The calendar year is coming to a close in the NHL and there are certain trends that are continuing to develop. The PHT Face-Off breaks down those trends every Monday. We’ll discuss Jack Eichel‘s run, Auston Matthews‘ season, Anthony Duclair‘s goal-scoring prowess and much more.
• Who’s gonna stop Jack Eichel?
Eichel has been on fire for over a month now. He’s found a way to be a difference-maker for the Sabres on a nightly basis and he’s currently riding a 16-game point streak. The race for the top three spots in the Atlantic Division is wide open. The Sabres are right in the mix. As of right now, they’re sitting in second place.
Whether or not they can keep this up remains to be seen, but it sure looks like their captain is going to do everything he can to drag them into the postseason.
Eichel is currently second in the league in goals, with 20. He’s also tied for fifth in league scoring with 48 points in 34 games. The 23-year-old needs to continue producing at a similar clip if they’re going to make it back to playoffs.
He needs to extend his point streak by two more games to tie the franchise record, which is held by Gilbert Perreault.
You have to think that if the Sabres make the playoffs, Eichel will at least be a finalist for the Hart Trophy.
• Has Auston Matthews been good enough?
Heading into this week’s action, Auston Matthews is rolling at a point-per-game pace. He’s picked up 34 points in 34 games, but the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur feels like the Leafs star has more to give.
Matthews has been held off the scoresheet in four of his last six games and he has just four points in his last nine games. Arthur points out that the Leafs star’s XGF/60 is down from 1.06 last year to 0.76 this year. So he’s not exactly shooting from areas that are as dangerous, but all of his other individual numbers are up.
His CF% has never been higher (55.77 percent) and neither has his FF% (54.46 percent). When he’s on the ice, the Leafs control 57.67 percent of the high-danger chances, which seems absolutely ridiculous and, oh yeah, he’s been a point-per-game player.
There’s no doubt that Matthews has the potential to be more than a point-per-game player, but he’s also on pace to score over 40 goals this season.
Yes, he’s going through the rough patch in terms of offensive production, but he’ll get in back on the rails soon enough.
• Anthony Duclair is a top-10 goal scorer:
Raise your hand if you expected Duclair to be one of the 10 best goal scorers at this point of the raise. If your hand is up, you’re probably related to him or you’re lying.
Through the first third of the season, the Senators forward has found the back of the net 18 times. He’s just two goals away from tying his career-high of 20, which he set back in 2015-16. If you add it all up, he’s on pace to score 45 goals.
Sure, the Sens are a rebuilding team that never really had serious playoff aspirations coming into this season, but you can’t deny that those are impressive numbers that Duclair has put up. Even if he doesn’t score another goal between now and the end of the season, the fact that he’s scored 18 times is good value for Ottawa.
The 24-year-old has now played for five different teams. He’s making the most of what could’ve been his final opportunity in the NHL.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Sens will do with him as the season progresses. Do they sign him to an extension? Do they capitalize on his production and trade him away for some young assets?
• Tristan Jarry dominating between the pipes:
The Penguins have dealt with so many injuries this year and their starting goalie Matt Murray hasn’t been really good. But they’ve found a way to stay in the playoff picture (they’re currently in the first Wild Card spot).
How have they done it? Well, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust have taken their game to another level in Crosby’s absence. The other guy that has stepped up in a big way is Jarry. He’s won eight of his last 10 outings and he’s also posted three shutouts in his last five outings.
Even though Jarry was drafted in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft, the 24-year-old had plenty of question marks surrounding his ability.
Murray will likely take over between the pipes again at some point. But for now it appears as though the Pens have an interesting situation between the pipes.
They might be able to trade a goalie away to get help at another position.
• Geoff Ward has been a perfect fit in Calgary:
Since Ward took over for Bill Peters, his team has gone 7-1-0. That’s quite the turnaround considering the Flames didn’t get off to a great start under Peters.
This incredible run now has the Flames back in the Western Conference playoff picture, as they’re in the second Wild Card spot. Calgary was clearly better than their early-season record would indicate. Now, they’ve found a guy that’s pushing all the right buttons.
Ward made the bold decision to split up Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm, which has resulted in more balanced offense for this group.
What’s coming up this week?
• Thursday’s 10-game schedule will mark the 102nd anniversary of the NHL’s first game. On Dec. 17, 1917, the Montreal Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators, 7-4, while the Montreal Wanderers beat the Toronto Arenas, 10-9.
• Joe Pavelski is scheduled to play his 1,000th NHL on Friday night, when the Dallas Stars take on the Panthers in Florida.
NHL on NBCSN
• Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Buffalo Sabres, Tue. Dec. 17, 7 p.m. ET.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY ON NBCSN
• Colorado Avalanche vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Wed. Dec. 18, 8 p.m. ET.
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.