); 125 GA (T-25th; T-28th)
3-1 record last week
Carter Hart sparks Flyers to 3-2 win in NHL debut
Flyers win second straight in a thriller vs. Nashville
When you try your best and you don’t succeed...
PHI: 3 SO
Neuvirth, Patrick step up in the shootout to give Flyers 3-2 over Rangers
Thursday, December 27 - @ TBL, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, December 29 - @ FLA, 7 p.m.
- 9/27/18, C Pascal Laberge - IR; Hip
- 10/1/18, D Samuel Morin - IR; Knee
- 10/26/18, C Corban Knight - IR; Dislocated collarbone
- 11/15/18, G Brian Elliott - IR; Lower-body injury
- 12/12/18, G Anthony Stolarz - IR; Lower-body injury
12-16-7, 31 pts; 102 GF (T-22nd; 21st); 125 GA (T-25th; 25th)
1-3 record last week
New Jersey Devils Torched Again by Toronto Maple Leafs in 2-7 Defeat
Taylor Hall Leads the Devils to an Emphatic 5-2 win Over Ottawa
New Jersey Devils Shutout by Columbus Blue Jackets 0-3
Thursday, December 27 - @ BOS, 7 p.m.
Saturday, December 29 - vs CAR, 1 p.m.
- 11/22/18, RW Joey Anderson - IR; Fractured ankle
- 12/16/18, G Cory Schneider - IR; Abdominal strain
- 12/20/18, LW Marcus Johansson - IR; Upper-body injury
Which Metropolitan game is the most intriguing?
This poll is closed
12.27.18 - DET @ PIT, 7 p.m. ET
12.27.18 - CAR @ WSH, 7 p.m.
12.27.18 - CBJ @ NYR, 7 p.m.
12.29.18 - CAR @ NJD, 1 p.m.