Sunday is Hockey Day in America and it features a quadruple header of games on the NBC networks. The Capitals, coming off of a 3-2 shootout loss in Detroit on Saturday afternoon, have earned at least a point in 21 of their past 23 games (19-2-2) to put themselves in a great position to win the Presidents’ Trophy for a second consecutive year. Saturday’s game was their first game back from their bye week and snapped what had been a six-game winning streak where they scored at least five goals in five of the games. On Sunday they visit a Rangers team that has won six of its past seven games but can not seem to gain any ground in a division where everybody seems to keep winning and collecting points.
One of the big changes in the NHL this season has been the introduction of the bye week, giving every team in the league one stretch of at least five consecutive days where it plays no games. The theory behind it was simple: The NHL season, 82 games, plus two months of playoffs if your team is good enough to keep advancing, is a grueling grind and a five-day break in the middle of the season would be a welcome break. One of the big problems has been the fact that nearly every team that has returned from its bye week has not only lost, but hasn’t even really been competitive in its first game back as they try to shake off the rust and get back to game speed. After all five teams returning from their bye weeks on Saturday (Montreal, Washington, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Nashville) lost their games, NHL teams are only 3-12-4 this season coming off of their bye.
We're less than two weeks away from the NHL trade deadline, which means general managers across the league are just about finalizing their plans for the stretch run. Teams near the bottom of the standings have set their price on players in an effort to maximize their return on coveted rentals or long-term assets. Bubble teams are determining whether they should be buyers or sellers. And contenders are thinking of ways to strengthen their club without disrupting the team chemistry. The Blackhawks, no question, are a contender in a Western Conference that's as wide open as it's ever been in the last decade. GM Stan Bowman has made it clear multiple times that he has no plans to make a big splash,