NHL Off the Post: Holiday pause edition

by Sean Murphy

Wednesday, Dec 22, 2021
The NHL has hit the pause button, at least until after Christmas as Covid, and more specifically the Omicron variant, has once again taken hold. The good news is, this disruption is likely to be short-lived as the other professional sports believe the way forward is to 'play through' and adjust testing protocols. Science tends to agree, at least to a certain extent.

Here's a look at four teams to keep an eye on when the action (hopefully) resumes next week.

Bad Hab-its

With just seven wins in 31 games this season and only one so far in December (that came by way of a shootout against the Flyers), the Montreal Canadiens have been one of the league's biggest disappointments. While a return to Earth was certainly expected after the Habs unbelievable run to the Stanley Cup Final last Spring/Summer, this big of a drop-off comes as a surprise. The good news is, Carey Price should be back between the pipes sooner rather than later (he has resumed practicing with the team). The bad news is, a pre-trade deadline sell-off is probably in the cards. With that being said, I do think we will see some value backing the Habs going forward as their young nucleus is too talented to continue to wallow near the bottom of the NHL standings.

Excellent Pen-manship

The Pittsburgh Penguins enter the holiday pause as one of the league's hottest teams - winners of seven games in a row. They've been doing it despite missing a number of key contributors including Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. For a team that is presumed to be lacking in scoring depth, their run has certainly been impressive. Credit goaltender Tristan Jarry who is enjoying a tremendous turn-around season after a dismal 2020-21 campaign. Jarry has posted a stellar 1.94 goals against average and .932 save percentage in 24 games this season, certainly warranting early-season Vezina Trophy consideration. As always, the Pens are likely to be active 'buyers' in the January-March trading window as they gear up for perhaps one of Sidney Crosby's last runs at Lord Stanley's Cup.

Long Island blues

You have to feel for the New York Islanders. Thought to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender entering the season, it didn't take long for the wheels to fall off. Most of their issues have been Covid-induced, however, as they dealt with a string of postponements before getting back on the ice with a skeleton crew. The Isles currently find themselves sitting in 29th place in the NHL but do have at least two games on hand on every other team (and in most cases three or four). Barry Trotz's squad certainly has its work cut out for it but I'll be buyer coming out of the break as the Isles have certainly shown signs of life, collecting at least a point in seven of their last nine games and have scored at least three goals in five of their last six contests. They'll hope to have Mat Barzal back from Covid protocols next week.

Crown them

Few believed the Los Angeles Kings would be anywhere close to playoff contention this season but as we near the end of December, they sit just three points back of the fourth-place Oilers in the Pacific Division - and only seven points behind the division-leading Golden Knights with two games in hand. Veteran goaltender Jonathan Quick has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, posting a 2.19 GAA and .930 save percentage in 18 games. Anze Kopitar has been a workhorse up front, averaging over 21 minutes per game while posting almost a point-per-game pace (he's played in all 30 games which is an accomplishment given the current state of affairs). While I'm not convinced the Kings are a true contender in the West, I'm also not going to be 'selling' them come January as I do like the core they've built with a nice mix of youth and experience. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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