NHL pluses and minuses: Phil Kessel powers Toronto to top

Times columnist Helene Elliott rates the pluses and minuses in the NHL from the last week:

+ It’s not a mirage: Phil Kessel is leading the NHL in scoring and the Toronto Maple Leafs are leading the Northeast Division. Kessel has a league-high 10 goals as part of his 18 points, and his team is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games. Kudos also to the Ottawa Senators, who have managed to win six straight despite scoring six goals fewer this season than they have given up (39-45).

+ The San Jose Sharks tied a franchise record by winning the first five games of a road trip. Their journey ended Monday with a loss against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Joe Pavelski led the way with five goals and nine points in those five games. The Sharks return home Thursday to face the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby has said he won’t play at San Jose or at Los Angeles on Saturday.

+ The Edmonton Oilers’ “kid” line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle has been electrifying. RNH, as he’s called, has five goals and 11 points, Eberle has three goals and 10 points, and Hall has three goals and nine points. Ryan Smyth, 35, is playing like a kid with five goals and 10 points.

- The Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins have gone from Stanley Cup finalists to also-rans. The Canucks can’t keep the puck out of their own net: Roberto Luongo’s goals-against average is 3.54 and his save percentage is .869. The Bruins, who are last in the East, can’t score. They’re averaging 2.2 goals per game, and General Manager Peter Chiarelli reportedly is working the phones to make a trade.


- The Philadelphia Flyers announced that goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov won’t talk to the media the day before a game or on days he plays, except after the game. Right, chatting with reporters was the reason Bryzgalov has a subpar 3.16 goals-against average and .880 save percentage. Last week, after a terrible performance against Winnipeg, Bryzgalov said he was “lost in the woods.” You think Flyers owner Ed Snider is second-guessing that nine-year, $51-million deal he gave Bryzgalov last summer?

- The Ducks might have helped Columbus Coach Scott Arniel and General Manager Scott Howson keep their jobs. The Columbus Dispatch reported team President Mike Priest had contacted former Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock and former Calgary GM Craig Button about replacing Arniel and Howson. Priest denied it. The Blue Jackets’ 3-1 victory over the Ducks on Sunday was only their second win this season. The punchless Ducks are 1-2-1 on their seven-game trip.