Jason Brough

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Five team stats you may find interesting

7.0 — The Boston Bruins’ shooting percentage. Out of 29 other teams, only the Buffalo Sabres’ is lower (6.8%). This is why the Bruins (15-12-2) haven’t been able to translate their excellent possession numbers into a really great record. On Saturday, the B’s outshot the Maple Leafs, 33-20, but lost the game, 4-1. “Goalies are too good in this league if you don’t make it hard on them,” said center Patrice Bergeron. “A lot of it is that.” Some of it may also be bad luck. But it won’t get any easier tonight in Montreal, where Carey Price is expected to start for the Habs.

.893 — The Dallas Stars’ team save percentage, the lowest in the league. It’s a broken record by now, but Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi aren’t getting it done. The fact the Stars aren’t scoring nearly as many goals as they did last season has really exposed their goaltending and defensive deficiencies. Both Lehtonen and Niemi are signed through next season for a combined cap hit of $10.4 million, so it’s not an easy fix for GM Jim Nill. And there’s no solution in the AHL, where Maxime Lagace and Philippe Desrosiers have identical .893 save percentages for the Texas Stars.

12 — The number of first-period goals for the Vancouver Canucks, who have only opened the scoring in eight of their 29 games. The Canucks have a respectable 22 goals in the second period and 26 in the third.  “When we’re down, we’re playing well,” Daniel Sedin said recently. “Why is that? We’re aggressive. We have to bring back that aggressiveness early on. … I think we’re waiting to see what happens in the game and you can’t play that way.” The Canucks failed to score in any period Sunday in Washington, where they were shut out, 3-0, by the Capitals.

10 — Power-play goals for the New York Islanders, the fewest in the NHL. In a related story, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen combined for 14 PP goals last season. This season, John Tavares leads with three, Anders Lee has two, nobody else has more than one, and Andrew Ladd is still looking for his first. While execution has been sorely lacking, part of it is a simple lack of opportunities. The Isles have only had the man advantage 77 times in 27 games. The Flyers, in contrast, have had an NHL-high 116 power plays in 31 games.

16 — Regulation losses for the Winnipeg Jets, who are in worse shape than the standings may appear at first glance. That’s because the Jets have already played 32 games, at least two more than any other team in the Central Division. Last season, Chicago finished third in the Central and only lost 26 times in regulation. To match the Blackhawks’ record from last season, the Jets would need to go 34-10-6 the rest of the way. No team in the NHL has more regulation losses than Winnipeg.

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Flyers’ Voracek named NHL’s first star of the week

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Jakub Voracek is earning his money. The 27-year-old forward was named the NHL’s first star of the week today, after a pair of four-point games in the past seven days for the streaking Philadelphia Flyers.

Voracek entered the season under a lot of pressure to produce. He did not have a fantastic 2015-16, finishing with 55 points in 73 games. Through 31 games of 2016-17, he already has as many goals (11) as he did all of last season. He also has 21 assists, giving him 32 points total, tied for the second most in the league behind only Connor McDavid (39).

This is the first year of an eight-year, $66 million contract extension that Voracek signed in the summer of 2015.

From the league’s press release:

Voracek led the NHL with six assists and nine points in four outings to help the Flyers (18-10-3, 39 points) complete a perfect week and extend their overall winning streak to nine games, their longest such run since April 2-22, 1995 (also 9-0-0). He scored his eighth career overtime goal – and second of the season – in a 3-2 victory against the Florida Panthers Dec. 6. Voracek then registered 1-3—4 in each of his next two contests: a 6-5 triumph over the Edmonton Oilers Dec. 8 and a 4-2 win against the Dallas Stars Dec. 10. In doing so, he became the first Flyers player to collect four-plus points in consecutive team games since Dec. 31, 1997 – Jan. 3, 1998 (Eric Lindros).

Rangers goalies Antti Raanta and Blue Jackets center Sam Gagner were the second and third stars of the week, respectively.

All hail the Metropolitan, the new best division in the NHL

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The New York Rangers are 20-9-1 and tied with the Montreal Canadiens for the most points in the NHL.

And yet, the Blueshirts can’t get too comfortable, because lurking below them in the Metropolitan Division are…

— The defending Stanley Cup champs from Pittsburgh.
— The Philadelphia Flyers, who’ve won nine in a row.
— The Columbus Blue Jackets, who’ve gone 11-2-3 in their last 16.
— And the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals.

Indeed, the Metropolitan is the new best division in hockey, assuming the mantle from the Central, which only has two teams, Chicago and Minnesota, with a positive goal differential so far this season. The Blues are still a good team, but the Predators and Stars have been disappointing.

The top five teams in the Metropolitan have a combined goal differential of — get this — plus-99.

Pity the New York Islanders, who’ve gone 6-1-1 in their last eight and still sit 10 points back of the fifth-place Capitals.

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The Caps, meanwhile, have won four in a row, and they’re also having trouble making up ground. They’re currently in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Though on the bright side, they’re seven points clear of the fourth-place team in the Atlantic, so a playoff spot isn’t really in serious jeopardy yet.

“You just realize how good the Eastern Conference is this year,” said Capitals coach Barry trotz, per the Washington Post. “I think two years ago, we didn’t have as much balance in the Eastern Conference. There was six or eight teams that you knew they were going to be in, and there was just going to be a fight for the rest. Now, all those teams have drafted well, their young players have developed. Free-agent signings were probably a little more prominent in the East than the West last year, and maybe the last two years.”

The way the standings look right now, the Metropolitan will have five playoff teams, leaving just three spots for the Atlantic.

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The Habs have a comfortable cushion for now, but that won’t be easy to maintain without Alex Galchenyuk for next month and a bit.

The Senators are definitely vulnerable, with one of the lowest score-adjusted Corsis in the league.

The Bruins really need to make the playoffs after missing them two straight years.

The Lightning were considered strong Stanley Cup contenders, but they’ve really been scuffling along lately.

The Panthers will be very interesting to watch after the firing of coach Gerard Gallant.

And the Red Wings, of course, have a lengthy playoff streak on the line — one that looks more and more likely to end in their final season at the Joe.

As for the Maple Leafs and Sabres, well, they’re probably going to draft well again. They could maybe make a run at third place in their division, but failing a dramatic turn of events, a wild-card spot is almost out of the question.

Stars can’t afford any more ‘moral victories’

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With five straight home games before the Christmas break, the Dallas Stars have a good opportunity to get back into the playoff race.

On the other hand, their opponents will be the Ducks, Rangers, Flyers, Blues, and Kings, so maybe it’s not such a great opportunity after all.

The Stars dropped both their games over the weekend. Saturday, they lost 4-2 in Philadelphia. Sunday, it was a 3-1 defeat in Chicago. They’re currently two points back of Los Angeles for the second wild-card spot, and the Kings have three games in hand.

Though Dallas has been playing better lately compared to the start of the season, it still hasn’t been good enough.

“There’s no moral victories. There’s no ‘We played good in Detroit or Pittsburgh or Philly,'” said forward Jason Spezza, per the Dallas Morning News. “It’s not good enough. It’s not good enough with the type of team we have. It doesn’t matter if you play well if you don’t win games. It’s a results-oriented business, and these losses get tougher and tougher because we know we have a hole to climb out of.”

     Read more: What has happened to the Dallas Stars?

If this five-game home stand goes poorly, that hole will only get deeper for the defending Central Division champs.

The Stars only lost 23 games in regulation last season. They’ve already lost 13 this season. There’s still time to turn it around — starting Tuesday against the Ducks — but the pressure is building.

Bishop trying not to let contract situation affect his play

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Ben Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, and that makes it particularly striking to see his numbers a quarter of the way through 2016-17.

After 18 starts, Bishop is 8-10-1 with a .906 save percentage. He got the hook after two periods last night at Amalie Arena, where he surrendered four goals to the Vancouver Canucks in a 5-1 loss.

Last night marked the third time in his last five starts that he’d surrendered at least four goals, and one of the goals he allowed looked like this:

So, do things feel different this season?

“I feel fine,” Bishop said today, per Lightning Insider. “We go back and watch the games and technically it’s all there. There is really no difference from the way I’ve played the last couple of years to now. I don’t like saying this, but it’s been a strange season with goofy goals on tips and bounces, goals off your own players. So I think if you took some of those away, the numbers would be pretty similar to years past. I would like to get the wins a little higher.”

Bishop, of course, is a pending unrestricted free agent who is unlikely to re-sign with the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy appears to be the goalie of the future in Tampa Bay. On July 1, the 22-year-old re-signed through 2019-20.

Vasilevskiy is also 6-2-1 with a .929 save percentage.

So in that regard, it’s a bit like the situation we’re seeing in New York, where Henrik Lundqvist is struggling and Antti Raanta is thriving.

The difference is Lundqvist isn’t going to be looking for a new team anytime soon. Remember that Bishop “was close” to being traded to Calgary in the offseason. He could still end up there in free agency, depending if Brian Elliott bounces back.

Bishop says he’s trying not to let his contract situation affect his state of mind; however, he admits he’d “be lying if I said I never thought about it.”

“It’s definitely there in the back of your head,” he said.

The Lightning host the Penguins on Saturday.

Expect Vasilevskiy to start that one.