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NHL review: Defending champion Vegas Golden Knights still top of the pile

It has been another action-packed week in the NHL and, although we are yet to hit the halfway point of the season, it is beginning to look like competition for playoff spots will be even more fierce than usual.

In the Western Conference, the 13th-placed Edmonton Oilers are only five points outside the playoff structure with as many as three games in hand on some of those ahead of them.

In the East, just eight points separate the third-placed Toronto Maple Leafs from the 12th-placed Montreal Canadiens.

Golden Knights keep their noses in front

The Vegas Golden Knights remain the number one team in the league, but the defending Stanley Cup champions saw a five-game win streak snapped in a 5-2 loss to Buffalo on Friday night.

Vegas, who had picked up at least a point in nine straight games, led 2-1 heading into the third period but gave up four goals in the final stanza, including an empty-netter.

The Golden Knights top the Pacific Division by three points ahead of Vancouver Canucks, who enjoyed another strong week and who have picked up nine of a possible ten points in their last five games.

The Los Angeles Kings could conceivably hit the front of the division if they win all their games in hand, but they have added only three points from their last four games.

Eastern Conference leaders New York Rangers and Boston Bruins sit two points back in the race for the Presidents' Trophy, and both have played two games fewer than the Golden Knights. 

Read more: 2023/24 NHL Stanley Cup odds

Wild continue their upswing

The Minnesota Wild have turned their season around since appointing John Hynes as head coach at the end of November, winning seven of their last nine games.

They claimed two points in all three of their outings this week, culminating in a shootout victory against Vancouver that ended the Canucks' four-game win streak.

Filip Gustavsson made 35 saves in that game to help the Wild keep up their impressive defensive record. They have allowed two goals or fewer in eight of their nine matchups since Hynes took over from Dean Evason.

The Wild end the week 11th in the Western Conference and seventh in the Central Division, but just four points behind Arizona, who occupy a playoff place and have played two more games than Minnesota.

Bruins lose top spot in the east

Having scored at least two goals in all of their first 24 games of the season, the Bruins have now been held to a single goal in three of their last five.

However, in two of those three matchups one goal was enough to earn Boston a point thanks to strong defense and goaltending. Only the Kings, who have played two fewer games, have allowed fewer than the Bruins' 73 goals against this season.

All three of Boston's games this week needed overtime to decide a winner.

Jack Hughes scored the overtime clincher in a 2-1 loss away to the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night, but the Bruins claimed the extra point in the shootout in a 5-4 win over the New York Islanders on Friday.

The Bruins faced the New York Rangers on Saturday and veteran Rangers centre Vincent Trocheck potted the equalizer and the OT winner for the visitors at TD Garden.

The win saw the Rangers move ahead of Boston in the standings thanks to regulation and OT wins, but the Bruins still hold a five-point lead over Toronto in the Atlantic Division.

The Maple Leafs themselves had a productive week with two wins and two OT losses, all of which featured at least seven goals. Toronto have picked up at least a point in nine straight games.

Read more: 2023/24 NHL Presidents' Trophy favourites

Sharks off the bottom

The San Jose Sharks brought in a lot of new players before this season which certainly contributed to their miserable start to the campaign.

However, they are no longer a pushover and moved off the foot of the standings by picking up three points from their three games this week.

Starting the week looking for a third straight win, the Sharks rallied from two goals down in the third period to force the Golden Knights into overtime last Sunday night, but Vegas finally claimed the extra point in the shootout.

San Jose shook off that disappointment with a 2-1 home win over Winnipeg on Tuesday, snapping the Jets' four-game win streak before losing 1-0 to the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night and losing 6-2 to the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday.

The positive results saw the Sharks move ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks.

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