This past week in the NHL had an on-again, off-again schedule due to the Thanksgiving holiday, but the hockey itself delivered.
There were zero games on Tuesday and Thursday, understandably so. In between was 14 games on Wednesday, followed by 15 games on Saturday. Despite a couple full days off, this was a fantastic week of hockey.
The Thanksgiving break is an early indicator of where teams may finish the regular season. Although there is plenty of hockey remaining in the season, the playoff picture at Thanksgiving is typically accurate and reflective of the playoff picture come April.
There are a few teams that are all but a formality for the playoffs. Then there are several teams that will be in contention.
The 2023/24 NHL season has delivered the goods so far and this past week was a great microcosm. Here is a bit of the moving and shaking from the past week.
The Jets were not expected to be bad, per se. But for all intents and purposes, the Central was expected to belong to either the Avalanche or Stars. That could still be the case come April.
But Winnipeg has proven they now belong in that conversation.
Winnipeg is on a five-game winning streak highlighted by a 3-2 win over Tampa on Wednesday and a 3-0 win over Florida on Friday. Their 26 points are good for 2nd in the Central, 5th in the Western Conference, and 6th in the NHL. The Jets rank top 10 in the NHL in both goals scored and allowed, and they score the seventh most goals in the league 5 on 5.
The depth of the Jets has been a key strength early on. They have 10 players that have at least 10 points, five players with 15+ points, and two players - Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele - with 20+ points, which is good for over a point per game average.
If they can keep their foot on the gas, they will be a legitimate contender to win the Western Conference.
The New York Rangers have played stellar since the first drop of the puck this season. They were keeping pace with the Vegas Golden Knights and Boston Bruins who were trading places atop the NHL standings.
As of Sunday, though, it is the Rangers who boast that top spot in the league after a statement 7-4 win over the Bruins.
Thus far this season, the Rangers have lost just three games in regulation and have a +21 goal differential which is good for second in the league. Their goal scoring is not up there with fellow top teams in the league, but it is timely and supported by fantastic goal prevention.
As the Rangers have for the past few seasons, they have been elite so far this year at minimizing damage and keeping the puck out of their net. They lead the NHL with the least amount of goals allowed per game, thanks to a stellar goaltending duo of Igor Shesterkin and Jonathan Quick and despite losing Norris Trophy candidate Adam Fox to injury.
They rank just 11th in the NHL in goals scored per game, yet still have the second best goal differential. That is how strong their defense and goaltending has been.
It remains to be seen how long the Rangers will stay atop the league standings. Regardless, this looks to be the first of multiple stints as the top dog in the NHL this season. They will be a fun team to watch as the season progresses.
The Tampa Bay Lightning won big on Friday by a score of 8-2 over a good Carolina Hurricanes team. Tampa did so on the back of Nikita Kucherov’s two goals and four assists.
With those six points, Kucherov took the NHL lead in points with 35 points including 15 goals in just 20 games played. Even without Friday's fantastic performance, Kucherov would be well over a point per game.
There is no need to believe Kucherov’s production will slow down any time soon. He plays on Tampa’s top line with Brayden Point and Brandon Hagel, and is also on the top power play with Point, Nick Paul, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman.
Kucherov has been a star player in this league for nearly a decade and every time he steps on the ice, he plays with fellow fantastic players.
The Lightning are tied for second with the Florida Panthers in the Atlantic division but are by no means comfortable. They are ahead of very good Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs teams while remaining division opponents are still lurking.
The Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference are both absolutely stacked and the Lightning will be looking to collect every point possible to keep pace. That being the case, Kucherov’s foot will remain on the gas and he should remain in award conversations all season long.
The Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, and Vancouver Canucks have generated most of the conversation in the Western Conference so far this season.
In the grand scheme of the entire league, those teams rightfully take a lot of headlines. But the Los Angeles Kings stand out as a team glaringly omitted from conversations around elite NHL teams.
This week saw the Kings comfortably win three games as part of a current five-game winning streak. During their current winning streak, they have outscored opponents a combined 20-5 and beat teams including the Panthers, St. Louis Blues, and most recently, the Montreal Canadiens.
Their 29 points are good for second in the Western Conference and fourth in the NHL. They score the most goals per game in the NHL - led by Adrian Kempe and Kevin Fiala with 20 points each and Trevor Moore and Anze Kopitar with 19 points each - and allow the second least goals per game thanks to Cam Talbot's stellar goaltending.
This Kings team does just about everything right and they showed this week why they deserve to be in the elite class of teams.