Column: What we learned in the NHL over the last week of play

The Golden Knights’ legend grows

Vegas holds the top spot in the West at the Christmas break, and you’d be rich if you had bet on that before the Golden Knights’ first season began. Saturday’s 3-0 victory over the Washington Capitals extended their winning streak to four and their point streak to 8-0-1. Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves and has stopped 120 of 126 shots (.952 save percentage) in winning three of four starts since he returned from a concussion. He beat his former team, the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, East-leading Tampa Bay and the Capitals, who had the NHL’s top record last season. The Golden Knights lack superstars but play a team game and work hard, allowing them to overcome injuries. They’re 15-2-1 at home and have created a fun atmosphere. Every time they seem about to fade, they bounce back. Kudos to coach Gerard Gallant and general manager George McPhee.

The Islanders won big off the ice

Their proposal to build a privately financed, 18,000-seat arena adjacent to Belmont Racetrack in Elmont, N.Y., was accepted by the Empire State development agency, moving them closer to leaving hockey-unfriendly Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The biggest question is whether the promise of geographic stability will persuade high-scoring center John Tavares to stay instead of leaving as an unrestricted free agent next summer. Led by Tavares (21 goals, 46 points) and Josh Bailey (10 goals, 46 points), who share second place in the NHL scoring race, the Islanders entered the break on an optimistic note.


Changes could be coming in Pittsburgh

The two-time defending champion Penguins aren’t in a playoff spot at the break, due in part to a 2-5 slide. They’re 5-6 in December and the only teams they’ve beaten in regulation this month are 30th-ranked Buffalo (twice) and No. 31 Arizona. “We’re coming into a critical period where we’ll make a decision whether we need to shake things up or not,” General Manager Jim Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week. Their depth players aren’t producing, and Sidney Crosby has two points in his past six games. Crosby and the Penguins have played a lot of games the past few seasons and could need an infusion of youth.

The early scoring boom is fading

The initial increase in scoring, fueled by a crackdown on slashing, appears to be slowing. Through the first 557 games, teams combined to average 5.83 goals per game, excluding goals awarded for shootout victories. That’s down from a peak of more than six goals early this season, but still better than the 5.35 average at this point last season. Five teams recorded shutouts Saturday, the most in one day since Nov. 21, 2015. Tavares, Bailey, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay and Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek are on pace to exceed 100 points, but will they get there if the overall scoring pace continues to slide?


Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen

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