The NHL season is in full swing as it nears the end of its’ first month, and Friday closed out another excellent week of action on the ice. A wide range of players demanded attention over the past week, but only six can make it into XN’s Team of the Week. The following players stepped up in a huge way over the past seven days.
Center: Frans Nielsen – New York Islanders
Though John Tavares extended his point streak to nine games, it was the unheralded Frans Nielsen who really shined for the Islanders this week. The Islanders’ number two center was the league’s top scorer of the week with seven points in just three games. Nielsen’s late third period goal against Vancouver earned New York a point, though the Islanders lost in overtime. Two nights later Nielsen spurred a comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins with his second three point effort in as many games. He gave his team momentum with a third period goal and then assisted on Josh Bailey‘s winner with 1:40 remaining. Nielsen now leads the Islanders with 14 points through 10 games.
Right Wing: Alexander Ovechkin – Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin announced his intention to retain his title as league MVP with another scintillating week. “Ovie” scored in all three games he played this week, helping his team pick up all six available points. He was especially impressive in a shootout victory over the Winnipeg Jets on October 22. The Russian superstar beat Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec twice in the second period and assisted on Troy Brouwer‘s third period power-play strike. Ovechkin’s four goal week gives him ten for the season and puts him securely atop the league goal-scoring charts.
Left Wing: Milan Lucic – Boston Bruins
Milan Lucic is enjoying the best October of his career, and he was at the peak of his powers en route to three Boston victories this past week. The bruising winger got on the scoresheet in all three of his games, helping the Bruins extend their win-streak to four games. He ended the week with two goals, five points and a plus-five rating. Both goals came in a 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, in which he also added an assist. Lucic picked up a helper on David Krejci‘s buzzer-beater against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night. The goal scored with just .8 seconds remaining resulted in the Sharks first regulation loss of the season. Lucic’s ten points have him tied with Krejci for the team lead, and his five goals are the most by a Bruin through nine games.
Defense: James Wisniewski – Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets rebounded from a four game losing skid to win three straight this week, and James Wisniewski’s play was a big reason for the turnaround. After the Jackets’ loss to Columbus on October 19, Wisniewski posted one goal and four assists in wins over Vancouver, New Jersey and Toronto. The Blue Jackets defense surrendered just four goals in the three victories, winning each game by at least two goals. Wisniewski is tied for fourth among defensemen with eight points on the season.
Defense: Kevin Bieksa – Vancouver Canucks
Kevin Bieksa certainly got a workout this week. He and the Canucks played five games in seven days, and four of those games required overtime. Thanks in large part to the defenseman’s efforts, John Tortorella’s team took seven points from their five outings. Bieksa earned a plus-three rating and had three helpers in a shootout loss against Pittsburgh on October 19. He finished the week with a plus-six rating and four points. Plus-10 through ten games, Bieksa is now locked in a four-way tie with Chris Kunitz, Matt Niskanen and Hampus Lindholm for the league’s best plus-minus rating.
Goaltender: Tuukka Rask – Boston Bruins
Braden Holtby was the only goalie to win three games this week, but Boston’s Tuukka Rask stole goalie of the week honors with a dominant pair of wins over Tampa Bay and San Jose. Rask kicked off the week with a 23-save shutout of the Lightning in Tampa. Five days after silencing Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, Rask made 38 saves in a win over the Sharks. He held the league’s top-ranked offense to just one goal, despite his team being outshout 39-17. David Krejci made sure that the Finnish netminder’s best performance of the season didn’t go to waste by scoring in the final second to give the Sharks their first regulation loss of the season. In total Rask stopped 61 of the 62 shots he faced for the week. His 1.26 goal-against average through eight starts ranks second in the league, and his .957 save-percentage is the NHL’s best.