Welcome to the sixth edition of "Looking North," our weekly Friday dive into the all-Canadian division. This installment dates back to Feb. 19.
Are the Edmonton Oilers for real? Time will tell if this is just another short-lived hot streak, but Connor McDavid and Co. appear to have found their rhythm two months into the season. The Oilers have won eight of their last nine contests and sit second place in the North division.
The Montreal Canadiens' fall from grace culminated in the firing of former head coach Claude Julien on Wednesday as the club hopes to rediscover its dominant form from the season's opening 10 games. Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks' campaign continues to slip away. The club went winless last week, collecting just one point while falling further down the standings.
The Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs continue to find ways to win, while the Calgary Flames are still trying to discover their identity. The Ottawa Senators, who routed the Flames 6-1 on Thursday, have won three straight and are playing their best hockey of the season.
|Team||Points over last week|
|Edmonton Oilers||8 (4-0-0)|
|Winnipeg Jets||6 (3-0-0)|
|Ottawa Senators||6 (3-0-0)|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||4 (2-1-0)|
|Calgary Flames||3 (1-3-1)|
|Montreal Canadiens||2 (0-2-2)|
|Vancouver Canucks||1 (0-3-1)|
Forward: McDavid strengthened his bid for a second Hart Trophy, pacing all skaters in the division in both goals (five) and points (eight) last week. The Oilers captain stole the show in the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta, lighting up the Flames for five points, which included a natural hat trick.
Defenseman: Thomas Chabot has been the Senators' best player this season, and his elite abilities have catalyzed the club's first three-game winning streak this season. The 24-year-old rearguard played just under half the contest and set up the game-winner in the Sens' second of two victories over the Canadiens last week. Chabot added two more assists in the team's thrashing of the Flames as Ottawa owned 61.33% of scoring chances at five-on-five with him patrolling the ice.
Goalie: The Oilers have been a different team since Mike Smith returned to the crease earlier this month. The veteran puck-stopper is red-hot, allowing just four goals (.953 save percentage) over his last three starts - all wins. Smith's 32-save shutout against the Canucks on Thursday punctuated what's been an invaluable stretch of play to the Oilers.
Good for Matt Murray. McDavid may have stolen the show with his offensive bona fides, and Smith was easily the top puck-stopper last week, but Murray should be recognized for bouncing back from a dreadful start to his campaign. The Senators netminder, who hadn't won consecutive games this season, earned a victory in all three of his starts last week, authoring a .929 save percentage across those outings.
William Nylander has been criticized for his lack of involvement at times this season, but the dynamic winger silenced his critics with a heroic performance against the Flames on Wednesday. With the Leafs in danger of being shut out for a second consecutive game, Nylander pounced on a loose puck late to force overtime.
Nylander put his incredible skill on display again in the extra frame to secure the Leafs' victory. The 24-year-old became the fourth player in franchise history - and first since 1995 - to score the tying goal with under two minutes to play in regulation and the overtime winner in the same game, according to NHL Public Relations.
Oilers storm back on Canucks
The Oilers and Canucks are heading in opposite directions, and the latter is running short on time to reverse course. Vancouver jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening frame Tuesday night before surrendering four straight goals - including three in the final period - to lose in regulation. Tyler Ennis delivered the dagger with just under seven minutes to play.
Unfortunately for the Canucks, this debacle wasn't an isolated incident. Vancouver has owned at least a 2-0 lead in three of its last five losses.
No-look, no problem
McDavid's aforementioned natural hat trick against the Flames was highlighted by another moment of magic. His second came at the start of the middle period as No. 97 put his hands, vision, and lightning-quick release on full display.
Now that Claude Julien has been directed to the exit in Montreal, will the hammer continue to drop on North Division coaches? Flames bench boss Geoff Ward and Canucks head coach Travis Green are certainly far from safe.
It was reported in January that the Canucks intended to re-sign Green, whose contract is up after this season. A lot has changed over the last month, however, and as the losses continue to pile up, something may eventually give. The Flames turned their campaign around after Ward took over coaching duties last season, but the honeymoon period may be over. If Ward can't help Calgary carve out an identity in the coming weeks, a new voice might be needed in the Flames' locker room.
"Anybody that thinks we're going to fight is an idiot," Tkachuk said prior to Thursday's outing between the Flames and Senators.
Unfortunately for fans, a 6-1 beatdown wasn't enough to push Matthew over the edge, and their father seems happy to keep it that way. "They're brothers, they're best friends," former NHLer Keith Tkachuk said earlier in the week. "(My wife) Chantal wouldn't like it and I wouldn't like it."
The Flames and Senators square off eight more times this season, including four games in the next nine days, but don't hold your breath for an old-fashioned showdown between the Tkachuk brothers.
McDavid's five-point night against the Flames was his second such outing of the season. The franchise pivot clinched the natural hat trick with his fifth point in just 13:27 of ice time. He finished with only 17:33 thanks to the lopsided score.
The red-hot Oilers are just four points back of the Maple Leafs for first place entering a three-game set in Edmonton this week. The sides have split the season series at two wins apiece, with three of the four contests being decided by just one goal.