What New Year's resolution should the Pittsburgh Penguins make, and will they quit two weeks in like the rest of us? -- @briantodd34
It seems like they made their New Year's resolution a month early and they're sticking to it, at least so far. I'm not exactly sure what that resolution was, but clearly the Penguins have found their legs, their game and their goaltending since losing 4-2 at home against the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 1.
Pittsburgh has won six in a row and is 11-2-1 since Dec. 4, good for 23 points, tied for the most in the League in that span with the Tampa Bay Lightning (11-0-1). The Penguins are fourth in goals for (49), tied for third in goals against (31), first in power play (30.8 percent) and ninth in penalty kill (84.2 percent).
Individually, Matt Murray appears to be back on track as the No. 1 goalie, going 5-0-0 with a 1.38 goals-against average and .959 save percentage in five starts since Dec. 15. Casey DeSmith (6-2-1, .932 save percentage, 2.32 GAA since Dec. 4) has been very good, as well, giving the Penguins the type of goaltending they weren't getting earlier in the season. Sidney Crosby (19 points) has been on the scoresheet in almost every game. Phil Kessel (18 points) has three consecutive three-point games. Bryan Rust (eight goals) has found his scoring touch and defenseman Brian Dumoulin is a plus-15, which isn't my favorite stat, but that number is significant in 14 games. The only one who isn't producing or playing up to his normal standards is center Evgeni Malkin, who has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) and a minus-6 rating.
They still have half a season to play, but I think it's time again to look at the Penguins as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
How likely is it that the Dallas Stars look to move either Jamie Benn or Tyler Seguin in light of recent comments by Jim Lites? Is Jim Nill on the hot seat now? -- @k_corpstein
Unlikely, but we don't yet know if there will be continued fallout or if it's over and done with at this point. The comments made by Lites, the Stars CEO, calling out the play of Seguin and Benn were made with a purpose. He wouldn't have been as forceful with them if he wasn't trying to send a message to the players about their play and a message to the fans about how the Stars feel about what they've seen from Benn and Seguin. If it works, and I think it's too early to make any judgment on it despite the Stars being 1-0-1 since Lites' comments, Benn and Seguin will have monster second halves and the Stars will get into the playoffs. By the way, Seguin has assists in both games since and he had eight shots on goal in the 3-2 overtime loss against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, when Benn scored.
Video: MTL@DAL: Benn cleans up rebound in front for PPG
If it doesn't work, the Stars will have to reevaluate what they're doing and what they have. I would expect that reevaluation would include Nill, the general manager, and his status with the team moving forward. That's not to say any major moves will be made, but I would think everything would be on the table, as it should be if a team that believes it is built to win now doesn't make the playoffs for three consecutive seasons. But I don't expect Benn or Seguin to pout, sulk or demand a trade at any point. I believe them when they say they like it in Dallas and want to win there. They know exactly how management feels; it's now on them to make a difference, to make Lites eat his words. He's hungry for it.
Do you think with the current youth movement, added to the incredibly well-coached New York Islanders, that the Islanders are a legitimate playoff contender? -- @ColtonHunter97
Yes. The Islanders, winners of four in a row, keep getting the job done. Barry Trotz, their coach, should be the favorite for the Jack Adams Award as we approach the midway point of the season. What impresses me most about the Islanders is how they continue to keep their goals against down. That's Trotz's forte, but the Islanders might have been his greatest challenge in his long NHL coaching career. New York's team defense is why Trotz is the favorite for coach of the year. The Islanders were dreadful defensively last season, last in the League at 3.57 goals-against per game. They're giving up nearly a goal a game less (2.61) and they're second in the League in that stat. At this point, I think it's fair to trust the goaltending duo of Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner, too. If the Islanders can lift their special teams in the second half -- they're currently 15.8 percent on the power play and 77.5 percent on the penalty kill, bottom third of the League in both -- it will give them a real chance to stay in the race and potentially get into the playoffs. I also think the fact that they play 12 of their final 21 games at Nassau Coliseum will give them a lift. That building turns into a special place when the Islanders are in the playoff race.
Video: NYI@TOR: Barzal scores on rush for natural hatty
The Colorado Avalanche have sputtered as of late, but I still think this is a playoff team because they spent a majority of the first half on the road. If you're general manager Joe Sakic and you have to make one trade, what would it be, for whom and why? -- @MacWinnon
Depth scoring. Preferably a second-line center if possible. Colorado, 0-4-1 in its past five games, has been too reliant on Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. Those three forwards have accounted for 65 of Colorado's 134 goals. As we move into the second half, it's going to be tougher for the Avalanche to rely so heavily on just three players. They even broke up that line in the 3-2 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar went back to Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen when his team was trailing 2-0. They connected for a goal early in the third period to make it 2-1. But the fact Bednar broke them up, even if it was only for half the game, indicates he knows he needs more depth scoring, that he was trying to balance it out a bit.
The Avalanche are in a strong trading position because they have two first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, their own and the one that belongs to the Ottawa Senators that will transfer to the Avalanche as part of the trade that sent center Matt Duchene to Canada's capital city last season. Colorado must protect the Senators pick because that will most likely be a lottery pick, but it could use its own in a trade. I've written in this space many times that I don't think the New York Rangers should trade Kevin Hayes, but if they put him on the market, he's the player the Avalanche should pursue. They won't be alone, though.
What is wrong with Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton? It's getting a little late for "trying to find his fit." He has looked lost in his own zone and people are beating him wide multiple times a night. -- @everytimeidavid
He's a veteran defenseman and he's had nearly half a season to fit in. That should be enough time. I know offenisve production isn't everything, especially for a defenseman, but he's not delivering the numbers the Hurricanes expected him to when they acquired him from the Calgary Flames in that blockbuster trade that included forward Micheal Ferland also coming to Carolina, and defenseman Noah Hanifin and forward Elias Lindholm getting moved out to Calgary on June 23. Hamilton has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) and is a minus-15 through 38 games this season. He had 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) and was a plus-4 through 38 games last season. He scored 13 goals in the final 44 games to finish with a career-high 17 last season. Could he have another strong second half in him? He could because he has that type of talent. But his defensive game must improve. That will drive his offense.
Video: CAR@NJD: Zacha pokes home last-minute SHG on break
However, when I think of the Hurricanes, I don't think of Hamilton's struggles as a standalone. Their issues go beyond Hamilton. It's team-wide. They defy analytics. They shoot the puck the most in the NHL, leading the League in shots on goal per game (37.2) and shot-attempts percentage (56.36), and yet they're 29th in goals for per game (2.45). They're power play (14.4 percent) is a problem, but they're still putting plenty of pucks on net at even strength, so why aren't they scoring? Maybe it's a traffic problem. They're generating chances in close, but are they generating enough with traffic to create chaos in front of the net? That the Hurricanes shoot as much as they do and score as little as they do suggests they're maybe not paying enough of a price to score when they have the puck. That's a team-wide issue that must change in the second half if they're going to have any chance to climb up the standings. You can focus on Hamilton, but it's not on him to go to the net and create that chaos to make all the chances they generate in the high-danger areas matter. The Hurricanes play a consistent game, but they need some finish.