The Biggest Takeaways from Week 5 of the 2014-15 NHL Season
If you like watching good players at the top of their games, then you must have been pretty pleased with the biggest storylines of the NHL's fifth week.
Godfather of skill Sidney Crosby has been leading by example as his Pittsburgh Penguins ride the hottest streak in the league, while young players like Vladimir Tarasenko are showing that they're close to ascending to the next level.
If great goaltending is your thing, look no further than unlikely hero Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets. Pavelec has given up just five goals in four games while backstopping the Jets to a 3-0-1 record so far in November.
With goals and saves dominating this week's discussion, here's a look at our biggest takeaways of the week.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com, through games Saturday, November 8.
Tarasenko Announces Himself
Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues kicked off the week on a high note when he scored an amazing one-handed goal against goaltender Cam Talbot on the way to a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers on Monday.
The following night, Tarasenko scored the only goal of the game as St. Louis beat the New Jersey Devils 1-0. He has now worked his way into the top 10 in NHL scoring with 17 points in 14 games thanks to a stretch of eight goals in six games.
Just 22 years old, the wily Russian showed us this week that he could be about to become one of the NHL's next great snipers.
Pittsburgh Penguins Are Better Than Ever
Over the last seven games, the Pittsburgh Penguins have outscored their opponents 33-8 as they've built the league's longest current winning streak and climbed to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Through Saturday, the Penguins lead the league in goal differential (+28), points per game (.808), goals per game (4.15), 5-on-5 productivity (1.88) and power-play success (37.5 percent). Sidney Crosby has also returned to form—back in the top spot in the league scoring race with 24 points in 13 games.
We won't really know until playoff time if the Penguins have found the cure for what has ailed them in past postseasons, but the early returns are looking very good indeed.
Western Upstarts Complicate an Already-Tight Playoff Race
If the postseason began right now, the Western Conference playoff picture would include four teams that didn't make the cut last spring.
Going into Sunday's games, the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars have been replaced by the Nashville Predators, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets from last year's Western Conference playoff rankings.
The Predators started well and have stayed hot, leading the Central Division, while the Winnipeg Jets have embraced their defensive side while building an eight-game regulation unbeaten streak that stretches back two full weeks.
The Vancouver Canucks know better than anybody that a hot start isn't enough to guarantee a playoff appearance. Under John Tortorella in 2013-14, the Canucks boasted a 22-11-6 record at Christmas and looked like contenders before injuries and off-ice distractions burst their balloon and led to a 24th-place finish overall.
The Canucks will hope to avoid a similar fate this year, as will the West's other surprise successes.
Calder Trophy Favorites Are Emerging
Riding a four-game goal-scoring streak and leading all rookies with 14 points, Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators is showing that he has the potential to be the first-ever bona fide goal scorer in the history of a Nashville organization that has built its past achievements through hard-working defence.
Originally drafted 11th overall by the Washington Capitals, Nashville stole Forsberg as their return for Martin Erat in a 2013 trade-deadline deal.
Forsberg's consistent contributions last week on one of the NHL's hottest teams have the media considering him as an early front-runner as rookie of the year.
Calgary's pint-sized prospect and 2014 Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner Johnny Gaudreau is also starting to impress, with eight points in his last five games. Other rookies showing good hands in the early going range from 19-year-old Andre Burakovsky of the Washington Capitals to the Los Angeles Kings' Tanner Pearson—who had played just 25 regular-season games before winning his Stanley Cup last year, and thus still qualifies as a Calder Trophy hopeful.
Jonathan Drouin's NHL debut was delayed due to injury, but since making that debut with the Tampa Bay Lightning, he has contributed seven points in nine games. Drouin could be right back in the Calder mix by season's end.
On the blue line, first overall pick Aaron Ekblad has been solid with the Florida Panthers but has been overshadowed in the early going by unheralded 20-year-old Damon Severson of the New Jersey Devils.
Salary-Cap Management Is a Dangerous Game
On Saturday night, the Los Angeles Kings hosted the Vancouver Canucks with just five defensemen in their lineup. As Rich Hammond of the Orange County Register reported, Robyn Regehr was injured and the Kings were short $160 in the cap space they needed to recall a player from the AHL at the league minimum salary of $550,000.
The Kings are in a tough spot due to Slava Voynov's October 20 suspension pending the investigation into domestic assault accusations. Voynov leaves a hole in the blue line, but his full salary still counts against the cap while he's out of action.
Though Los Angeles management initially supported the league's announcement of Voynov's suspension, "Kings executives are privately seething that the NHL has been unwilling to grant any cap relief while Voynov’s legal situation plays out," Hammond reports.
The Kings' unusual roster didn't stop them from earning a 5-1 win against the Canucks on Saturday, but there's no clear indication when or if Voynov's situation will eventually be resolved.
You're Responsible for What You Put into Your Body
Drug suspensions happen so rarely in the NHL that they always come as a surprise.
Last week, 23-year-old fringe winger Carter Ashton of the Toronto Maple Leafs was suspended without pay for 20 games after testing positive for a banned substance, per NHL.com.
Ashton says he ran afoul of the rules by accident after using a friend's inhaler during a bout of exercise-induced asthma over the summer. While he takes responsibility for his actions, Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star says the player should have known better:
Pro athletes, amateur athletes, child athletes — they’re told ad nauseum to be fastidious about what they put in their bodies. It’s hard to imagine anyone who has made sports his life’s work wouldn’t be a little more careful about bumming a buddy’s pharmaceuticals.
Ashton was pointless in just three games with the Leafs this season, so his absence won't have much of an impact on the team.
By the time his 20-game banishment is complete, he might be virtually forgotten. For now, he's in the spotlight as a cautionary tale to other players around the NHL.