This edition of Weekly Warmup goes international with a preview/review of the World Juniors Championship tournament unfurling in the Czech Republic. We also take a look at some significant moments to end 2019 and a look ahead to the 2020 Winter Classic.
Let's drop the puck and check out the prospects and the pros:
New Year's Fireworks
The NHL throws its traditional North American New Year's Eve party with 13 games Tuesday, starting with matinees of New Jersey at Boston, New York Islanders at Washington and Anaheim at Vegas. Those three hosts are all division leaders, with Washington the overall league leader in the standings with 59 points in 40 games. The fourth division leader, defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis (58 points in 40 games) plays a late game at Arizona. Other late games are New York Rangers at Edmonton and Philadelphia at Los Angeles. Someone in those late games figures to score the last goal of the decade. Could it be recently traded Taylor Hall for Arizona? What about Artemi Panarin, who has notched 21 goals and 30 assists as a new free-agent signee for the New York Rangers?
Next Decade Will be 'Classic'
There is only one game on the League's schedule for Jan. 1 - the outdoor 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. The Dallas Stars will play host to the division-rival Nashville Predators in a sold-out, venerable college football stadium, the Cotton Bowl. The matchup figures to be entertaining and, well, way less cold than past Classics and other NHL outdoor games. More than 84,000 tickets have been sold, including an official record of 20,000 tickets purchased by Nashville fans. NBC will air the game at 11 a.m. Pacific time. Temperatures for the game are projected to peak in the low 50s. The day's forecast, which is the most important factor of the day for the NHL's ice crew, calls for overcast skies rather than the sunny weather that would wreak havoc with the ice quality.
Quiet All-Star Season
As St. Louis gears up for a boisterous Honda NHL All-Star Weekend later this month (Jan. 24-25), Blues forward David Perron is forcing his name into the conversation to suit up. He is on pace to set personal season mark with goals (34) and points (80-plus) as a 31-year-old veteran. Plus, he already scored four game-winning goals in overtime so far this season, setting a franchise record. There will no doubt be other Blues names in the discussion, as the team extended their win-streak to eight games with a 4-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. Plus the x-factor that every teams must send at least one player to All-Star.
Update:Perron was announced Monday after among the nominees on the "Last Man" fan ballot, likely a Central Division favorite as a hometown pick up against Jonathan Toews(Blackhawks), Jamie Benn (Stars), Matt Duchene (Predators),Patrik Laine (Jets), Cale Makar (Avalanche) and Ryan Suter (Wild).
Perron's St. Louis teammates forward Ryan O'Reilly, defenseman Alex Petrangelo and goalie Jordan Binnington were all named to Central Division ASG roster. Here are the complete rosters, with captains per fan voting marked by an asterisk, minus Metropolitan captain Alex Ovechkin who will attend ASG Weekend but not play: All-Star Rosters
Juniors World Championship: First Period
This tournament is Canada's answer to the USA's "March Madness" college basketball tournament every spring. Thanks to the NHL Network covering and broadcasting games, more Americans are discovering the drama and high-level play of this tourney, staged by the International Ice Hockey Federaton or IIHF. This year, Team Canada has experienced many highs and lows. On the upside, the Canadians outdueled Team USA in a preliminary game, winning 6-4 on the strength of a game-winning goal by consensus No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Alex Lafreniere, who added three assists. On the downside, Lafreniere hurt his knee in the next game vs. Russia, which compounded into a 6-0 loss for Canada. But Canada rebounded without Lafreniere suited up, earning a 4-1 win over Germany Monday. The good news for Lafreniere is the knee injury is less severe than originally thought, but it is not clear if plays again in this tournament. With a 2-1 preliminary record, Canada can guarantee advancing to the quarterfinals with a win over host Czech Republic in Ostrava on Tuesday.
Juniors Worlds: Second Period
In the same pool as Canada, Team USA needed a victory against Russia Sunday to be in control of its path to the quarterfinal. Goalie Spencer Knight, a first-round round Florida Panthers pick last June, slowed down the potent Russia squad and Arthur Kaliyev (second round, 2020, Los Angeles) pitched in two goals for a 3-1 win. The Americans advanced in the B pool with a 4-3 overtime win against the Czech Republic. The home Czechs need to beat Canada Tuesday or else leave their quarterfinals hopes to other teams' performances. Head to IIHF.com to stay up-to-date on scores and matchups.
Next Generation in Toronto
While the Maple Leafs have some young stars on the ice (hello, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner among others), they are looking to get even younger. On Dec. 23, they hosted one of four "Next Gen" games planned for this season. The Leafs' high-scoring 8-6 win over Carolina started at 2 p.m. on a Monday to help attract younger fans to attend the game with families and friends. The franchise uses the games to try new ways for fans to experience the games, including arena tours and engaging social media interactions. Here are a few videos which best explain the approach and the fun:
Team of the Decade
The current standings don't show it, but the Chicago Blackhawks get the top NHL grade for the decade about to shut down the clock. It's hard to beat the Original Six Franchise's three Cup wins in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Two players at the core of the success-along with now Florida head coach Joel Quenneville-captain and center Jonathan Toews and star scorer Patrick Kane, both scored in a shootout win Sunday night at Columbus. Toews is looking for a bounce-back year on the scoring sheet while still drawing most of the tough defensive assignments against other team's top lines. Kane just achieved his 13th straight 20-goal season, a rare consistency for any era or decade. And, fun fact, for new-this-season Hawks goalie Robin Lehner: He finally won a shootout, his first for Chicago. Before Sunday's game, his .510 (51 percent) save percentage rank last out of 104 NHL goalies who have faced a minimum of 40 shots. His overall SO record is now 9-23.
Decade of Cups
While Chicago earns NHL team of decade with three Stanley Cup victories, the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 2017) and LA Kings (2012, 2014) both deserve honorable mentions for each claiming two Stanley Cup titles this decade. The other winners of this decade? Boston won their sixth-ever Cup in 2011 while the Washington Capitals (2018) and St. Louis Blues (2019) each enjoyed their first-franchise Cup victories to end the deacde.
New York Islanders forward Anthony Beauvillier turned creative with his three-day holiday break, tweeting out a simple message to movie star Anna Kendrick on Christmas Day.
His tweet launched serious support from fans, including many tales of Beauvillier performing super-hero worthy good-deeds ranging from saving puppies to performing open-heart surgery to rescuing people from burning buildings. Cute, right, if not all true? Did it work? Well, Kendrick did answer a few days later, tweeting that the fan messages "been my entertainment for the last two days."