The Biggest Takeaways from Week 6 of the 2013-14 NHL Season
Good news for the NHL. In Week 6, the flow of on-ice brutality and squirm-inducing injuries slowed to a mere trickle.
In the midst of being honored at the Hockey Hall of Fame Celebrations on Friday, Brendan Shanahan did take time out to issue a three-game suspension to Jesse Winchester of Florida. Otherwise, all was quiet at the Department of Player Safety.
This lets us turn our attention back to the action on the ice—the teams and players who are tearing it up and the ones who are tearing out their hair in frustration.
Here are your biggest takeaways for Week 6, starting with two teams heading in opposite directions in Florida.
The Wheels Are off the Wagon in Florida
The biggest NHL personnel move of the week came on Friday, when general manager Dale Tallon relieved Florida Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen and his assistants Gord Murphy and Craig Ramsay of their duties.
The Panthers were 3-9-4 at the time of the firing and in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, though four of those losses were in overtime or shootouts.
Those results do not appear to be what new owner Vinnie Viola had in mind when he purchased the Panthers in late September. The Panthers have backslid significantly since winning the Southeast Division title under Dineen in 2012.
There have been few bright spots for the Panthers this season. Free-agent goaltender signing Tim Thomas has been in and out of the lineup with various injuries while youngster Jacob Markstrom has struggled, and the team is struggling to score goals.
Florida's coaching duties have now been handed over to Peter Horachek, formerly the head coach of the Panthers' AHL affiliate in San Antonio. In his first weekend on the job, he's 0-2, with losses to Ottawa and the New York Rangers.
The Tampa Bay Lightning Deserve Your Respect
Further up the coast, life is grand for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Bolts sit at the top of the Eastern Conference with a record of 12-4-0 and are currently riding a four-game winning streak. Superstar sniper Steven Stamkos is tied for the league lead in both goals (14, with Alex Steen) and points (23, with Sidney Crosby).
The difference this year lies at the back end. Last season, the Lightning were fifth in the league with 148 goals but finished 28th overall because they couldn't keep the puck out of their net. This year, they're sixth in goals against. Their new starting goalie, Ben Bishop, leads the league with 11 wins and boasts a solid 2.12 goals-against and .927 save percentage.
Tampa Bay finished just four points ahead of Florida last season at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. At the end of Week 6, the gap is now 14 points between the conference-leading Lightning and the 14th-place Panthers.
The Edmonton Oilers Are Getting Desperate
The Edmonton Oilers changed their coach during the offseason in hopes of providing a springboard to their playoffs for their young core. Instead, the situation has just gotten worse.
Edmonton sits dead last in the West with a record of 4-13-2 and a league-leading 75 goals against.
After getting shut out back-to-back by Toronto and Detroit last week, Edmonton has gone 1-3 this week, including two more losses since trading away defenseman Ladislav Smid on Friday.
The deal was made, in part, to free up salary cap space to sign quirky goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Yes, it's come to this.
After being bought out last summer by the Philadelphia Flyers, Bryzgalov spent two weeks on his professional tryout with the ECHL Las Vegas Wranglers before being released on October 17. He'll need some time to get into game shape and has made it clear in the past that he's no fan of cold Canadian winters, as you can see in this 2006 interview on YouTube.
Does he know the high temperature in Edmonton on Sunday was 18 degrees Fahrenheit?
The Central Division Is Quietly Strong
Early in the 2013-14 season, the Pacific Division has attracted its fair share of attention for the quality of its teams.
As of Sunday night, four of the NHL's top nine teams hail from the West Coast. But the Central Division is just as well represented—the Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild also all have 24 points or more.
Tampa Bay is the lone representative from the East among that group.
The Blackhawks may not be setting records like they did last year, but they're a solid 12-2-4, while St. Louis is off to its best start in franchise history at 11-2-2. Add in the Minnesota Wild's 10-4-4 record and the Central is quickly turning into a division of "haves" (these four teams) vs. the "have-nots" (Nashville, Dallas and Winnipeg).
The Rangers Are a Playoff Team
Early in the season, it looked like the New York Rangers had made one of the worst mistakes in sports history when new coach Alain Vigneault led his team to a 2-6 start.
The ship has now been righted. The Rangers have gone 7-2 in their past nine games to move two points above the .500 mark.
Still—in the Western Conference, 18 points would earn you a tie for 10th place. In New York's underachieving Metropolitan Division, it's good for third place and a guaranteed playoff spot if the postseason started tomorrow.
The Rangers have engineered the season's biggest early season turnaround so far, and Rick Nash may be ready to rejoin the lineup soon. Other underachievers, take note.
Harding and Malhotra Overcome the Odds
Two of the best feel-good stories of the week involve players who have overcome long odds to excel at the highest level of hockey.
Josh Harding won the Masterton Trophy in 2013 for battling through his multiple sclerosis diagnosis to continue his duties with the Minnesota Wild. This year, he's gone one better.
Harding has assumed the starter's role, playing in 14 of Minnesota's 18 games and allowing just 16 goals. That gives him a stunning 1.22 goals-against average and .947 save percentage—the best numbers of any goalie to appear in more than five games. Harding's elite-level play has been a huge part of the Wild's early season success.
Over in Carolina, Manny Malhotra joined the team this week after spending several weeks with its AHL affiliate on a professional tryout contract. Shut down by the Vancouver Canucks last year over concerns about the long-term effects of a serious eye injury, Malhotra impressed enough at the AHL level to win a one-year deal with the Hurricanes.
On Tuesday, November 5, Malhotra scored the game-winning goal for the Hurricanes on a breakaway in overtime against the Philadelphia Flyers. It's a great comeback story for a player who thought he wouldn't see NHL ice again.
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