December 30 — 2021 Storylines & a Canadian Check-in

Yesterday’s NHL Scores

Last Night’s News 📰

FOR THE CHILDREN: Yesterday, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced the cancellation of its 2022 World Junior Championship. After Russia and Czechia forfeited their games on Wednesday due to players testing positive for COVID, the IIHF decided to end the tournament early to prioritize the health and safety of everyone involved. 

SHORTY STOPS STREAK: Evgeni Kuznetsov sniped a shorthanded beauty late in the third period, as the Washington Capitals snapped the Nashville Predators’ seven-game win streak. Washington raced out to a 3-0 first-period lead before the Preds tied the game with three of their own in the second. Carl Hagelin finished off the scoring with an empty-net goal to seal the win for the Capitals.

DEVILS DOUBLE DECEMBER DUBS: Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich scored 2:22 apart in the third period to end a six-game skid for the New Jersey Devils. Tage Thompson led the Buffalo Sabres with two goals, while Ethan Prow notched his first NHL tally after being called up from the Sabres taxi squad. It was only the second Devils’ win in their last 12 games.

COMEBACK CATS DO IT AGAIN: For an NHL-leading sixth time this season, the Florida Panthers rallied from being down in the third period to win a game. Florida scored three goals within nine minutes to take a two-goal lead over the New York Rangers. Although Chris Kreider scored in the final minute to bring the Rangers back within one, the Panthers held on to end a three-game slide. 

OILERS SING THE BLUES: On Wednesday, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl hit the 50-point mark on the season. However, it was Vladimir Tarasenko and Jordan Kyrou who led the St. Louis Blues to a 9-0-1 mark in their last 10 games. Jordan Binnington made 26 saves, while Tarasenko and Kyrou finished the game with a goal and two assists for St. Louis. It was the Blues’ final game before the Winter Classic on Saturday. 

600 FOR GIROUX: Claude Giroux picked up his 600th NHL assist with a power-play helper on James van Riemsdyk’s first goal in the Philadelphia Flyers’ 3-2 overtime win against the Seattle Kraken. Van Riemsdyk scored his second of the game just 15 seconds after the Kraken took a late 2-1 third-period lead, as Ivan Provorov completed the comeback on a nifty breakaway move in overtime.

CANUCKS CONTINUE TO CRUISE: It took 26 seconds for J.T. Miller to net the game-winner in overtime against the Anaheim Ducks, as the Vancouver Canucks improved to 7-0-0 under Bruce Boudreau. Miller has recorded a point in each game since Boudreau has taken over behind the bench (three goals, eight assists), as the coach will look to make history as the only bench boss to win his first eight games with a new team tonight against the LA Kings.

Top-Shelf Thursday – Top Stories From 2021

As we mentally prepare for a new year, it’s only natural to look back and reflect on the last 365 days. This week, the Morning Skate crew decided to dedicate Top-Shelf Thursday to some of the top storylines of the calendar year. Before we sit back and take a trip down memory lane, we would be remiss to mention the launch of our newsletter in the spring of 2021. Thank you to all of our subscribers—we wouldn’t be here without you.

#5 NHL in Empty Arenas

There was nothing stranger than seeing teams skate out to an empty arena. When the season opened on Jan. 13, 2021, teams were back to playing in their home arenas but were missing fans in the stands. To fill the void, the stadiums used giant tarps to cover the seats of the lower bowls, and each arena tried to replicate the crowd noise during a game. 

#4 Seattle Kraken Join the League

After seeing how much success the Vegas Golden Knights achieved, it was only natural for fans to be excited for the Seattle Kraken to join the league. Before the 2021-22 season, the NHL held the Expansion Draft and had special guests Jerry Bruckheimer, Macklemore, and Marshawn Lynch announce the selections. 

#3 Lundqvist Announces Retirement

Sometimes, the retirement of certain players signifies the end of an era. Henrik Lundqvist is one of those players. While he may not have won a Stanley Cup in his career, he was the face of the New York Rangers for over a decade. A heart condition forced the goaltender into retirement, and the Rangers will retire his number on Jan. 28, 2022. 

#2 Marleau Breaks Howe’s Games Played Record

At 41 years old, Patrick Marleau broke Gordie Howe’s record by playing his 1,768th NHL game at T-Mobile Arena as the Sharks took on the Golden Knights. Marleau first laced up his skates during the 1997-98 season. To put that in perspective, Marleau was a rookie before “Titanic” was in theaters. 

#1 Back-to-Back Banners

The Tampa Bay Lightning won two Stanley Cups in 282 days. While both Cups didn’t happen in 2021, the Lightning raised their championship banners twice this year. Fans know how physically demanding it is to win the Cup once, let alone back-to-back and two in fewer than 365 days. It is safe to say the Lightning were warriors during 2021. 

Life After the World Juniors

Well, this sucks. COVID has officially claimed the 2022 World Junior Championship before the year in its event title had even begun. Thanks, Omicron!

Apart from a smidge of optimism that the tournament may potentially resume at a later date, there aren’t many silver linings to pull from the cancellation. Then again, as was made clear from the impact of the virus within Teams USA, Czechia, and Russia, this event was never realistically going to run independently from COVID. With cases rising dramatically and affecting play, it had gotten harder to justify continuing, disappointment aside.

Amidst near-universal anger and sadness, it’s probably a good time to highlight some good to go along with the bad of the Federation’s decision. As teams pack up and head out of Red Deer and Edmonton early, let’s look at some pros and cons:

Pro – Safety

This tournament wasn’t going to happen without taking some licks from COVID. Not to sound like an after-school special here, but while chasing a gold medal is important, it’s just not as important as keeping healthy. If the event does get re-scheduled, then who knows; it could resume at a time when arena capacity limits increase once again and allow for a more significant fan presence.

Con – Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Missing the annual glimpse into the future of hockey was always going to be tough. What has made it more so was to suffer through the tease of having the event start and not finish. If it felt like just two days ago that Canadian 16-year-old Connor Bedard was announcing himself on an international stage with four goals against Austria, it’s because it was!

Pro – Avoiding Illegitimacy

With all the excitement sparked by early tourney performances from Bedard, Owen Power, and Matvei Michkov, it was increasingly difficult to suggest anything but COVID was the biggest story. The forfeitures are not only embarrassing for the IIHF, but they also create a competitive imbalance that would bring an asterisk into play for the eventual gold medal winner.

Con – Poor Kids

Big picture, these kids will be okay. They’re going back to their junior and club teams, and many will ultimately proceed to bright careers in professional hockey. However, none of that matters as they had a substantial life and career highlight completely derailed. Let’s face it, footage of shell-shocked teams packing up in dumbfounded silence has been hard to watch.

What Aboot Us?

As the resident Canadian on the Morning Skate team, I’m proud to welcome you to “What Aboot Us?” wherein I catch you up on the goings-on of the seven NHL teams who happen to reside in the Great White North.

Only three teams (Montreal, Vancouver, and Edmonton) have returned to the ice since the holiday break, so we’re operating on each team’s outlook after the reset—where they stand now, where they’re heading, and what their current COVID situation is. As we lick our wounds on the cancellation of the World Junior Championships robbing Team Canada of a shot at gold, here’s your check-in north of the border. 

Calgary Flames

While no one asked for what will ultimately be a 19-day break between games for the Calgary Flames, the pause came amidst a four-game losing skid at a time when the wheels were coming off of a torrid start. Without anyone in COVID protocol, Calgary can hopefully use the reset to get back on track in the Pacific Division.

Edmonton Oilers

Reinforcements are coming in Edmonton! While Jesse Puljujarvi and Darnell Nurse remain in COVID protocol, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Duncan Keith, Zach Hyman, and goaltender Mike Smith have returned to the lineup to help Edmonton achieve some semblance of normalcy. Hopefully, “normalcy” doesn’t mean managing just eight goals in six straight losses despite boasting the league’s two leading scorers, though.

Montreal Canadiens

The under-manned Montreal Canadiens were 20 seconds from restarting with a giant momentum boost Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. But the Stanley Cup Final rematch saw ex-Hab Corey Perry break the hearts of his former club, forcing overtime in the dying seconds before Ondrej Palat closed things out in the extra frame 5-4. At least first career goals by Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Kale Clague offered elusive positives for seven-win Montreal.

Ottawa Senators

With Anton Forsberg and Filip Gustavsson in COVID protocol, Matt Murray has returned from the AHL. While it could be a nice redemption story for Murray, his presence is unlikely to significantly alter the direction of the Ottawa Senators’ season as they sit 20 points out of a playoff spot.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs still have ways to bring a full complement of players out of protocol, but returning Jack Campbell, Mitch Marner, and head coach Sheldon Keefe is a pretty encouraging start. Their depth will still be on trial over the next little while, but having just three games in 12 days represents a nice stroke of good fortune.

Vancouver Canucks

Bruce Boudreau’s arrival in Vancouver was Christmas come early for the Canucks, daring fans to dream about a playoff push for a team that was dead in the water just a few short weeks ago. They return from the break relatively healthy (only Alex Chiasson and Brock Boeser are currently in COVID protocol) and ready to build on their Boudreau-driven pre-break momentum.

Winnipeg Jets

Dave Lowry has spent exactly two games behind the bench as head coach since Paul Maurice’s surprise resignation, so it’s unclear how he will shape the Winnipeg Jets. While their holiday break was anything but a waste, the club is assuredly ready to set out on exploring how Lowry can boost the talented but under-achieving Jets. Cole Perfetti, perhaps??

NHL Standings

NHL’s Leading Scorers

Today’s NHL Schedule