Winners and Losers from Week 4 of the 2013 NHL Season
The fourth week of the NHL season is in the books, and it's time for our weekly look at the best and worst teams and players from the past seven days.
There are only two teams that currently have a division lead larger than three points, and no club is more than six points from a playoff spot. With that said, we can expect a thrilling race for the playoffs over the next few weeks.
Let's look at the winners and losers from the fourth week of the 2013 season.
Every team in the NHL has at least two regulation losses except the Chicago Blackhawks, who lead the Western Conference and the league with 27 points (12-0-3) from 15 games.
Veteran Ray Emery stepped into the starting goaltender role last week with Corey Crawford injured and helped his team defeat two quality opponents in the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. Emery has won his last four games with two goals or fewer allowed in each matchup.
Star defenseman Duncan Keith is playing like he did during the 2009-10 season when he won the Norris Trophy. The 29-year-old veteran is playing shut-down defense against opposing teams' best forwards and is also contributing offensively with six points in his last five games.
Including last season, Chicago has earned at least a point in its last 21 regular-season games. If the Blackhawks beat the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, they will tie the NHL record for most wins without a regulation loss to begin a season.
Will Anaheim finish 2nd in the West this year?
The Anaheim Ducks' hot start to the season continued last week with four wins against quality Western Conference opponents including the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators.
With 23 points (11-2-1) in 14 games, the Ducks are second in the West standings and have widened their lead in the Pacific Division to six points.
Anaheim ranks fourth in goals scored and ninth in power-play percentage, but the goaltending brilliance of Viktor Fasth (more on him below) is the real reason for the team's winning ways in 2013.
Tavares is a legitimate contender for the Hart Trophy this season with 20 points in 14 games. The New York Islanders' superstar center ranks second in the league in goals with 11 and has nine points in his last five games.
Tavares and first line winger Matt Moulson have become one of the top forward duos in the NHL, and both of them are having a huge impact on the Islanders' success this season.
New York probably won't make the playoffs this year, but that shouldn't hurt Tavares in the Hart Trophy race because very few players in the league are more valuable to their team than the 22-year-old forward.
If you have an opportunity to attend an Islanders game soon, keep an eye on Tavares, who was named NHL's First Star of the Week (via CBS New York) on Monday.
The St. Louis Blues came into the season with two quality goaltenders in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, but after watching Jake Allen shine in the chances he was given as the starting netminder last week, it appears that head coach Ken Hitchcock now has three good goalies to choose from each game.
The 22-year-old rookie is drawing comparisons to Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason, who won the Calder Trophy in the 2008-09 season with Hitchcock as the team's head coach.
Allen made his first start on Wednesday and beat the Detroit Red Wings to end the Blues' five-game losing streak.
Since Elliott has a 3-5-1 record and is struggling to play like he did last season, Allen could become the No. 2 goaltender on the Blues roster with a few more impressive performances.
Boston Bruins left winger Brad Marchand scored three goals with three assists to help his team go 2-1-1 last week. His power-play goal in the third period on Sunday night was the difference as Boston earned a hard-fought 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.
The 24-year-old forward leads the Bruins with eight goals this season, and no one else on the team has more than four.
He had never scored more than two goals in his first 12 games to start a season, but Marchand has come into this season with something to prove after a disappointing first round playoff series last year.
The New York Rangers winger had one goal entering last week and now has six goals after a five-goal explosion over the last four games.
Hagelin had seven points total last week and is giving the Rangers some much-needed scoring from the second line.
The 24-year-old forward has formed some solid chemistry with star winger Rick Nash, and the two combined on one of the best plays of the season against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.
Hagelin's impressive play is an encouraging sign after his slow start to the season. New York needs his offensive production to win games consistently against top defensive teams.
The best story in the league this season is the remarkable play of Anaheim Ducks rookie goaltender Viktor Fasth, who has started his NHL career with a perfect 8-0-0 record.
Six of the eight games that Fasth has started this season have come against teams in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, which makes his great start even more impressive. With his victory on Saturday, the 30-year-old netminder made NHL history (via Ducks):
Viktor Fasth is 3rd goaltender in NHL history to win his first eight or more career decisions (Ray Emery of OTT and and Bob Froese of PHI).— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) February 17, 2013
It's still too early to think of Fasth as an elite goaltender, but he has certainly proven that he's capable of defeating quality teams on a consistent basis. With Jonas Hiller struggling to perform at a high level, it's hard to imagine Fasth giving up the No. 1 job at any point this season.
This has been a disastrous season for the Colorado Avalanche. They still haven't been able to re-sign top-six forward and restricted free agent Ryan O'Reilly, and the team currently sits at the bottom of the Northwest Division with 11 points (5-7-1).
The Avalanche need to sign O'Reilly as soon as possible or trade him to add some quality to the roster because they are struggling in so many areas right now.
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The Avalanche were 1-1-1 last week and have two separate three-game losing streaks this season. With five of their next six games against quality opponents, including St. Louis, Anaheim and San Jose, don't expect Colorado's struggles to end soon.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning started the season 6-1 and appeared to be the favorites to win the Southeast Division.
Who will win the Southeast Division?
Since the team's 8-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on February 1, Tampa Bay has lost six of its last seven games.
The Lightning's schedule got tougher over the last two weeks after an easy start to the season, and the result was two losses to the New York Rangers and one to both the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens.
Fortunately for the Lightning, they play in the NHL's weakest division (Southeast), so they will be in the playoff race throughout the season even if they struggle at times. As long as the team's offense continues to score goals at an impressive rate (ranked first in NHL), Tampa Bay will have a chance to beat anyone.
The Buffalo Sabres were 1-3 last week despite four impressive performances from star goaltender Ryan Miller.
Costly turnovers and failing to capitalize on quality scoring chances have hurt Buffalo this season, and unless Thomas Vanek's line produces, the team doesn't have much of a chance to beat top-tier opponents. The Sabres' power play has also been awful this season and ranks 27th in the league.
The good news for the Sabres is that Miller will give them a chance to win every night, but the team has to get more production from its second and third lines to beat good teams and get back into the playoff race.
San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks have plummeted from first to seventh in the Western Conference standings with a seven-game losing streak following a 7-0 start to the season.
San Jose took a point from three of those defeats, but there are a few areas that head coach Todd McLellan should be concerned about from his team's seven-game losing streak.
The Sharks' have managed to score just eight goals in this losing streak, which is embarrassing for a team with offensive stars such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski.
If San Jose can improve its power play, which is 2-31 over the last seven games, the team will turn its season around.
With their next two games against the Blues and Blackhawks, the Sharks have a great opportunity to beat two top Western Conference teams and earn some much-needed confidence as we approach the halfway point in the season.
After being a Calder Trophy finalist in his rookie season, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been a major disappointment in his sophomore campaign.
The Edmonton Oilers center has scored just one goal with six assists in 13 games, and his struggles are a primary reason why the team ranks 22nd in goals scored.
The 19-year-old has points in just two of his last six games, but fortunately for the Oilers, Sam Gagner has been one of the league's best centers this season with a team-leading 15 points in 14 games.
Edmonton is one point from a playoff spot in the West, but for the Oilers to end their six-year playoff drought, Nugent-Hopkins has to play like a No. 1 center.
Claude Giroux has 10 points in 14 games this season, but the Philadelphia Flyers captain has zero goals and a minus-7 rating in his last seven games (Flyers are 3-4 in that span).
Giroux is a talented goal scorer, but his inability to find the back of the net this season is a problem for the Flyers with star winger Scott Hartnell injured and the team ranking 24th in goals scored and 18th on the power play.
The Flyers need Giroux to make more of an impact offensively to remain in the playoff race after the team's disappointing start to the season.
This was supposed to be the season that Logan Couture took over the San Jose Sharks and emerged as a leader for the post-Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau era, but the young star has struggled recently.
He has scored one goal with one assist in his last seven games (all Sharks losses). As a player who can score goals consistently and excel in a playmaking role, Couture's lack of production offensively should worry the Sharks.
He needs to play better for the Sharks to return to their winning ways. Couture gives the team tremendous scoring depth as the second line center when he's on top of his game.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was also a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston.
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