December 22 — We Were on a Break!

Yesterday’s Game

NHL Standings

Last Night’s News 📰

ALL EYES ON VEGAS: After the Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers game got postponed Tuesday, everyone in the hockey world shifted its collective attention to Las Vegas. In the final game before the holiday break, the Tampa Bay Lightning scored three unanswered goals to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3. 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: University of North Dakota defenseman Jake Sanderson was named captain of the 2022 U.S. National Junior Team on Tuesday afternoon. Sanderson is the second-ever National Junior Team member from Montana (Bill Lindsay, 1991) and the first to be named captain. Joining Sanderson in his leadership role are alternate captains Brock Faber (Minn.), Matty Beniers (Mass.), and Landon Slaggert (Ind.).

CANADA’S CORE: Up north, Team Canada announced Kaiden Guhle as its captain for the 2022 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship. Guhle is a defenseman from Alberta and will lead Team Canada alongside Cole Perfetti (Ont.) and Jake Neighbours (Alta.). The tournament begins on Sunday, Dec. 26, when Canada takes on the Czech Republic. 

HOLIDAY CHEER: Season’s greetings, holiday wishes, and a festive scare? Kevin Shattenkirk and Max Jones played a practical joke on their Anaheim Ducks teammates, dressing up as a stuffed bear and startling the players as they wished their fans “Happy Holidays.” Reactions ranged from not falling for it to Trevor Zegras!

Where We Stand – Atlantic Division

As of midnight last night, the NHL was put on hold for an early, COVID-influenced start to the holiday break. With no more games between now and Christmas, we’re using this space to take stock of where each division is before Santa arrives. Today, we break down the happenings of the Atlantic Division:

The Contenders

Last season’s third line? Completely gone. Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point? Hurt. But it takes more than a few setbacks to keep the Tampa Bay Lightning down, as the defending Stanley Cup champs have rallied behind a resurgent Steven Stamkos and the typical greatness of Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy to stake their claim for a third straight Cup.

We are still in the midst of the regular season, which means all is well with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Auston Matthews is on a tear, Jack Campbell is proving Vezina-worthy, and Morgan Rielly is enjoying a career-best season to date. Leafs fans may as well enjoy this for now and worry about that pesky “p” word in April.

It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the Florida Panthers coming off of a breakthrough 2020-21 campaign, facing the fallout of Joel Quenneville’s involvement in the Chicago Blackhawks scandal, and stumbling into the break with four losses in their past five games. Overall, the Cats remain comfortably set in a playoff spot and appear ready to build upon last season.

The Middle Class

What do successful steps in a rebuild resemble? Look no further than the Detroit Red Wings, who have been an early season surprise thanks to the contributions of two blue-chip rookies, Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider. These young Wings are easy to root for, especially when they’re covering the tab on spilled beers.

For a team accustomed to perennial playoff appearances, it’s been a pretty lackluster start for the Boston Bruins. Brad Marchand continues to pile up points, but he can only do so much on a team that currently ranks 29th in the league in goals scored. That they’ve played a league-low 26 games isn’t likely to provide Bruce Cassidy much comfort.

It might be a little generous placing the 10-win Buffalo Sabres, losers of 12 of their last 15, in with the “middle class,” but 25 points in 30 games has exceeded expectations in Western New York. Last season, they finished with just 37 points in 56 games. Plus, the Sabres finally put the Jack Eichel saga behind them and have promising new additions in Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs to show for it.

The Disappointments

Expectations weren’t exactly high for the Ottawa Senators heading into the season, but some cautious optimism followed the club, particularly after getting Brady Tkachuk under contract. Tkachuk has been good and now sports the “C,” but Tim Stützle has underwhelmed in year two while few players have stepped up beyond Drake Batherson.

How distant does that Stanley Cup Final run feel for the Montreal Canadiens?? With Carey Price and Shea Weber out, Cole Caufield struggling to live up to expectations, and Jeff Petry looking absolutely lost, the Habs have mustered just seven wins (six fewer than their postseason run) in 31 games.

In Another Four Years

After much speculation, the NHL will not be sending their players to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics. It did not come as much of a shock since more than 130 players and staff are currently in COVID-19 protocol, including 24 teams with at least one player. As with most situations, there are pros and cons to the NHL’s decision. With that said, let’s break it down. 

Pro – Player’s Health

The players will not have to risk quarantining in Beijing for three-to-five weeks if they get COVID. One of the scariest realities is the several weeks of quarantine required for athletes who test positive at the Olympics. This harsh fact made players with young families, like John Tavares and Alex Pietrangelo, hesitant about going before the NHL decided to back out.

Con – Last Chance to Represent

There are a handful of players who may not have another chance to put on their country’s colors. During an interview with The Athletic, Sidney Crosby expressed disappointment that this could be his last chance to win Olympic gold. Players like Steven Stamkos and Brad Marchand may now never get an opportunity to represent Team Canada. To a certain degree, this marks the end of an era.

Pro – Avoiding Uncessary Injuries

The players won’t have to risk a long-term injury that can affect their team’s chances at a playoff run. While most players would agree that it’s an honor and dream to play for their country, participating in the Olympics can bring great rewards but also the threat of injury. It would be a shame for a bubble team to miss the playoffs due to losing one of its stars at the Olympic games.

Con – The Fans Miss Out

Of course, players could get injured playing in any regular-season game, but the thought of witnessing a best-on-best tournament is something fans will miss. The idea that fans might get robbed of seeing Connor McDavid and Crosby on the same team at the international stage is crushing. The 2022 Olympics would have been a symbolic passing of the torch from Crosby to McDavid and Joe Pavelski to Auston Matthews. Safety will always be the priority, but it’s crazy to think about the talent hockey fans worldwide would have seen in Beijing.

Holiday Wish Lists

With the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center, the holiday season is officially in full swing. Over the past few Wednesdays, the Morning Skate crew created a holiday wish list for each NHL team. Enjoy the final segment of our three-part series.

Philadelphia Flyers: Fans hope the team will pick up where they left off before their postponement heading into the holiday break. After a bleak beginning, the team has won four out of their last five games under interim head coach Mike Yeo. 

Pittsburgh Penguins: The only Penguins wish is that they remain healthy. The team has had an excellent month so far, winning all but one game. At this point, they don’t want anything to disrupt their stride as they climb up the standings.

San Jose Sharks: San Jose hopes James Reimer can keep surprising fans by continuing to steal games for his team. After years of suffering in net, it appears the Sharks finally have a clear-cut number one goalie. 

Seattle Kraken: The Kraken hopes to see a better Philipp Grubauer in goal. After an unimpressive start, they wish to see an improved Grubauer in 2022. Currently, he is tied for last in the league in save percentage and sixth-to-last in goals-against average.

St. Louis Blues: St. Louis is wishing and hoping for a defenseman for its blue line. An experienced player for all situations that is available via trade. Would it be too much to ask for Jakob Chychrun under the tree?

Tampa Bay Lightning: They wish for Steven Stamkos to remain healthy for the rest of this season. Stamkos is having himself a phenomenal 2021-22 campaign with 34 points in 28 games, including seven points in his last five games.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs and their fans wish first a first-round victory in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I know we haven’t even made it halfway through the season, but fans will need to get an early start on manifesting this one.

Vancouver Canucks: To sign Bruce Boudreau to a contract extension. The Canucks are a perfect 6-0 with Boudreau behind the bench. At this rate, it appears the “Bruce there it is” chants are here to stay.

Vegas Golden Knights: To get Jack Eichel on the ice as soon as possible. Two weeks ago, Eichel was back on the ice skating and, optimistically, could be suiting up for his first Golden Knights game in February. The bottom line is, he will return!

Washington Capitals: After finally getting Nicklas Bäckström back from a hip injury, the Capitals lost the center to the COVID protocol. With T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, and Anthony Mantha appearing on the IR this season, the Capitals wish for an extra helping of good health this Christmas.

Winnipeg Jets: Winnipeg’s Christmas wish is to have a better penalty kill. The Jets are currently third-worst in the league, sporting a success rate of 70.6%. To remain competitive in their division, they will need improved special teams.