Winners and Losers from Week 5 of the 2013 NHL Season
As NHL teams start to reach the halfway point of their schedule, the pressure to take points from every game and stay in the playoff race is quickly building.
One lengthy losing streak has the potential to ruin a team's chances of making the playoffs, especially young teams without a lot of postseason experience like the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders.
Let's recap the winners and losers from an exciting Week 5 of the 2013 season.
With a victory over the San Jose Sharks on Friday night, the Chicago Blackhawks set an NHL record by going 17 games (14-0-3) to start a season without losing in regulation.
Chicago was 3-0 last week, and the team has won five straight games since losing to the Anaheim Ducks in a shootout on February 12. The Blackhawks have outscored opponents 14-7 in that span, and they are getting great performances from goaltenders Ray Emery and Corey Crawford.
The Blackhawks rank fourth in goals scored and first in goals through 18 games, but the most impressive stat from the team's early-season success is its 8-0-2 road record.
When will Chicago finally lose in regulation? The Blackhawks don't have a tough schedule over the next three weeks, but Thursday's matchup with the St. Louis Blues will be a great test for Chicago.
One of the surprises of the season has been the impressive play of the Montreal Canadiens, who lead the Northeast Division by two points over the Boston Bruins (Boston has three games in hand).
Montreal was 3-1 last week, including two victories over the New York Rangers. In those four games, the Canadiens averaged three goals scored and allowed more than one goal just once. Saturday's 3-0 win against the Rangers was one of the team's finest efforts of the season.
Michel Therrien's team has very few weaknesses, evidenced by the fact that Montreal ranks in the top 15 in goals scored, goals against, power-play percentage and penalty killing.
The Canadiens are 6-1 in their last seven games, and as long as star goaltender Carey Price continues to play well, this team will contend for the division title with the Bruins for the entire season.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are quietly climbing back into the playoff race after a horrendous start to the season.
Los Angeles has won three straight games, but more importantly, the team's offense is starting to score consistently.
The Kings have scored three goals or more in three straight games, and star goaltender Jonathan Quick is finally playing at an elite level again. He was 2-0 last week with a .960 save percentage and just two goals against.
The Kings are just one point behind the Dallas Stars for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With seven of its next eight games at home, Los Angeles has a great opportunity to make a move up the standings over the next two weeks.
The Ducks have won six straight games and 10 of their last 11. Rookie goaltender Viktor Fasth is still undefeated (8-0-0), and the team's offense is firing on all cylinders with at least three goals scored in six consecutive games.
Anaheim is second in the Western Conference standings with 27 points, and the team leads the Pacific division by eight points.
The good news for head coach Bruce Boudreau is that his star players are starting to heat up, especially top-line winger Corey Perry. The 27-year-old forward has seven points (four goals, three assists) in his last four games.
On a historical note, veteran forward Teemu Selanne scored the 250th power-play goal of his career during Sunday's game against the Colorado Avalanche, which moved him into third place on the league's all-time PPG list.
When star defenseman Erik Karlsson suffered a season-ending injury earlier this month, many hockey fans predicted that the Senators would start to fall out of the playoff race with top-line forwards Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek also on the injury list.
To their credit, the Senators have refused to give up, and they went 3-1 last week to remain in the playoff race despite having an NHL roster that is made up of several AHL players because of all the team's injures.
Even when No. 1 goaltender Craig Anderson picked up an ankle injury last week, the Senators still found a way to beat the New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This is one of the most resilient teams in the league, and a lot of Ottawa's success this season can be attributed to the brilliant coaching of Paul MacLean, who is the early favorite to win the Jack Adams Award.
Who should the Blackhawks start in the playoffs?
The Chicago Blackhawks turned to backup goaltender Ray Emery last week with Corey Crawford unavailable due to injury, and the veteran responded with three wins, a 2.00 GAA and a .932 save percentage.
Nobody expected Emery to win his first seven starts of the season, and there's no question that his impressive performances have played an important part of the Blackhawks' record-setting start to the year.
Emery hasn't played this well since he went 33-16-6 for the Ottawa Senators during the 2006-07 season.
Anaheim Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin is having the best season of his NHL career.
The 32-year-old defenseman had five points in three games last week, and he has scored 11 points (two goals, nine assists) through 16 games this year after tallying just 22 points in 82 games during the 2011-12 season.
Beauchemin's performance in his own zone has also been impressive. He has the best plus/minus rating (15) in the NHL and he leads the Ducks with 35 hits. His impressive play at both ends of the ice is a primary reason why the Ducks are a much better defensive team than they were last year.
Philadelphia Flyers winger Jakub Voracek is in the midst of his best season as an NHL player. As Randy Miller of the Courier Post points out, the 23-year-old winger is scoring at an impressive rate in 2013.
#Flyers Voracek had career-best 50 points in 81 games for 2009-10 CBJ. He's on pace for 53 points this year ... in a 48-game season.— Randy Miller (@RandyJMiller) February 25, 2013
Voracek has 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in his last five games, and he also leads the Flyers in scoring with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists).
With all of the injuries that the Flyers have dealt with this season, Voracek's consistent offensive production has been a major part of the team's success. This could be the year when Voracek takes that next step and joins the upper echelon of NHL forwards.
New York Rangers
The Rangers are just one point away from a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but there are some serious concerns about this team moving forward.
New York is having a lot of trouble scoring goals, and this was evident on Saturday night when the team was shutout by the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. The Rangers have scored just five goals in their last four games, and the team's power-play is 3-for-17 in its last five games.
The toughness and shot blocking that helped make the Rangers so successful last year have been absent for the majority of this season.
The Rangers' season won't turn around until their best players start performing like stars and the team as a whole plays a more physical game.
The Lindy Ruff era in Buffalo came to an end this week when the Sabres decided to fire their head coach on Wednesday. Ruff joined the Sabres in 1997, and he is the most successful coach in team history with 571 wins.
Buffalo has lost four straight games, and the team has plummeted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with 13 points.
As the chart below shows, the Sabres are struggling to have success in a few important areas.
|Goals Scored||Goals Against||Power-Play %||Penalty Kill|
The Sabres need to start winning soon or they might have to give up on the season and become sellers at the trade deadline.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils have lost four of their five games (1-3-1), and as a result, they are no longer at the top of the Atlantic Division standings.
Special teams were a huge problem for New Jersey last week. The Devils have scored two powerplay goals in their last 20 opportunities, and the team has also killed just nine of its last 17 penalties.
Luckily for the Devils, they have four days off to rest and recover before a busy month of March begins.
Will the Wild earn a playoff spot?
Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise has been one of the league's most disappointing players during the month of February.
The star forward has scored only two goals in his last 12 games, and he's not making the kind of impact offensively that the Wild expected from him in the first year of his 13-year, $98 million contract.
Parise's struggles are one of the main reasons why Minnesota ranks 28th in goals scored and 27th in power-play percentage. He needs to improve quickly because the Wild don't have the forward depth needed to win games when Parise and the team's other top-six forwards don't produce.
New York Rangers forward Marian Gaborik scored zero goals with a minus-two rating in four games last week.
As the team's most talented goal scorer, Gaborik has to be more consistent offensively, especially with veteran center Brad Richards under performing and top-six winger Rick Nash out of the lineup with an injury.
Gaborik has scored just one goal in his last seven games, and he's only taken eight shots in his last three games. The 31-year-old star has to be more aggressive in the attacking zone and make a stronger impact offensively for the Rangers' goal-scoring woes to end.
Goaltending has been a real issue for the Florida Panthers this season, which is why the team ranks 30th in goals against and 29th in penalty killing.
Florida went 1-3 last week and gave up an average of three goals per game. Depth isn't an concern for the Panthers at the goaltender position, the problem is that guys are not living up to expectations.
When a team is having trouble scoring goals like the Panthers (26th in goals scored), the goaltending has to be strong for the club to win games consistently. If the Panthers' goaltending doesn't improve soon, they will not make a return trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.
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