1. Carolina Hurricanes: 43 Points (21-7-1)
Heading into the COVID pause the Carolina Hurricanes have plenty to be happy about. They go into the pause the top team in the league. This was despite having the last two weeks stopped and started with their own outbreak, which included two short-staffed wins against the Detroit Red Wings and the Los Angeles Kings. One player to benefit from the players out in COVID has been Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The young center has a goal and three assists in his last two games while he has been playing on the second line.
Canes squeezing in another practice at WCC. Necas skating today in yellow non-contact jersey. Fast is at practice after missing Monday.— Chip Alexander (@ice_chip) December 21, 2021
The Canes will benefit greatly from the break having eight players currently in protocol, with both Sebastian Aho, Seth Jarvis and four other players eligible to return on the other side of the holiday break. Frederik Andersen went into protocol Wednesday. Martin Necas also entered concussion protocol and will have time to recover before possibly missing any games, though good news is he practiced Tuesday.
2. Washington Capitals: 43 Points (18-6-7)
The Caps have just three players in the protocol but all three are important players for the Caps. Evgeny Kuznetsov (12/15), Nicklas Backstrom (12/17), and T.J. Oshie (12/19) have all tested positive, and only Kuznetsov will be able to return when the season resumes. Under the current agreement, the caps will only have a total of two games postponed as they are still expecting to play the Ottawa Senators Next Monday.
The Caps have played all season without Backstrom who has only played one game this season and Oshie has been in and out of the lineup with injuries. Backstrom’s return was felt immediately. The long-time first-line center played 18:14 in his return and registered an assist. It's great to see him return from a hip injury that can often have multi-year impacts to player performance.
3. New York Rangers: 42 Points (19-7-4)
The Rangers currently have zero players in COVID protocol, but a break in the season might be just what the team needed to get out of a bit of a skid. The Rangers enter the break with a 2-3-1 record in their last six games. Another advantage to the break is getting starting goaltender Igor Shesterkin back between the pipes. Shesterkin was injured in early December and has just recently been activated off of IR.
A week after pointing out Mika Zibanejad’s inconsistent play, the Swedish center rattled off back-to-back multi-point games against the Arizona Coyotes and the Vegas Golden Knights to propel the Rangers to three out of four standing points. Next for the Rangers is hosting the Detroit Red Wings on Monday before heading to Florida to play the Panthers and Tampa.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 39 Points (17-8-4)
The season break for the Penguins came at the worst time. They have no players in protocol and are also currently on a seven-game win streak. The Penguins had to deal with a large outbreak at the beginning of the season, like the New York Islanders, but with no reprieve from their outbreak, and now had to pause while everyone else gets healthy. However, the good news is the Penguins have been able to overcome their early-season issues to get back into a playoff position, because of course they have.
Sidney Crosby really wanted to wear Team Canada Olympic colours one more time. So the inevitable sense that an NHL Olympic pull-out is looming is tough news for the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar. My latest:https://t.co/NNFbatITf4— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) December 21, 2021
The Penguins have been hoping to get center, Evgeni Malkin back from injury, and news appeared to be good last weekend. He returned to limited-contact practice before being downgraded to a non-contact participant on Monday. Malkin was joined by Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, and Brian Boyle in the non-contact portion of practice. The return of Guentzel and Rust could provide a big boost to an already humming offense.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 29 Points (14-13-1)
The Columbus Blue Jackets had a trio of players to enter protocol on Sunday with Boone Jenner, Jack Roslovic, and Gabriel Carlsson testing positive. One of the Blue Jackets’ games that were postponed is against Calgary which will prove to be a challenge in re-scheduling. First, the Flames will have a ton of games that will have to be scheduled which just adds late-season complexity. Secondly, Columbus is only scheduled to head West just two more times this season further reducing the likelihood of being able to tack that game onto a road trip.
With so many games to reschedule, it will be interesting to see if the league would allow an unbalanced schedule and possibly have the Flames play more road games than home games as they have more to make up than any other team. Home games are normally big for revenue both in tickets and with the board sponsors, but the league will have to look at any and every possible option in completing the season.
6. Philadelphia Flyers: 29 Points (12-12-5)
The Flyers also have three players in protocol Morgan Frost (12/14), Max Willman (12/18), and Kevin Hayes (12/20). This means that the only player that will be unable to return when the season re-starts is quite possibly the most important of the group, Kevin Hayes. Hayes has only played 11 games but has scored six points in those games. With Hayes in the lineup, they can use him in a second center position and move Sean Couturier down to the third line or insert Hayes into the third line to give them more flexibility, with him out everyone has to step up, and quite frankly they haven’t done that this season.
The Capitals-Flyers game scheduled for Tuesday has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.https://t.co/9wIJNGGeiO— NHL.com (@NHLdotcom) December 21, 2021
The Flyers did get good news on the illness front, as they got their starting goaltender, Carter Hart, back from the flu. The Flyers and Caps game that was scheduled for yesterday was the 50th game postponed by the NHL this season. The sheer number of games already lost was just what the NHL needed to pull players out of the upcoming Winter Olympics scheduled for February. The players can only hope that the games are moved back a season, like the last summer Olympics so they can participate.
7. New Jersey Devils: 25 Points (10-15-5)
The Devils have just a pair of players in protocol with Christian Jaros (12/13) and P.K. Subban (12/18). Heading into the break, the Devils have lost six straight and have a 1-8-1 record in their last 10 games. Despite the struggles, GM Tom Fitzgerald believes in their new head coach Lindy Ruff and has put the onus on the players' lack of consistency and leadership. If he’s happy with the coach that means he’s not happy with the group of vets and captains that the team has.
“It has to come from that room. They have to keep each other accountable.”— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 20, 2021
GM Tom Fitzgerald believes solving the team's current problems must come from within the locker room. https://t.co/Li4UocsdMv
This would signal to the team if things don’t change there could be a shakeup trade coming rather than a change behind the bench. This can be a common issue for young teams that struggle to make it over the hump and was what the Canes saw for years. The bigger problem for New Jersey deals with their increased expectations coming into the season after making real improvements to the team and them not paying off on the ice. This could mean that a big trade could be on the horizon and sooner rather than later for the Devils.
8. New York Islanders: 22 Points (8-12-6)
The Islanders have just one player in protocol, Matt Barzal, who tested positive on the 14th and will be eligible to return to play as early as Friday. Islanders head coach, Barry Trotz believes that the team should be in good shape since most players should now have immunity after their early-season outbreak. The Islanders now have had four of their games postponed this season, but now with the NHL not going to the Olympics, they will be able to use the scheduled break to make up these games.
The Islanders have struggled all season mainly due to being short-handed but will almost be at full strength when they return to play the Buffalo Sabres next Monday only without injured Ryan Pulock. His loss and the Isles' struggles are a similar position that the Devils find themselves in and could lead to a trade by Lou Lamoriello. Elliotte Friedman has mentioned that the Isles would be a logical spot for Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun. That trade would require a huge return from the Isles but with them being in a win now position they may just be crazy enough to pull it off.