As the NHL All-Star Weekend and its accompanying break beckons, 17 teams started an extended rest and recovery period this week, while the other 14 clubs will do the same for five days following the All-Star Weekend. Some of the 14 teams and its players on hot streaks might want to keep the mojo going.
Let's lace 'em up for Weekly Warmup:
Eastern Time is the Right Time
The Chicago Blackhawks are suddenly in the playoffs mix. Analytics sites post probabilities to make the playoffs for every NHL team. Chicago was in the single-digits in early January and anyone viewing the standings surmised the three-time Cup champions of last decade were looking at too many teams between them and a wild-card. Finishing in the top three of the Central division still appears a rugged climb, but before the weekend's games Chicago's playoff chances had notched up to 24 percent. Then the Blackhawks soundly beat the Maple Leafs, 6-2, in Toronto Saturday night to finish a three-game sweep at Ottawa, Montreal and TOR this past week. Then Chicago flew home to thump Winnipeg, 5-2, against the team it is chasing in the postseason hunt. The Blackhawks are on a five-game winning streak and their playoffs probability is now hovering near 40 percent.
High Five in Columbus
The Columbus Blue Jackets own a five-game winning streak too. But even more impressive is their record after the first week of December: 15-2-4. The Jackets bounded three Metropolitan division rivals this past week, beating Carolina, New Jersey and the New York Rangers in four days to put them one point out of third place in the Metro. CBJ is doing it without injured goalie Joonas Korpisalo since late December, when the All-Star goalie injured his knee in a shootout. He is not expected back until roughly mid-February. Backup Elvis Merzlikins, the NHL's fourth-ever Latvian goalie, has shored up the defense, including a 5-0 shutout at home Saturday against New Jersey. Columbus traveled to play NYR and former sharpshooter teammate Artemi Panarin Sunday. Coach John Tortorella surprised with a first-ever NHL start for rookie goalie Matiss Kivlenieks, who responded with 31 saves in a 2-1 win. Kivlenieks happens to be the fifth-ever Latvian goalie to play in the NHL. "I thought he was calm as could be for his first game," Tortorella told reporters in New York. "Madison Square Garden, everything that comes with it. I was impressed with him."
Granato Coaching American All-Stars at ASG Weekend
The NHL is adding the "Elite Women's 3-on-3 presented by Adidas" contest to this All-Star Weekend's festivities. American All-Stars and Canadian All-Stars will play head-to-head in a 20-minute 3-on-3 tournament Friday in St. Louis. The tournament will be presented as one of six events at the All-Star skills competition. NHL Seattle pro scout Cammi Granato will be coaching the USA squad, only fitting with Granato decorated history as a player for the U.S. national, blazing a trail for today's stars. Stay tuned here for more updates about Granato's weekend.
On the Bye and Bye
The NHL "bye week" was established during the 2016-17 as negotiated by the NHL players associations in the last collective bargaining agreement. It affords players more than a week of rest and no games or practices-unless a player is part of All-Star Weekend in St. Louis this Friday and Saturday. These teams started their breaks over the weekend, returning to play Jan. 26 or 27: Anaheim, Arizona, Buffalo, Calgary, Dallas, Edmonton, LA, Montreal, Nashville, New Jersey, Ottawa, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington. These remaining 14 NHL club start their byes Jan. 22 and return to games Jan. 30: Boston, Carolina, Chicago, Colorado, Columbus, Detroit, Florida, Minnesota, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philly, Pittsburgh, Vegas, Winnipeg.
'Q' Up the Ovations
While there will be other games to watch this week-including Saturday night's games as part of the NHL All-Star Weekend-Florida's visit to Chicago's United Center will be special. Former Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville returns with a Florida club that is tied for third in the Atlantic with 57 points and fewer games played than division rivals. Coach 'Q' won three Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks fans and was as beloved in the Midwestern mecca as football legend Mike Ditka who coached the Bears to its one and only Super Bowl win. Expect emotions to flow with the video tribute. Expect noise. Lots of it.
Kane Hits 1,000 Points
In Chicago's 5-2 win Sunday, star winger Patrick Kane recorded his 1,000 point in the NHL. Captain and long-time teammate Jonathan Toews arranged for the entire player bench to join the on-ice celebration, clearing it with the referees ahead of time. Kane assisted on a Brandon Saad goal late third period to go up, 4-1. Kane (31 years, 61 days) is the youngest United States-born player to reach the milestone, ahead of Jeremy Roenick (32 years, 13 days). The right wing has 380 goals and 620 assists in 953 games in 13 seasons, all with the Blackhawks.
Ovechkin Reaches Rare Territory
To use his own favorite adjective, Washington star is, well, sick. In a good way, of course. Let's say a great way. Ovi registered his second straight three-goal hat trick Saturday in a 6-4 road win over the New York Islanders, pairing it with a hat trick Thursday night in a 5-2 win at home against New Jersey. He done the back-to-back hat tricks thing the last three seasons at ages 32, 33 and now 34. He has passed Hall of Famer and Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux on the all-time NHL goals list. His final goal before the bye week ties Ovechkin with Hall of Famer and Detroit general manager Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time on the NHL goals list at 692.
Gallant Opens Up about Vegas Firing
In his first public comments since Monday's firing, ex-coach Greg Gallant expressed his desire to coach again. He led the Vegas franchise to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final its first NHL season.
"I was disappointed and surprised, but I understand the hockey business and things have to change sometimes," Gallant told the Journal Pioneer of Summerside, Prince Edward Island.
"I was an All-Star coach a week and a half ago, and we were in first place in our division, and then things change and we lost four in a row. I'm going to look at the future, and that's what you have to do as a coach. I'm far from done. I enjoy coaching."
A Memorable Start
In his NHL goaltending debut, Latvian rookie Matiss Kivlenieks not only earned a 2-1 over the New York Rangers, he was awarded the team kepi (a Civil War cap) as its player of the game. Check out this link, an inspiration to NHL call-ups everywhere.