Record-wise, the Detroit Red Wings are just about as good as they were last season, when they finished first overall and won the Stanley Cup. But they're having to work a lot harder to get their points this season.
The Wings were the kings of the blowout last season. Of their 54 wins, 22 were by three or more goals, the most in the League, while they lost only five such games. In contrast, Detroit had only a .500 winning percentage (18-11-7) in games that were decided by one goal.
In contrast, the Wings have excelled this season in games decided by one goal. Their 15 one-goal victories are tied with three other teams for the most in the League, and at 15-3-5, their .652 winning percentage is tied for fourth.
But they've had a lot fewer blowouts. The Wings have won just seven of their games by three or more goals, well behind Chicago's League-leading total of 12. Their .875 winning percentage (7-1) is second behind Boston, which is 11-0 in three-plus-goal games.
Much of the difference is attributable to problems in their own zone. The Wings allowed a League-low 179 non-shootout goals last season; with the season nearing the halfway point, they had allowed 111 in 40 games, a pace that would see them surrender 225 goals over a full season.
Short-comings on Broadway — One of the more amazing feats thus far this season is the fact that the New York Rangers are battling for first place in the Atlantic Division despite being on track to break the team record for shorthanded goals allowed.
The Rangers enter the weekend having allowed 13 shorthanded goals — four more than any other team. They've allowed only one fewer than the New York Islanders surrendered all last season, when the Isles gave up more shorthanded goals than any team in the League — and only two more than the 15 allowed by Pittsburgh in 2005-06, the most given up by any team in the past decade.
It's hard to say what has happened. The Rangers allowed just six shorthanded goals all of last season, and they haven't surrendered as many as 13 in a full season since 1997-98. With half a season to play, they're closing in on the team record of 17 shorthanded goals allowed, set in 1992-93.
All those shorthanded goals might not be so painful if the Rangers' power play were producing goals of its own. But that's not happening. The Rangers are in the bottom third of the NHL in power-play goals with 27, and their 14.4 percentage is 26th in the 30-team League. In essence, the power play has yielded a net of 14 goals in half a season — and that's no way to win a division title.
Considering all that, the fact that the Rangers are in a three-way battle with Philadelphia and New Jersey for the top spot in the Atlantic is a remarkable achievement. Both of those teams do a much better job not hurting themselves on the power play: Philadelphia is plus-13 (13-0) in shorthanded goals; New Jersey is plus-2 (4-2) — while the Rangers are minus-8.
Really even —There are no more ties in the NHL. But if ever a game should have ended in a draw, it was Washington's 2-1 shootout win over Philadelphia on Tuesday — because the game could not have been more even.
Not only did each team manage 34 shots on goal through 65 minutes, both took 8 penalty minutes (four minors each), and both went 1-for-4 on the power play. The last time both teams had the same number of shots, penalty minutes and power plays in the same game was Jan. 18, 2007, when Tampa Bay beat New Jersey 3-2 in a shootout. That game saw each team get 29 shots, take 8 penalty minutes and go 1-4 on the power play — and produce a 1-0 outcome in the shootout, as the Caps and Flyers did.
Conference change? — It would be hard to blame the Minnesota Wild for wanting to move from the Western Conference to the East.
Minnesota's 1-0 victory at Boston on Tuesday gave the Wild a 10-1-1 record against Eastern Conference teams this season (they're now 10-2-1 after a 3-1 loss at Philadelphia on Thursday). Against their own conference, the Wild are 10-15-2.
Moving to the East would also give the Wild more chances to play the Boston Bruins, a team they've dominated since entering the NHL. Minnesota won both meetings with the Bruins this season to improve to 8-1-0 all-time against the Bruins — and 5-0-0 at TD Banknorth Garden. The Bruins have scored just 13 goals in their nine meetings with the Wild, and only five in their five home losses.
The Wild also spoiled former teammate Manny Fernandez' perfect season at home. Fernandez won his first nine decisions at the Garden before Tuesday's loss. That was the second-longest home winning streak to start a season in Bruins history; Gilles Gilbert won his first 16 decisions at the Boston Garden in 1973-74.
The power of six — The New York Islanders haven't done a lot of things right this season — they're last in the overall standings and have dropped 14 in a row on the road. But one thing they've done well since Christmas is score sixth-attacker goals.
The Islanders did something against Buffalo that no other team has done this season — score twice after pulling the goaltender in favor of a sixth attacker. It earned them a point, but the Sabres won the game 4-3 in a shootout. In three of their next four games, the Isles also scored with the extra attacker after pulling the goaltender (they won the other 4-2, ironically allowing a sixth-attacker goal in that game).
Unfortunately for the Islanders, they trailed by two goals in each before pulling the goaltender — so they lost all three anyway.