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NHL review: Vancouver streak continues to top Christmas charts

There were more thrills and spills on the ice this past week with the Christmas break now upon us, giving a chance for all to take stock and plan for the playoff race ahead.

The Boston Bruins are still sitting pretty at the top of the Atlantic but they don't look like dominating like last season after failing to chalk up a single W in four games. Tampa Bay are arguably the form team in the division, winning three on the bounce to move into what is not an entirely unexpected top four.

The New York Rangers had another impressive week, winning three of four games, to maintain their grip on the Metropolitan, with the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes still with plenty of work to do as their struggles for consistency continue.

Over in the West, the Vancouver Canucks just won't go away and after another fine week, they go into the break with the most points in the league having played more games than some of their nearest rivals, but they'll be happy to be in first. 

The Central arguably looks the toughest to call with just one point separating the top three teams and it could go right down to the wire.

Here are some storylines from the latest round of matches going into the break.

Can the Nucks maintain?

There will be those that are waiting for Vancouver to drop off or simply implode after allowing nearly 300 goals last season, but that is simply not happening this time around, with Vancouver top of the pile. 

The Nucks have scored the most goals so far while they have the sixth-best defensive record, and they picked up another seven points this week (3-0-1) with their only defeat coming in overtime in Dallas. 

It could be argued that it wasn't the toughest schedule but they can only beat what is in front of them. Vancouver have been doing that consistently to lead the league in points going into Christmas. 

The Nucks are still only third favorites at +200 to win the Pacific, and are seventh at +650 to win the Conference.

Lightning strike with Boston faltering

Boston still look to be the force in the Atlantic but the break may have come at just the right time for them to refresh. The Bruins suffered two overtime defeats to start the week before back-to-back losses, but are still four points clear at the top. 

Tampa Bay found a little Christmas cheer as they have started to close in on the top three. It helps having the NHL's leading pointscorer on the team and Nikita Kucherov added another five points to his tally this week, as the Lightning won three on the bounce. Nick Paul scored six and Victor Hedman five with Tampa Bay now into fourth.

Auston Matthews took his goal tally to 28 with another five this week as Toronto stayed second behind Boston. However, it was another mixed performance as they went 2-2, beating Pittsburgh and Columbus 7-0 and 4-1 respectively, but getting blown out 9-3 by Buffalo and losing 5-2 to the Rangers. 

It was a similar story for the Florida Panthers who went 2-2 to stay level on points with the Leafs, but they at least went into the break having gained a little Stanley Cup revenge, winning 4-2 over the Vegas Golden Knights.

Jets staying in Central hunt

The Winnipeg Jets appear to be back on their best form after a testing run at the end of November, and demonstrated their credentials in what could be the toughest division to find a winner, the Central Division.

The Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and the Jets are all listed at +175 for Central honours, but Winnipeg started the week with their second win over the Avs this month with a thumping 6-2 victory at the MTS Centre.

That success was followed by a point in an overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens before they hit the winning trail once again, recording back-to-back victories over the Detroit Red Wings (5-2) and, more impressively, the Boston Bruins (5-1).

Gabriel Vilardi has hit a rich vein for the Jets, scoring eight points (five goals, three assists) across the week in a standout performance to help maintain their perhaps surprising push.

However, this is a title race that could go all the way. The Jets are third in the Central with a record of 20-9-3 for 43 points, one behind both the Stars (20-8-4) and Colorado (21-11-2).

MacKinnon stars while Kane still able

The Colorado Avalanche are perhaps not as consistently dominating as in their 2022 Stanley Cup-winning season but there is no doubt there is plenty of star quality in their lineup, not least in Nathan MacKinnon.

The 28-year-old was the standout player of the week, racking up 11 points with six goals and five assists as the Avs went 3-2 in a busy run. MacKinnon has moved to the top of the NHL assist charts with 36, while he has closed to within three of Kucherov in the pointscoring standings.

The Avs have got a fight on their hands in the Central but more weeks like this for MacKinnon - with Valeri Nichushkin also contributing seven points - will make their life far easier.

It was also a good week for Patrick Kane in his new home in Detroit, on a personal level at least, as he showed his quality with an eight-point haul (four goals, four assists) across four games.

Unfortunately for Kane, the Red Wings cannot get out of their slump, going 1-3 in the week, while they have won just one of their last six games and only two of their last 10. 

Detroit is not yet out of the Wild Card race - three points behind Tampa Bay - but they need to stop this slide soon. 

Still, there are worse slumps in Detroit right now with the Pistons hitting unwanted levels in the NBA. Still, the Red Wings need to bounce back.

Oilers quickly regather momentum

The then-rampant Edmonton Oilers saw their eight-game winning run brought to an end last week, and that blip - a 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning - threatened to become something more akin to their terrible start and ruin their Christmas when the Florida Panthers (5-1) and the New York Islanders (3-1) made it an unwanted hat-trick of defeats.

The Oilers though finished the week 2-2 with two impressive road wins, winning 6-3 at the New Jersey Devils before beating the New York Rangers 4-3 to get the playoff push back on track.

Perhaps what made it a little sweeter for coach Kris Knoblauch was the fact it wasn't the usual suspects carrying the burden. Ryan McLeod scored two goals against the Devils, as well as a goal and an assist against the Rangers for a four-point haul in two games.

Connor McDavid still contributed four points across the week but Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman were limited to two each, while leading defenseman Evan Bouchard was blanked in all four games. 

Depth in the roster can only be a good thing and momentum may have been restored to their playoff ambitions.

First win for returning Martin

After their frustrating start to the season, it was not surprising that the Ottawa Senators first fired general manager Pierre Dorion and then head coach DJ Smith earlier this week. 

Jacques Martin took over on an interim basis for his second spell in charge, already holding the franchise record of 342 wins from his time behind the Senators bench from 1996-2004.

His task will be to try and get the best out of a talented roster sooner rather than later. The Sens sit in eighth in the Atlantic, although they have played the fewest games in the league. 

There is a long way to go and Ottawa ended a six-game losing streak with a 5-4 overtime win over Pittsburgh on Saturday to register Martin's first win in his second stint.

The schedule doesn't look the easiest on the resumption of action with the Maple Leafs and Devils up next, but Martin has to start somewhere and will go into that run on the back of a win and a few days of preparation and rest.

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