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Flames, Predators among Western Conference teams on break looks at those with mandatory time off

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / Staff Writer

For the third consecutive season, the NHL schedule gives each team a mandatory break that consists of at least five consecutive days without games. Twenty-one teams started their break after the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game, including 13 in the Western Conference.

Today, we look at those Western Conference teams:


Anaheim Ducks

Record: 21-21-9, 51 points, fifth place in Pacific

MVP: John Gibson-- The goalie is the biggest reason why the Ducks are still competing for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth despite a 12-game losing streak (0-8-4) from Dec. 18 to Jan. 15. He has a 17-16-8 record, 2.74 goals-against average and .919 save percentage for a team at or near the bottom of the NHL in goals (30th), shots per game (31st) and shot attempts (29th).

Unsung hero: Jakob Silfverberg-- The forward is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, but his 12 goals lead Anaheim and is on pace to reach 20 for the third time in four seasons.

Player to watch: Daniel Sprong-- The forward has 12 points (eight goals, four assists) in 22 games for the Ducks after he was acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for defenseman Marcus Pettersson on Dec. 3. The 21-year-old's seven points (four goals, three assists) leads Anaheim through 10 January games and he's settled at right wing on the second line with left wing Nick Ritchie and center Adam Henrique.

Second-half prognosis: The Ducks began a makeover in January acquiring forward Devin Shore, defenseman Michael Del Zotto and center Derek Grant in separate trades, and recalling forwards Troy Terry and Max Jones from San Diego of the American Hockey League. The new blood could give a team ravaged by injuries, and outscored 8-1 in consecutive losses, a lift down the stretch.


Arizona Coyotes

Record: 23-23-4, 50 points, sixth place in Pacific

MVP: Clayton Keller --The center leads the Coyotes in scoring with 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists), nine more than second-leading scorer Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The 20-year-old's 0.70 points per game is best among those who have played a full season in Arizona.

Unsung hero: Darcy Kuemper  -- He has taken over the No. 1 goalie job with Antti Raanta (lower body) likely out for the season. Kuemper lost his first four starts and six of seven after returning from a lower-body injury Dec. 11 but is 6-0-2 with a 2.07 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and one shutout in his past eight starts and is one of three goalies without a regulation loss since New Year's Day, along with Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins and David Rittich of the Calgary Flames. 

Player to watch: Conor Garland  -- The forward has 12 points (nine goals, three assists) in 16 games after none in the first seven of his NHL career. The 22-year-old is the sixth rookie in Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets history to score in at least four consecutive games and first since Teemu Selanne set the record of nine straight from March 14-April 1, 1993.

Second-half prognosis: Arizona began its break with six wins in nine games (6-2-1) and is two points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. But numerous injuries, the uncertain status of Ekman-Larsson (lower body) and a lack of offense will present challenges to make the postseason for the first time since 2011-12.

Video: PIT@ARI: Keller nets PPG for 100th career point


Calgary Flames

Record: 33-13-5, 71 points, first place in Pacific

MVP: Johnny Gaudreau -- His 73 points (29 goals, 44 assists) are tied with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid for third in the NHL. The forward reached 70 points in 48 games, third-fastest in Calgary/Atlanta Flames history behind Kent Nilsson (46 games in 1980-81) and Bob MacMillan (47 in 1978-79).

Unsung hero: David Rittich -- The 26-year-old has emerged as a viable NHL goalie who stepped up when Mike Smith had an undisclosed injury and has seen his playing time increase. He's 8-0-2 with a 2.77 GAA and .909 save percentage in his past 10 starts.

Player to watch: Mark Giordano -- The 35-year-old is having a Norris Trophy-caliber season with 52 points (11 goals, 41 assists) and an NHL high plus-29 rating in 49 games, and could be a first-time finalist for the award given to the top defenseman in the NHL.

Second-half prognosis: The Flames are 8-0-1 in their past nine games and targeting home-ice advantage in the West with Bill Peters working wonders in his first season as coach. Questions remain in goal, where Rittich must continue to prove he's for real when the games increase in magnitude.


Chicago Blackhawks

Record: 18-24-9, 45 points, seventh place in Central

MVP: Patrick Kane -- The forward (71 points; 29 goals, 42 assists) has been a bright spot for the Blackhawks in a season that included the firing of coach Joel Quenneville on Nov. 6 and two eight-game losing streaks (Oct. 27-Nov. 12; Nov. 27-Dec. 11). Kane is 23 points ahead of Chicago's second-leading scorer, center Jonathan Toews, and has at least 20 power-play points for the sixth straight season and ninth time in his NHL career.

Unsung hero: Collin Delia -- The 24-year-old went 3-1-3 with a 2.70 GAA and .932 save percentage in his first seven starts after his recall from Rockford of the AHL on Dec. 17, one day after No. 1 goalie starter Corey Crawford sustained a concussion. Crawford's return remains uncertain, so the Blackhawks will have to ride a timeshare with Delia and veteran Cam Ward.

Player to watch: Alex DeBrincat  -- The 21-year-old is three goals shy of the 28 goals he scored during his rookie season of 2017-18. The forward is the third player age 21 or younger to score 25 goals in the first 50 games this season, along with McDavid and Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine.

Second-half prognosis: Kane lifted Chicago to within distance of the playoff picture before a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) briefly dropped them to the bottom of the NHL standings. The Blackhawks could get closer given the inconsistency of the teams above them, but they're short on defense and lack offense behind Kane, Toews and DeBrincat to make a serious run.


Colorado Avalanche

Record: 22-20-8, 52 points, fifth place in Central

MVP: Nathan MacKinnon -- He centers arguably the most dominant line in the NHL between Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, each of whom represented the Avalanche at the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game and warranted consideration in this category. MacKinnon is tied for fifth in the League in scoring with 71 points (27 goals, 44 assists) in 50 games, although he missed the All-Star Game because of a bruised foot. 

Unsung hero: Tyson Barrie -- He leads Avalanche defensemen with 39 points (six goals, 33 assists), including eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 11 games defenseman Nikita Zadorov missed with an injury.

Player to watch: Mikko Rantanen -- Colorado's leading scorer, with 74 points (23 goals, 51 assists), continues his push for the Art Ross Trophy and potentially the Hart Trophy. The forward needed 47 games to get at least 50 assists, tied with Peter Stastny and Peter Forsberg for second-fastest in Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques history behind Stastny's 46 games in 1981-82. He's second in the NHL in scoring, four points behind Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov.

Second-half prognosis: The Avalanche limped into the break with three losses in four games and 12 in their past 15 (3-10-2). The returns of Zadorov and Mark Barberio lengthen the defense, but Colorado needs more from goalies Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer, and their offense beyond the top line.

Video: COL@OTT: MacKinnon snipes shot by Nilsson for PPG


Edmonton Oilers

Record: 23-24-3, 49 points, seventh place in Pacific

MVP: Connor McDavid -- The center and captain has five different point streaks of at least five games, including an eight-game run (11 points; six goals, five assists) from Oct. 23-Nov. 5. He factored in on 11 of the 13 goals Edmonton scored to start the season (four goals, seven assists) and had points in 13 of 15 games (24 points; 10 goals, 14 assists) entering the break. He's tied for third in the NHL in scoring, behind Kucherov and Rantanen, with 73 points (29 goals, 44 assists).

Unsung hero: Oscar Klefbom -- The Oilers were on a 7-1-0 run that started Nov. 27, a week after Ken Hitchcock replaced Todd McLellan as coach, when the defenseman injured his hand midway through the second period of a 6-4 win against the Avalanche on Dec. 11. They're 6-12-1 without him, allowing 76 goals, most in the NHL during that stretch, and have been outshot 663-498. Klefbom leads Edmonton with an average of 25:25 of ice time per game and is expected back after the break.

Player to watch: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- The Oilers need scoring from someone other than McDavid and center Leon Draisaitl. The production of the forward and No. 1 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, whose 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) are third behind McDavid and Draisaitl, will be critical down the stretch.

Second-half prognosis: The Oilers fired McLellan and general manager Peter Chiarelli this season, despite remaining in playoff contention. For all their talent, the question of why they haven't taken that elusive next step since their run to Game 7 of the 2017 Western Conference Second Round remains.


Los Angeles Kings 

Record: 20-26-4, 44 points, eighth place in Pacific

MVP: Drew Doughty -- The defenseman leads the Kings with 23 assists and the NHL in average ice time (26:41). He could be the first to lead the NHL in time on ice in consecutive seasons since Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter from 2012-13 to 2014-15.

Unsung hero: Jake Muzzin -- The unheralded 29-year old is second behind Doughty in points (21) and time on ice (21:32) among Kings defensemen and leads all Los Angeles players in plus-minus (plus-10), hits (111) and blocked shots (92). 

Player to watch: Ilya Kovalchuk -- It has been a difficult first season back in the NHL for the 35-year-old forward, who missed 10 games after having an ankle bursectomy. Before that, coach John Stevens was fired and Kovalchuk was removed from the top power-play unit, out of the top six and benched in the third period against the Oilers on Nov. 25. He scored twice in his return Dec. 22 before enduring a 10-game goal drought.

Second-half prognosis: The Kings are desperate for help on offense and the power play, which Kovalchuk was supposed to help upgrade. It might be time to hit the reset button in Los Angeles by attempting to trade Kovalchuk and see what's out there for forward Tyler Toffoli (three goals in past 32 games) and center Adrian Kempe (no goals in past 18).


Minnesota Wild

Record: 26-21-3, 55 points, third place in Central

MVP: Zach Parise -- The forward has returned to top-six form after having back surgery in October 2017 to lead Minnesota with 20 goals and 44 points in 49 games after getting 15 and 24 in 42 games last season. The 34-year-old has kept the inconsistent Wild in playoff contention despite a 4-8-1 December, finding chemistry with center Charlie Coyle and forward Luke Kunin since they were united Dec. 27.

Unsung hero: Ryan Suter -- The reliable defenseman continues to eat big minutes (26:37 per game) with Minnesota missing injured defenseman Matt Dumba (torn pectoral muscle). Suter has been a stalwart this season after recovering from a broken right fibula sustained on March 31.

Player to watch: Eric Staal -- The center was regressing from his 42-goal, 76-point season in 2017-18 before entering the break with points in three straight games (six points; three goals, three assists) and six of eight (10 points; four goals, six assists). How much the 34-year-old has left will impact the Wild's playoff chances.

Second-half prognosis: Minnesota, 10-15-1 in a 26-game stretch following a 12-5-2 start, shook up its core by trading forward Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes for forward Victor Rask on Jan. 17 and began the break winners of three straight and four of five. They're hoping a change of scenery for Rask sparks the underachieving Staal, Coyle, center Mikko Koivu and forwards Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker.

Video: MIN@TOR: Parise roofs Coyle's feed to put Wild ahead


Nashville Predators

Record: 30-18-4, 64 points, second place in Central

MVP: Ryan Johansen -- The center leads the Predators in scoring with 43 points (nine goals, 34 assists) in 50 games, having played with numerous skaters before regular linemates Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg returned after missing a combined 41 games with injuries. Johansen is on track for his fifth 60-point season in the NHL and could take his game to new heights after the break.

Unsung hero: Pekka Rinne -- The goalie and reigning Vezina Trophy winner was the backbone of the Predators when they were ravaged by injuries and the 36-year-old helped keep them contending for first in the Central Division. He's 18-12-3 with a 2.47 GAA and .915 save percentage in 36 games (35 starts) this season.

Player to watch: Filip Forsberg -- The forward has seven points (four goals, three assists) in nine games after missing 17 with a hand injury, and his 18 goals are one behind Arvidsson for the Nashville lead. His return has allowed others to get back into more familiar roles for the Predators, who went 8-7-2 without him.

Second-half prognosis: Injuries and adversity could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Nashville, which never lost more than two straight games en route to winning 53 games and the Presidents' Trophy last season before a seven-game loss to the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference Second Round.


San Jose Sharks

Record: 29-16-7, 65 points, second place in Pacific

MVP: Brent Burns -- The defenseman, with 55 points (nine goals, 46 assists is on pace to exceed his NHL career high in points (76) set when he won the Norris Trophy in 2016-17. The Sharks are 17-6-2 since Dec. 2, with Burns getting 28 points (six goals, 22 assists). 

Unsung hero: Timo Meier -- The forward used a nine-game point streak (eight goals, five assists) from Oct. 9-30, scored 11 goals in the first 14 games of the season and has NHL career highs in assists (27) and points (46), each second among Sharks forwards behind center Logan Couture.

Player to watch: Martin Jones -- The goalie won eight straight starts from Dec. 27-Jan. 15 to tie his NHL career high set from Dec. 3-21, 2013 until giving up a combined 17 goals in his final three starts before the break. Jones has started at least 60 games in each of the past three seasons and will again be counted on to be San Jose's rock during another playoff push. He's 23-10-4 with a 2.98 GAA and .895 save percentage in 38 starts this season.

Second-half prognosis: The road is tough for the Sharks, with 14 of their final 30 games away from SAP Center, where they're 17-4-4. Defensemen Erik Karlsson (undisclosed) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (shoulder) are expected back for the stretch run, and given how Karlsson has fit in after a slow start, San Jose should be in the hunt for the best record in the West.


St. Louis Blues

Record: 22-22-5, 49 points, sixth place in Central

MVP: Ryan O'Reilly -- The centerpiece of the trade with the Buffalo Sabres on July 1 took a six-game point streak (eight points; two goals, six assists) into the break and his January numbers (15 points; three goals, 15 assists, plus-8) have helped St. Louis revive its season. He leads the Blues with 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) in 49 games.

Unsung hero: Jordan Binnington -- The rookie goalie went 3-1-0 with a 1.55 GAA and .937 save percentage in his first four NHL starts after he was recalled from San Antonio of the AHL on Jan. 5, and the 25-year-old is 5-1-1 with a 1.84 GAA and .924 save percentage in his first seven decisions.

Player to watch: Vladimir Tarasenko -- The Blues need the forward who was their leading goal scorer each of the past four seasons and entered the break with 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 11 games instead of the player who scored two goals in 13 December games and was part of St. Louis' free fall to the bottom of the NHL.

Second-half prognosis: The path to the playoffs is open for the Blues after their low point of 9-13-4 on Dec. 5. They did not win three in a row until Jan. 10-14 and hope to use a 7-4-1 stretch since the start of 2019 as a springboard to a postseason return. They also need to be better at Enterprise Center (12-13-2), where they play seven of their final 10 regular-season games.


Vancouver Canucks

Record: 23-22-6, 52 points, fourth place in Pacific

MVP: Elias Pettersson -- The center leads all rookies with 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 40 games. The 20-year-old was NHL Rookie of the Month for December, selected to the All-Star Game and is on track to become the first Sweden-born forward to win the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the NHL since Landeskog in 2012.

Unsung hero: Alexander Edler -- The defenseman is enjoying a renaissance season (20 points; five goals, 15 assists, plus-3 in 36 games) after he was minus-20 and minus-18 in the previous two. The 32-year-old, who could become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, leads the Canucks with 23:30 of ice time and is on pace for his most productive season since 2011-12, when he had 49 points (11 goals, 38 assists).

Player to watch: Jacob Markstrom -- He has been Vancouver's top goalie after going 8-9-3 with a 3.31 GAA and .897 save percentage in his first 20 games. At some point, the Canucks will want an extended look at rookie Thatcher Demko, but Markstrom is on track for his best NHL season and consistency will be critical down the stretch; he's 19-13-5 with a 2.84 GAA and .908 save percentage this season.

Second-half prognosis: The Canucks are in the playoff hunt in the wide-open Western Conference and eye their first postseason appearance since 2015. Pettersson gives Vancouver a big three with forwards Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser, but they're middle of the road offensively and need a lot more on the power play (16.8 percent, tied for 22nd in the NHL).

Video: EDM@VAN: Pettersson goes top shelf for PPG


Vegas Golden Knights 

Record: 29-19-4, 62 points, third place in Pacific

MVP: Marc-Andre Fleury -- The goalie is a top Vezina Trophy contender after going 12 straight games without a regulation loss (9-0-3) from Dec. 9-Jan. 8. The 34-year-old leads the NHL in wins (27), starts (45) and shutouts (six), to go along with a 2.49 GAA and .911 save percentage.

Unsung hero: Nate Schmidt -- Vegas was 8-11-1 during Schmidt's 20-game suspension for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. The Golden Knights are 21-8-3 since he returned to stabilize the back end. He has 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 32 games and signed a six-year contract (average annual value $5.95 million) Oct. 24.

Player to watch: Alex Tuch -- The No. 18 pick by the Wild in the 2014 NHL Draft was traded to the Golden Knights on June 21, 2017 and is their leading scorer with 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists) in 44 games. Tuch's nine-game point streak (11 points; three goals, eight assists) which ended Jan. 15, was the second-longest active run in the NHL behind Blues forward David Perron (13).

Second-half prognosis: The Golden Knights have proven their Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season wasn't a fluke. Center William Karlsson and forwards Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and Max Pacioretty each has yet to play his best hockey, so expect Vegas to find another gear and challenge the Flames for Western Conference supremacy.

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