A healthy dose of home games to start the season has the potent Tampa Bay Lightning atop the division while the other four contenders lag behind.
This recap covers the period from January 27th to February 3rd.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning (6-2-0) posted their second straight 3-1 record over the course of the past week. Steven Stamkos paces the team's dangerous offense with sixteen points (7G/9A). Anders Lindback won all three games he started and lowered his GAA to 2.83. Tampa Bay has scored 39 goals and given up 21.
Tampa Bay started off the week on the road in Philadelphia, beating the Flyers by a 5-1 count. First period goals from Teddy Purcell, Eric Brewer and Vincent Lecavalier offset an early strike from Philadelphia's Sean Couturier just 59 seconds after the opening drop of the puck. Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos scored in the third period to put the game away. Anders Lindback turned aside 24 of 25 shots to pick up the win.
The Lightning returned home to face the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. Goals by Stamkos and rookie Cory Conacher gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 advantage after the opening frame. Tom Pyatt and Dana Tyrell scored in the second period as the Bolts cruised to a 5-2 win. Lecavalier and Florida's Tomas Fleischmann traded special team scores in the latter part of the third period. Lindback had a pretty easy go of it in goal, stopping 26 shots.
The Winnipeg Jets paid the Lightning a visit on Thursday and left Tampa Bay 8-3 losers. Lecavalier, Stamkos and Conacher each had three points in the rout that saw the Lightning jump out to a 6-0 lead before the Jets finally got on the scoreboard. Seven different Tampa Bay players ended up lighting the lamp during the game. Winnipeg beat Lindback three times in the third but the goals were pretty meaningless at that point.
The Lightning finished the week a day later with a tough 3-2 loss on home ice to the New York Rangers. After a scoreless opening frame, Steven Stamkos and Derek Stepan traded second period goals. Rick Nash scored early in the third and Carl Hagelin got the eventual winner with 5:13 remaining. Stamkos scored again to cut the deficit to one but the Bolts would be stymied by Martin Biron the rest of the way. Mathieu Garon got the start for Tampa Bay and was solid in the loss, stopping 27 shots.
Trending: Up. The Lightning easily look like the class of the division after the first two weeks of the season. Tampa Bay has the top offense in the NHL and Lindback seems, for now, to have ended the Lightning's problems in goal. If the rest of the division doesn't wake up soon the Bolts could cruise to the Southeast title.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets (3-4-1) compiled a 1-3 record this week. They remain in second place but fell out the Eastern Conference's top eight. Defenseman Tobias Enstrom leads the team in scoring with eleven points (2G/9A). Ondrej Pavelec took the three losses and saw his GAA balloon to 3.56 after a solid first week. The Jets have scored 24 goals and given up 32.
Winnipeg opened the week with a 5-4 overtime win on home ice against the New York Islanders. David Ullstrom gave the Islanders an early lead before Alexei Ponikarovsky scored midway through the first period to tie the game. Bryan Little scored in the second period to give the Jets their first lead. In the third period, the Islanders came out firing with John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Mark Streit scoring in the first half of the frame. Dustin Byfuglien stopped the bleeding before Alexander Burmistrov scored his first goal of the season to tie the game at four. In overtime, Evander Kane was the hero, beating Evgeni Nabokov at 1:59 of the extra period. Backup goaltender Al Montoya picked up the win in goal for the Jets.
The Jets would hit the road and face the Montreal Canadiens next. Montreal slipped by Winning 4-3 on a third period power play goal by Tomas Plekanec. The Jets fell behind 2-0 in the first period before Blake Wheeler scored on the power play. Nik Antropov and Olli Jokinen scored even strength goals in the second to give Winnipeg a 3-2 lead before Montreal's Erik Cole scored to tie the game heading into the third. Plekanec beat Pavelec at the 5:31 mark of the final perod with Tobias Enstrom in the box to give the Canadiens the win.
Winnipeg would head south to take on the Florida Panthers in a Thursday night tilt. Pavelec made 16 saves in the first period to keep the game knotted at zero. Brian Campbell scored early in the second period for the home team but Grant Clitsome replied for the Jets. Olli Jokinen scored to give Winnipeg a 2-1 lead in third period before Kris Versteeg tied the game for Florida. Tobias Enstrom gave Winnipeg it's second lead of the third before the bottom dropped out and Florida scored four straight goals to win the game going away, 6-3.
The Jets finished off the week by getting absolutely hammered in Tampa Bay by an 8-3 count on Friday. The Lightning scored three goals in each of the first two periods, chasing Pavelec who surrendered the first five, in the process. Al Montoya came in to mop up and the Jets got goals from Enstrom, Paul Postma and Andrew Ladd in the third period to make it mildly respectable.
Trending: Down. The Jets are still in second place but look to be in free fall after a solid start to the season. Once again, the road exposed Winnipeg's shortcomings on defense and Ondrej Pavelec continues to be wildly inconsistent in goal. To stay in the race the Jets are going to have continue last season's strong play at home and finally figure out a way to pick up points on the road.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes (3-4-0) only played three games this week, finishing with a 1-2 record. Eric Staal is their leading scorer with nine points (6G/3A). Backup goaltender Dan Ellis is currently outplaying starter Cam Ward. Carolina has scored 18 goals and allowed 23 so far this season.
Carolina started the week at home against Boston and had their two-game winning streak snapped by the Bruins, 5-3. Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara scored early in the first before Jamie McBain answered for the Hurricanes. Nathan Horton put Boston back ahead by two in the second period before Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal replied to even the game at three. David Krejci beat Ward late in the third period and Tyler Seguin scored the clincher into an empty net.
After a three day break, the Ottawa Senators came to town and the Hurricanes bounced back with 1-0 shutout win. Eric Staal notched his fifth of the season in the first period on assists from Alexander Semin and Joe Corvo. Dan Ellis stopped all 33 Ottawa shots to post the shutout.
The Hurricanes finished off the week a day later in Philadelphia. The Flyers would prevail by a 5-3 margin. Dan Ellis faltered after his strong start against Ottawa. Kurtis Foster scored on the power play to stake the Flyers to an early lead before Joni Pitkanen answered for the Hurricanes. Braydon Coburn and Danny Briere scored to give Philadelphia a 3-1 lead before Staal tallied to pull Carolina to within one. Philadelphia pulled away in the second period as Mike Knuble scored to send Ellis to the bench and Claude Giroux beat replacement Cam Ward twelve minutes later. Patrick Dwyer got one back for Carolina in the third but it was too little, too late and the Hurricanes slipped under the .500 mark.
Trending: Down slightly. The Hurricanes look to be merely average at best right right now. The team's top players (especially Eric Staal and Skinner) are producing points but the rest of the roster needs to provide better scoring support. Newcomers Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal also need balance out their playmaking by finding the back of net more often. Goaltender Cam Ward has been a bit of a disappointment so far.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers (3-5-0) lost their first of the week but rebounded to finish 2-1, shaking off a five-game losing streak. Tomas Fleischmann leads the team in scoring with seven points (2G/5A). Jose Theodore started all three games during the week. Florida has scored 20 goals and allowed 30.
The Panthers began the second week of the season by dropping a 5-2 road decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was their fifth straight defeat. Steven Stamkos opened the scoring with a power play goal in the first period. Peter Mueller quickly tied the game for Florida only to have Cory Conacher restore Tampa's advantage eighty-five seconds later. Tom Pyatt and Dana Tyrell scored in the second period to make it 4-1 Lightning. Vincent Lecavalier notched a third period power play goal for the Lightning while Tomas Fleischmann scored shorthanded for Florida to complete the scoring. Jose Theodore made 28 saves for the Panthers.
Florida returned home to Sunrise badly in need of a win. The Winnipeg Jets were the opposition and the Panthers used a five-goal third period to cruise to a 6-3 victory. The Panthers out shot the Jets 16-8 in the first period but could not beat Ondrej Pavelec. Brian Campbell finally solved the Winnipeg goalie but the Jets would tie the game before the end of the second on a Grant Clitsome goal. The Jets would take the lead twice in the third period but the Panthers would get the last four goals of the game. Kris Versteeg, Peter Mueller, Alex Kovalev, Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Kopecky tallied during the five goal, third period outburst. Jose Theodore made 22 saves to get the win in net.
The Cats would head to Buffalo for the final tilt of the week and they picked up their first road win of the season with a 4-3 decision over the Sabres. Thomas Vanek opened the scoring by finishing off a pretty passing play with Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson getting the helpers. Shawn Matthias would tie the game for Florida, scoring off a clean face-off win by Jerred Smithson. Buffalo would take the lead back before the end of the first period with Hodgson getting the goal off a feed from Vanek after a Panther turnover. Buffalo's number one line would be on the ice again as the Sabres went ahead 3-1 with defenseman Alexander Sulzer getting the goal this time. Vanek and Hodgson picked up the assists to give them three points each. George Parros would reply for Florida by finishing off a nice Stephen Weiss pass for his first as Panther. Rookie Drew Shore would get his first NHL point by setting up Peter Mueller to tie the game at three late in the second period. Tomas Kopecky and Jonathan Huberdeau would combine to set up Brian Campbell for the game-winner on a third period power play. The Panthers defense finally seemed to come together in the third period, limiting Buffalo to four shots on goal.
Trending: Up. Two straight come from behind victories stopped Florida's slide and have the defending division champs poised to climb the standings. Goaltending and defensive zone coverage need to improve but the Panthers look like they are finally putting things together after an ugly start to the season.
Washington Capitals: The Capitals (2-6-1) rebounded somewhat from a terrible start to finish the second week with a 2-3 record. Veteran Mike Ribeiro surprisingly continues to lead the team in scoring with ten points (2G/8A). Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby each posted a win in goal this week. The Capitals have scored 21 goals this season while giving up 33.
The Capitals began the week by picking up their first victory of the season, a 3-2 home ice win over the Buffalo Sabres. After Buffalo's Tyler Ennis opened the scoring Joel Ward tied the game in the first period and John Erskine scored in the second to give Washington a 2-1 lead. Alex Ovechkin beat Ryan Miller in the third period for his first of the season to give the Capitals a two goal advantage. Marcus Foligno would score for the Sabres but Michal Neuvirth shut the door the rest of the way.
Washington would head to Ottawa for their next tilt and fall to the Senators by a 3-2 count. Looking for a second straight win, the Capitals got off to strong start as Troy Brouwer and Matt Hendricks scored to give them a 2-0 lead after one period. Jim O'Brien got the Senators on the board in the second period. Milan Michalek struck early in the third to tie the score and Sergei Gonchar fired in the winner with 2:30 remaining in the game with Ottawa on a power play. Neuvirth again got the start and made 24 saves in the losing effort.
The Capitals stay in Canada continued with the Toronto Maple Leafs next on the schedule. Washington came close to stealing this one but the Leafs would end up prevailing by a 3-2 margin. Joel Ward scored his fourth of the season to stake the Caps to an early lead before James van Riemsdyk replied with the Maple Leafs on a power play. Alex Ovechkin scored a power play marker to give the outplayed Caps a 2-1 lead after two periods. Nikolai Kulemin and Matt Frattin would score in the first half of the third period to give Toronto the win. The Maple Leafs out shot the Capitals by a 40-22 margin. Neuvirth stood tall in net but couldn't prevent the inevitable outcome.
Washington returned home to face the Philadelphia Flyers and came away with a 3-2 win. Braden Holtby started and picked up his first win of the season. Philadelphia's Bruno Gervais opened the scoring in the second period before Niklas Backstrom tied it up for the Capitals. Troy Brouwer and Wojtek Wolski scored to put the Caps ahead by two in the early stages of the final period. Brayden Schenn pulled the Flyers within one but Washington would hold on to post their second win of the campaign.
The Capitals would complete the week at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins and end up getting blasted by their arch-rivals, 6-3. After netting the Penguins' first goal, Chris Kunitz scored three more to break open a tight game that Pittsburgh led 3-2 in the second period. Mike Green, John Carlson and Mike Ribeiro scored the goals for Washington. Sidney Crosby set up three goals for Pittsburgh. Braden Holtby took the loss in net, surrendering all six goals on twenty-six shots.
Trending: Upwards. The Capitals are not out of the woods yet but at least they have started winning some games. It was tooth and nail for me in my preseason prediction between Carolina and Tampa Bay (I went with Carolina) but I didn't even consider the Capitals which says something. Washington looks very, very ordinary right now. The window for winning a Stanley Cup with the veterans on this roster seems to be closing fast, if not already shut tight.