December 24 — Christmas, Boxing Day & World Junior Championship

NHL Standings

Last Night’s News 📰

SADDLE UP: The first half of the NCAA hockey season came to a close this week, as the league went on pause for its holiday break. On the men’s side, the Western Michigan Broncos boast a league-best three players on the first and second-team at the midway point. The Clarkson Golden Knights and Wisconsin Badgers lead the women, with three players each to earn the mid-season honors. 

CANADA CRUISES: In the final warmup game before the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship kicks off on Sunday, Team Canada held off Team Russia 6-4. Mason McTavish was named player of the game for the Canadians with two goals and an assist, while Russia’s Matvei Michkov had two goals and an assist of his own.

WHAT A FINNISH: A major penalty for elbowing late in the third period against the Americans allowed Team Finland to score two goals in under a minute to force overtime. While still on the power play in the extra frame, Finnish captain Roni Hirvonen wristed home the game-winner, turning a likely 3-1 loss into a 4-3 win.

Friday Favorites

Let’s look back at some of our favorite moments from this past week:

Good Guy of Week

Dylan Larkin ran into the glass during warmups, knocking over a fan’s beer in the first row. He felt awful and skated over to the bench to reimburse the fan for a new drink. Luckily, we were able to hear the play-by-play from the Detroit Red Wings’ captain thanks to Mic’d Up presented by Enterprise. 

Teddy Bear Scare

Rookie Trevor Zegras has been entertaining fans on and off the ice. Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk dressed up in a giant teddy bear costume to scare his teammates. When these two things came together, laughter ensued. While most had subtle reactions, Zegras delivered a hilarious response, bringing joy to fans across the league. 

Pittsburgh’s Holiday Mashup

This week, the Pittsburgh Penguins created their very own holiday movie mashup, “Jingle All the Way Home Alone 2 Lost in Love Actually How the Grinch Stole Christmas Vacation,” and it is a must-see! Players took on the roles of some of our favorite holiday characters, such as Kevin McCallister and the Grinch. Well done, Penguins. Well done. 

Where We Stand – Pacific Division

Last but not least, in the “Where We Stand” division breakdown series, behold the roller coaster Pacific Division. A torrid start by the Alberta-based NHL teams has given way to a David vs. Goliath battle between the division-favorite Vegas Golden Knights and the young upstart Anaheim Ducks. At the other end of the spectrum, any hopes of the Kraken copying Vegas’ blueprint seems to have washed away with Seattle at the bottom of the standings. Without further adieu.

The Contenders

It hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride, but the Vegas Golden Knights are pretty much right where they want to be. They’re at the top of the Pacific and are nearly ready to enjoy the debut of a post-neck surgery Jack Eichel. That will also bring an onset of salary cap headaches, but hey, that can be a problem for 2022.

If all you know about Anaheim Ducks rookie phenom Trevor Zegras is the “Alley-Oop” play, then you are doing yourself a disservice. Not only is the exciting 20-year-old showing plenty of pizazz, but he, Troy Terry, and Sonny Milano have the surprising Ducks sharing the division lead with the Golden Knights at the moment.

That the Calgary Flames limped into the Christmas break shouldn’t take away from what had otherwise been a fantastic start to the season. Before dropping four straight amidst a rash of players and team personnel entering COVID protocols, the Flames had won seven of eight on the strength of a balanced, deep lineup.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Edmonton Oilers are struggling despite incredible production from stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Since winning nine of their first 10 games, Edmonton fell back to Earth with a six-game losing streak in which they scored just nine goals. This is in spite of boasting two players with matching, league-leading point totals of 49 points in 29 games.

The Middle Class

Unlike their in-state rivals in Anaheim, the youth movement for the Los Angeles Kings seems to be coming along a little slower despite an impressive prospect corps. Although the 14-11-5 start hasn’t been horrible, it was born by the old guard, including 34-year-old Anze Kopitar as the club’s leading scorer. A playoff push would be nice, but so would bigger roles for Quinton Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev. 

Through 30 games, the San Jose Sharks have won exactly as many games as they’ve lost (15-14-1), making them perfectly average. But one Shark who’s been far from average is goaltender James Reimer, currently enjoying a career year with a .936 save percentage and 1.99 goals-against average.

A couple of weeks ago, Jim Benning was running the front office, Travis Green was behind the bench, and the Vancouver Canucks were deep in the Pacific Division basement. Then, Bruce Boudreau happened. The Boudreau era in Vancouver has not only produced a 6-0 record, but it has also rescued the Canucks from the depths of the league’s bottom feeders.

The Basement

The Canucks’ rise leaves only the Seattle Kraken residing in the division’s basement. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that an expansion franchise started their existence poorly, but Vegas’ miracle run in 2017 raised expectations considerably. If nothing else, Seattle’s freshman struggles serve to highlight just how ridiculous the Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup Final run was that year.

MSk8 Debate 💬

With the NHL on pause and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship kicking off on Sunday, our Morning Skate crew discusses the United States’ chances of repeating its gold medal run from 2021. Our two Americans and token Canadian debate if the Yankees can win gold in back-to-back tournaments for the first time.

The United States celebrates its victory over Canada during the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal game (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

BF: Man, there is some serious talent at this tournament. Yes, the Americans have the high-end talent—Matty Beniers, Jake Sanderson, Sasha Pastujov—to win gold, but they aren’t alone. Canada brings four 2021 top-10 picks and upcoming phenoms Shane Wright and Conor Bedard, Russia boasts Matvei Michkov and Yaroslav Askarov, and Sweden offers William Eklund, Simon Edvinsson, and Jesper Wallstedt. The States are in the mix, but it won’t be easy! The key will be finding scoring depth beyond the top two lines.

KF: It will be difficult for the U.S. to go back-to-back. They will remain competitive with Matty Beniers, Jake Sanderson, and Luke Hughes on their roster, but it may not be enough this year. The competition will be fierce, and Canada looks promising as their roster includes Dylan Guenther, Shane Wright, and Owen Power. I’m not saying the U.S. has no chance to repeat, but it will be an extremely demanding feat. 

KK: As much as I want the U.S. to win its sixth gold medal and first-ever back-to-back championships, I don’t see it happening. Although this American team is good enough to make a run, without Trevor Zegras driving the offense or Spencer Knight between the pipes, I believe the U.S. will fall just short of the gold. Lacking the firepower to overcome Yaroslav Askarov from Russia and Jesper Wallstedt from Sweden or the goaltending to shutdown a stacked Canadian team, the United States has a tough week ahead. 

VERDICT: Even with the talent returning to the Americans’ lineup, this team has an uphill battle to return to the top of the podium. Russia, Finland, and Sweden have all improved while Canada remains dominant. Anything is possible during the World Juniors, but the U.S. is a long shot to repeat.