Maybe it’s just a distressing symptom of the dreaded aging process, but of the friends I’ve run into while visiting my old stomping grounds this week, the general consensus is that this holiday break - however long the individuals’ breather might be - is more of a “necessity” than a luxury.
This thought process includes many of us whose low-impact troubles would probably elicit a disgusted reaction from people who actually suffer through difficult jobs, believe it or not.
This talk of rest and recovery provides a useful prompt for Tuesday’s Hockey Dose*: which teams are most welcoming the break? Which teams wish they could keep things going? And most importantly, who might be headed toward a really difficult or potentially profitable stretch of games once the action resumes?
Let’s take a look, while noting that there might be some other teams who can fit in these various categories.
(Feel free to drop me a line if you’ve noticed other teams who could be in a position to either plummet or skyrocket thanks to their schedule or other variables.)
Pittsburgh: All things considered, the Penguins have played remarkably well despite mounting injuries; then again, that’s a statement that has frequently been uttered ever since Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin were questionable to play in the 2011 Winter Classic.
Even with Monday's 5-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators in mind, it's difficult not to be impressed by the way the Penguins are rolling with the punches and soaking up standings points. They had won seven in a row, 12 of 13 and 15 of 18 games before Monday's defeat. That resilient play might make the break seem unwelcome, yet that injury list proves otherwise.
Throwing out smaller names and just focusing on important/semi-important pieces, the following Penguins are either banged-up or injured longer term: Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin. Pascal Dupuis might have joined that list on Monday, too. (In case you’re noting one omission in particular, Tomas Vokoun almost seems like a player we might as well speak about in the past tense, like Marc Savard. That last sentence is one of the saddest I've written in a while.)
Tampa Bay: The Lightning quietly come into the break on a five-game winning streak. The beginning of 2014 isn’t likely to be friendly to them, however.
They begin with a back-to-back on the weekend, play four road games in a row, stop home against Washington on Jan. 9 and then play three more away contests, ending with a back-to-back set. If Ben Bishop, Martin St. Louis & Co. can survive (or even thrive) during that period, then these Bolts might be for real.
It's worth noting that their treacherous mid-November jaunt through the Pacific Division was more like a stumble; they lost all four of those contests, only earning an OT point against Anaheim on Nov. 22.
New York Islanders: The Islanders could go from bad to worse. They do start off with a home game on Saturday, but then they turn around for a road game on Sunday. It starts a stretch in which they play two road games, three home contests and then six away games in a row. Maybe that will be a catalyst for a dramatic (and improbable) turnaround, but it could just as easily be the stretch that gets someone fired.
Indeed, the Isles might be a team to watch in the early part of the new year … just not for the right reasons.
MIXED ABOUT WAITING UNTIL THE WEEKEND
Los Angeles: Despite last night’s loss, Martin Jones probably maintains the attitude that he cannot stack up enough appearances in enough nights. The more time goes along, the closer Jonathan Quick comes to forcing one of Jones and Ben Scrivens out of the picture.
The Kings, as a whole, are wise to rest up. It's a real back-and-forth for Los Angeles, as they return to action with four road games, play five games in a row in Los Angeles and then five more on the road. If they hit a lull - maybe Jones and Scrivens finally falter even before Quick returns? - then things could go sour. It's probably difficult for this bunch to find reasons to really be all that negative right now, though.
Anaheim: With a nine-game winning streak going, the Ducks probably don't want to wait until Saturday to play again, especially since they face back-to-back games in their division.
Still, they play five of their next six games in Anaheim, so the good times could very well keep rolling. There are many burning questions - which goalie(s) will prosper from this potential boon? - yet call me pancake-obsessed if you'd like, but I’m most curious regarding how things will shake out for Dustin Penner.
A lot of people seem to be giving up on the hot-and-cold winger, yet let’s not forget that he’s not very far removed from an outstanding run alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. If you drop him, at least keep tabs on Penner.
Vancouver: The Canucks are in an interesting spot; they're red-hot (they have nine wins in 11 December games with two left in the month before the calendar turns to 2014), yet they suddenly face uncertainty in net. With Roberto Luongo's cloudy injury situation, Eddie Lack faces a great challenge and a golden opportunity, at least short-term.
The biggest test begins on Jan. 4, as the Canucks face this murderous row of games:
Jan. 4: at Los Angeles
Jan. 5: at Anaheim
Jan. 7: home vs. Pittsburgh
Jan. 10: home vs. St. Louis
Jan. 13: at Los Angeles
Jan. 15: at Anaheim
Jan. 16: at Phoenix
Virtually all of the league’s best teams would be vulnerable during that rather ridiculous seven-game stretch. For that very reason, it could be a great test for Vancouver, though; if they manage to come out of this looking as promising on the evening of Jan. 16 as they do on the morning of Dec. 24, then Vancouver may very well be considered “elite.”
Nashville: David Poile and Barry Trotz should consider this a second Thanksgiving and express their gratitude for keeping their jobs.
If there's one thing you can say about the Predators, it's that they've been steady over the years. Now they seem to flip-flop streaks. Since Nov. 19, they've: won five of six, lost five in a row, won three in a row and are now on a four-game losing streak. It's surprising that sticking with two wildly inexperienced goalies in Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec hasn't blown up their faces sooner. But now it - and the team's general mediocrity - is blowing up in the Preds' faces.
Maybe getting a breather will help out? If nothing else, it brings them that closer to the potential stability of Pekka Rinne … though with his health concerns, maybe they’d be better off waiting until next season to embrace his return.
* - There won’t be a Dose for Wednesday or Thursday, so enjoy your break from peripherals and puns.