With highly effective play from their star forwards and goaltender Braden Holtby, the Washington Capitals are red-hot. Their impressive play once again earned the club from our nation’s capital the place of No. 1 team in the NHL. Holtby won ten straight starts and star forward Alexander Ovechkin continues to score goals with ease. Add offensive threats like forwards T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov to the equation and it’s clear just how lethal the Capitals are on offense. Despite Washington’s dominance, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets, continue to nip at Washington’s heels for the Metropolitan division lead. Out West, two teams are taking hold of their division races. The Minnesota Wild maintains their grip on the Central Division, and in the Pacific Division, the San Jose Sharks are enjoying recent contributions from NHL veteran forward Patrick Marleau and arguably the league’s best defenseman, Brent Burns.
The following rankings are based on play to date.
No. 1 Washington Capitals (36-11-6)
Over the past week, the Capitals have scorched their competition. Beginning Wednesday Feb. 1 against the Boston Bruins, the Capitals displayed their superior talent. Five different players scored in their 5-3 win. Ovechkin, the Capitals’ leading goal-scorer, marked his 25th goal of the season with a strong wrist shot that found the back of the net on the powerplay. On Saturday Feb. 4, the Capitals defeated goaltender Carey Price and his Montreal Canadiens squad, with three different players scoring to give the Capitals a 3-2 victory. One day later the Capitals hosted the Los Angeles Kings, who were hot off a five-game winning streak. Capitals back-up goaltender Philipp Grubauer made 38 saves for his third shutout of the season. Forward Marcus Johansson also had two points in the game with a goal and a primary assist.
No. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins (33-13-5)
Pittsburgh remains one of the most daunting match-ups in the NHL. Proving their talent, the Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators Tuesday, Jan. 31. Led by forward Patric Hornqvist, who scored two goals in the match-up, Pittsburgh boasted a 4-2 victory. Facing the speedy Columbus Blue Jackets Friday, Feb. 3, the game went into overtime. Forward Phil Kessel scored his second goal of the game, stuffing in a rebound off a shot from defenseman Kris Letang to score the game-winning goal in overtime. Kessel’s strong hands and ability to slide into the dirty areas paid dividends for Pittsburgh in the 4-3 victory. In a more defensive game Saturday, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury helped his Penguins march to victory, giving up only one goal to the St. Louis Blues. Forward Sidney Crosby scored his league-leading 30th goal in the game.
No. 3 Minnesota Wild (34-12-5)
The best in the west, the Minnesota Wild continued their strong play last week. Playing the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday, the Wild tallied five goals to Edmonton’s two. 23-year-old forward Tyler Graovac had a strong performance, scoring his fifth and sixth goals of the season. Wild backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper also had one of his better games, stopping the rapid Oilers’ forecheck. One day later, the Wild fared much worse against the Calgary Flames, suffering a 5-1 defeat following a dominant performance of Flames’ forward Sean Monahan. Rectifying Wednesday’s poor play, the Wild were powered by forward Mikael Granlund’s hat trick that helped Minnesota mark a 6-3 victory against the Vancouver Canucks. Granlund has been exceptional as of late and currently holds a 12-game point streak.
No. 4 San Jose Sharks (33-17-3)
The star players for the Sharks are making tremendous contributions towards the team’s success. Along with the strong play from defenseman Brent Burns and forwards Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, goalie Martin Jones was superb this week. During the Sharks’ 3-1 victory against Chicago Jan. 31, Pavelski contributed to all three goals with one goal and two assists. Jones allowed only one goal to the Blackhawks. Yielding a single goal for the second straight game, Jones helped lead his team to a 4-1 victory against the Vancouver Canucks. Scoring his 500th career goal, Marleau reached a major milestone. Forward Chris Tierney also had a strong performance, scoring two goals. Despite Jones’s best efforts Saturday, the Sharks fell to the Arizona Coyotes in a shootout.
No. 5 Columbus Blue Jackets (33-13-5)
While not the strongest week for Columbus, the Blue Jackets still sit comfortably within the Eastern Conference standings. Their best performance of the week came Tuesday, Jan. 31, when the Blue Jackets scored six unanswered goals against the New York Rangers. Defenseman Seth Jones scored two goals and was one of five players to score for Columbus. The Blue Jackets were up 6-0 in the third period, and despite a late rush from the Rangers, they held on to win the game 6-4. Friday, the Blue Jackets went into overtime with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Trailing by two goals in the third period of Friday’s game, forwards Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson scored to tie the game at three and send it into overtime. To Columbus’s dismay, Penguins’ forward Phil Kessel scored the game-winning goal and sent Columbus home with only one point. After an eventful Friday night, Columbus struggled Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. Devils’ goaltender Cory Schneider and forward Taylor Hall both had strong games for New Jersey and helped the Devils edge Columbus 5-1. Despite the loss, Columbus remains in second place in the Metropolitan Division.