Winners and Losers from Week 6 of the 2013 NHL Season
As we approach the halfway point in this shortened NHL season, just three of the league's 30 teams are more than four points away from a playoff spot.
With that said, there are a few teams that are starting to slide down the standings (such as the New Jersey Devils, Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers) as a result of recent losing streaks. These clubs must improve quickly or making the playoffs will be an incredibly difficult challenge over the final two months of the season.
Let's look at the winners and losers from an intense Week 6 of the 2013 NHL season.
Winners: Chicago Blackhawks
Thanks to Patrick Kane's game-tying goal late in the third period of Sunday's game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks have now gone 22 games to start the season without losing in regulation (19-0-3).
Chicago has won nine straight games (4-0 last week) and will now enter a soft part of its schedule with a great opportunity to challenge the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers' all-time record of 35 straight games with a point.
The Blackhawks have the best goal differential in the NHL (plus-29), and they now rank first in goals against thanks to the strong play of goaltenders Corey Crawford (10-0-3) and Ray Emery (9-0-0).
With an impressive amount of depth, general manager Stan Bowman might not have to make any trade deadline moves unless his team loses an important player to injury.
The Blackhawks have the deepest and most complete roster in the NHL right now, and teams will have to play a near-perfect game to beat them because Chicago isn't likely to hurt itself with foolish mistakes.
Winners: Boston Bruins and Patrice Bergeron
The Boston Bruins lost 4-3 to the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday night at the TD Garden, but prior to that game, the B's had won a season-high six straight games. They are currently in fourth-place with a record of 14-3-2.
The Bruins are one of the four teams ranked in the top 10 in both goals scored and goals against this season, and even though they allowed three power-play goals last week, the team's penalty kill is still the best in the league at 91.1 percent.
Boston forward Patrice Bergeron also had a great week with seven points (two goals, five assists) in his last four games. He now leads the Bruins in scoring with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists).
Young star Tyler Seguin has also improved after his poor start to the season. He had five points last week and has scored goals in consecutive games (Saturday against Tampa Bay and Sunday against Montreal) for the first time this season.
Boston will play 17 games in the month of March, but it's a challenge that this team is well prepared for after an impressive start to the season, including an 8-1-1 road record (best in Eastern Conference).
Winners: Max Pacioretty and Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens lead the Eastern Conference with 32 (14-4-4) points after a great win over the Boston Bruins on the road Sunday night, and the team can attribute most of its success last week to the great play by young star Max Pacioretty.
He scored four goals with three assists in four games last week, and now has three straight multi-goal games. Pacioretty also leads the team in assists (12) and points (20).
After struggling defensively last season, the Canadiens have played extremely well in their own zone in 2013. The team ranks sixth in goals against and has benefited from the impressive performances of defensemen P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin.
Montreal's offense is also firing on all cylinders with 15 goals scored in its last three games. Rookies Alex Galchenyuk (12 points in 22 games) and Brandon Gallagher (13 points in 18 games) have given Montreal the scoring depth that the team sorely missed last season when it finished 15th in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Canadiens are legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference this season and their confidence will continue to grow with each victory.
Winners: Minnesota Wild and Niklas Backstrom
The Minnesota Wild are now two points behind the Vancouver Canucks in the Northwest Division title race after going 3-1 last week.
Veteran goaltender Niklas Backstrom played his best hockey of the season last week with a 3-0-0 record, a 2.00 GAA and a .914 save percentage in three starts.
The good news for the Wild is that their offense is finally starting to score goals. Minnesota scored four goals twice last week after not scoring that many goals in a single game since a January 27 loss to the St. Louis Blues.
After a slow start to the season, offseason signing Ryan Suter is on a four-game point streak, which is his longest of the season. The star defenseman also leads the team in assists with 12.
If this team scores goals consistently, making the playoffs is a likely scenario for the Wild because they rank seventh in goals against and also have the fifth-best penalty kill.
Losers: Tampa Bay Lightning and Guy Boucher
Guy Boucher could be the next head coach fired if his Tampa Bay Lightning team doesn't turn their season around quickly.
They have lost four straight games and sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference with 19 points (9-11-1).
The Lightning are 3-5-1 against teams currently in a playoff spot, and their high-powered offense has scored just four goals in the last three games.
Tampa Bay entered week six of the season with the most third period goals scored in the league, but the Lightning have managed to light the lamp just once in the final period over their last four games. That's not good enough for a team that ranks 27th in goals against and has allowed 14 goals in its last four games.
If the Lightning fall further down the standings and their chances of making the playoffs from the worst division in the league dwindle, don't be surprised if general manager Steve Yzerman fires Boucher to light a fire under his team.
Losers: Florida Panthers and Stephen Weiss
The 2013 season was supposed to be the beginning of a new era in Florida, one in which the Panthers would be competitive and contend for the playoffs on a yearly basis following the team's postseason appearance in 2011-12.
Unfortunately for hockey fans in south Florida, this season has been a disaster for the Panthers, who have now lost three straight games and sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with 17 points (6-11-5). The Panthers are also 2-7-3 in their last 12 games.
Florida ranks 22nd in goals scored, 30th in goals against and 29th in penalty killing. The team's best forward, Stephen Weiss, is having one of the worst years of his career with just four points (one goal, three assists) through 17 games. As an upcoming UFA, Weiss' poor performance has hurt his trade value.
Florida doesn't have the scoring depth or goaltending strength to make a remarkable playoff push in the final two months of the season, so don't be surprised if they become "sellers" and make a few trades to acquire draft picks and/or prospects in the next few weeks.
The Panthers' best option right now is to give up on this season and hope to win the 2013 NHL Draft Lottery, which would give them an opportunity to draft Nathan MacKinnon (No. 1 rated forward in 2013 class) or Seth Jones (No. 1 rated defenseman) with the first overall selection in next year's draft.
Losers: New Jersey Devils and Johan Hedberg
The New Jersey Devils were atop the Eastern Conference standings not too long ago, but a three-game losing streak and two wins in their last nine games have sunk the team to seventh-place.
After losing No. 1 goaltender Martin Brodeur to an injury in mid-February, backup Johan Hedberg has been forced to carry the team and he is 0-5 in his last five starts.
New Jersey hasn't played a tough schedule over the last two weeks with six of its last seven games involving teams that aren't in a playoff spot at the moment, but the Devils were just 1-5 in those matchups.
The Devils also rank 21st in goals scored and have found the back of the net just seven times in their last four games.
With the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Winnipeg Jets playing well right now, New Jersey needs to improve quickly or it will be in danger of missing the playoffs after being a Stanley Cup Finalist last season.
Losers: Calgary Flames and GM Jay Feaster
In their attempt to sign Colorado Avalanche star Ryan O'Reilly via an offer sheet last week, the Calgary Flames almost made one of the most embarrassing mistakes in the history of the NHL, as Chris Johnston of Sportsnet.ca explains:
In a bizarre twist to an already unusual story, Sportsnet.ca has discovered that the Flames were not only in danger of losing 2013 first- and third-round draft picks as compensation if the Avs hadn’t matched the O’Reilly contract, but they also would likely have had to surrender the player before ever getting him in uniform.
That’s because O’Reilly would have needed to clear waivers before joining the team’s roster.
This is the kind of error that costs people jobs, and it might end up resulting in Feaster being fired at the end of the season if the Flames' playoff drought extends to four seasons.
On the ice, the Flames were 1-2 last week, including an awful 5-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche after Calgary took a 3-0 lead into the second period. Only the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets have a worse goal differential than the Flames among Western Conference teams.
Six of the Flames' next eight games are against teams currently in a playoff spot, and the other two games are against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, who are playing great hockey right now.
It might not be long before Calgary decides to become a seller before the trade deadline and tries to acquire draft picks and/or young prospects for the future in exchange for veterans such as Jarome Iginla.
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.