About this time in the North Pole, there is a jolly man in a red suite looking over a certain list to determine who gets that toy or item they really wanted, or who gets a lump of coal and a frown for being naughty.
About this time in the NHL, there are teams that have enjoyed a good string of luck and points and find themselves in a comforting place as a three day holiday break arrives. Then there are teams that have not had good luck and maybe they have been naughty because of it, because of this they head into the break with a heart that is two sizes too small and work left to be done.
- Columbus Blue Jackets. Not too much was expected from the Columbus Blue Jackets, heck, I didn’t even think their head coach would make it to November, but the Jackets have been very nice. Bench boss John Tortorella gathered his 500th career win, the first American born coach to do so, in the midst of a franchise best 10 game winning streak that has the Jackets in the top three in the red hot Metropolitan division. They have the best point percentage in the league, boasting a 21-5-4 record, and the leagues best power play percentage at 27.1%. But stats aside, they are a very fun team to watch, and you may even catch a glimpse of the rare Tortorella smile on the bench because of it.
- Philadelphia Flyers. Last year, the Flyers got hot towards the end of the regular season to secure a playoff berth, this year they’re not waiting til the last minute. A ten game winning streak of their own put the Flyers atop the wild card race in the Eastern division. After their impressive streak came to an end, they lost two games but rebounded in an impressive way as they defeated the Washington Capitals on Rivalry Night in a shootout. They still have their composure and will look to keep rolling after the holiday break with the help of top scorers Jakob Voracek and Wayne Simmonds.
- Minnesota Wild. Quietly, the Wild are arguably the hottest team in the Western Conference. Winners of 8 straight games, the Wild find themselves only six points away from the Chicago Blackhawks for 1st place in the Central, and they have 4 games in hand. It starts from the net out with Minnesota, as they have the best goalie in the league stat wise (1.55 goals against average, .948 save percentage, 5 shutouts) and their top defenseman Ryan Suter leads the league in plus minus with an impressive +22. An epic clash with the Columbus Blue Jackets on New Years Eve will certainly be one to watch.
- Florida hockey, the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. For both of these hockey clubs, they wish they could turn the clock back to last year. The Panthers still haven’t overcome injuries to start the season and now the Lightning see the injury bug pile up for them. Florida sent former head coach Gerard Gallant looking for a taxi after being fired in Carolina in late November, which lead to then GM Tom Rowe taking over as head coach. Then it was reported that Dale Tallon would take back over GM duties after being stripped of them last year. It’s a mess. While that was happening, the Lightning got a whopping 5 points in 25 days and injuries to stars Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov, Ryan Callahan, and now free agent to be and key trading chip goalie Ben Bishop. Both Florida teams sit at 35 points in the lowly Atlantic, so if their hearts can grow 3 sizes during Christmas, they will both have a chance to get back in the playoff discussion.
- New Jersey Devils. The Devils started the season hot, now everybody wants to go running with the Devils. They have lost 7 straight games and have looked like a mess in the process. To make matters worse, the find themselves in the leagues hottest division, the Metropolitan, where several of the teams have gone on nice runs to further to gap between contenders and pretenders. They’re finally getting healthy, but it looks like it will be too little too late for this young team.
- Colorado Avalanche. It’s just not there for the Avalanche. While the snow might be accumulating in Denver before the holidays, so are the losses for this team as they have been stuck in the basement like that lost Christmas present from a few years ago. They have plenty of talent up front on this team with the likes of Matt Duchene, Gabe Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon but all three have missed time with injuries and they lack the support from other lines and guys filling in. On the back end, the defense is thin (losing Erik Johnson to a broken fibula didn’t help) and the goaltending has been spotty, at best. New coach Jared Bednar hasn’t helped turn things around. If things don’t start turning around in Denver, he may be looking like a grinch long after the holidays are over, if he can survive the storm that is.