Montreal Canadiens: The Habs continue to pace the competition in the Eastern Conference, riding a four-game winning streak into this week. Montreal has won seven of eight games to start the season, including a key victory against the New York Rangers over the weekend that was a rematch of last spring’s Eastern Conference finals. Goaltender Carey Price, who many have predicted would have a Vezina-caliber season, has surrendered only four goals in his past three starts.
Frans Nielsen: One of the most underrated two-way players in the league, the 30-year-old Dane recorded his first career hat trick to propel the New York Islanders past the Dallas Stars in the team’s 7-5 win Saturday night. Centering a line with offseason additions Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski could serve Nielsen well, and if the Isles continue their strong start to the season, Nielsen might receive the type of recognition he is due.
Detroit Red Wings' penalty kill: Granted, the Wings’ penalty-kill surrendered its first power-play goal of the season in a 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, but the group remains tops in the league with a 96.2 success rate (25-for-26). What stood out the most was the Red Wings' ability to stymie the league’s most dangerous power-play unit, that of the Pittsburgh Penguins, on all three attempts Thursday night.
Carolina Hurricanes: We’re beginning to sound like a broken record, aren’t we? Hard not to mention the Canes, though, because the embattled squad has yet to record its first win of the season and has dropped three straight in regulation. The pile of injuries certainly does not help, but it really feels as if it's only a matter of time before the Eric Staal trade rumors really heat up.
Randy Carlyle: An offseason of upheaval in Toronto left many surprised that Carlyle kept his gig behind the bench for the Leafs. It sure seems he's still on the hot seat, with his team struggling out of the gates and looking rather uninspired. The Leafs have dropped three of four games at home, and the crowd at the Air Canada Centre voiced its displeasure with a round of boos over the weekend following the team’s 4-1 loss to the Bruins. Could Carlyle’s job be in danger soon?
It was a scary scene for the already-injury-ravaged Columbus Blue Jackets as they saw forward Nick Foligno stretchered off the ice after a freak collision with a linesman during a game against the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. Team president John Davidson told reporters later that Foligno is expected to be OK, but a timeline for his return has yet to be determined.
The Isles have been without one of their top defensemen, Travis Hamonic, for the last two games, the type of injury that threatened to devastate the team in years past. But general manager Garth Snow’s addition of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy greatly bolstered the depth of the team’s blue line, allowing the team to fill the void in Hamonic’s absence. It also helps that Lubomir Visnovsky made his season debut last week as well. The veteran puck-mover chipped in with a goal and an assist in the team’s most recent win against the Stars.
Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli confirmed the fans’ biggest fears when he announced that captain Zdeno Chara will miss four to six weeks with a ligament tear in his left knee. If there's any player on that team who is considered absolutely irreplaceable, it’s Chara.
What to watch For
Now we will see what the Islanders are really made of, because they head west this week to take on some of the biggest, baddest competition in the league. Though the Isles currently lead the Metropolitan Division with a 6-2 record, their five-game road trip beginning Thursday features stops in Colorado, San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. It will be interesting to see how things stand when they return.
How will Boston fare without Chara? The team has already seen its blue line diminished -- namely by the trade of Boychuk to Long Island, but playing without their most imposing defender will be their biggest challenge yet. Look for coach Claude Julien to lean heavily on guys like Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid as well as youngsters Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug.