We’ve made it to double-digits, welcome to the 10th edition of the Weekly Lost & Found. However, it would be more of a celebration if the state of the league, let alone the world, was in a better place entering the climax of the holiday season. This edition will feature three teams, one lost and two found, and discussion on the recent surge of COVID-19. It’s at the forefront of so many hockey discussions, so that’s how we’ll kick off this edition.
Lost: COVID-19 Hits the NHL, Dallas Stars Lack Consistency
NHL Losing Games to COVID Postponement
The NHL, let alone the world, has seen a COVID-19 surge in the last month-and-change. So far in December, 13 NHL games have been postponed, starting with the lone game on Dec. 13. Looking ahead to the end of the month, at least nine more games will be postponed.
Heading into the Christmas break, the Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins will have some extra time to rest and recover. The NHL has shut both teams down. Over 70 NHL players have been put into COVID protocol this month, and more than 140 this season. Some players, such as Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin, have started to speak out.
“‘I wouldn’t be that comfortable playing with guys who might have COVID or against a team that’s had seven cases,’ Drouin said after he scored the winning goal in a 3-2 shootout win over Philadelphia Thursday. ‘I don’t feel comfortable playing with that. It’s not what we were told this year with the vaccines and all that. For sure, things change in times like this, but it’s really not ideal’’ (from “Hickey on hockey: Rising NHL COVID-19 cases leave Olympics on thin ice”, The Montreal Gazette, 12/17/21).
Olympic participation is another concern that is rapidly approaching a deadline. While the decision falls to the players, many are feeling more “uneasy,” such as Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares. If a player tests positive while in China for the games, they could potentially be facing a five-week quarantine in China.
There are many factors to consider ahead of that decision, as well as the NHL’s scheduling decisions. Some say play through it with more precautions, others say to take a break and pause the season. What should be first and foremost in everyone’s mind is the health and safety of the players and their families.
The NHL, similar to the NBA, is lucky in that they have months of regular season left, unlike the NFL whose playoffs are approaching. Postponements aren’t cancellations, and the games can be made up. Either way, health and safety should be above all in these situations. It’ll be interesting to see not just the NHL, but the players’ decisions in the very near future. The NHL looks to be staying the course as of the writing of this article, and we should know more in regards to Olympic participation in the next few days.
Stars Give Up Ground, Show Inconsistencies During Losing Streak
The Stars are a very confusing team. They were on a solid run that landed them an appearance in the seventh Weekly Lost & Found edition, but gave a lot of it back on a five-game losing streak. They snapped the streak with an overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks. The past week saw head coach Rick Bowness’s squad go 1-2, with a pair of identical 4-1 losses to the St. Louis Blues before beating the Hawks.
When they’re on, they’re red-hot. On their seven-game winning streak, they scored 25 goals and allowed just nine, a plus-16 goal differential. When they’re off, it’s bad. On their five-game losing streak they’ve scored a mere seven goals, were shutout, and scored a lone goal in three straight games while allowing 19 total. That’s a minus-12 differential.
One of those losses against the Blues even prompted Bowness to call-out the team, saying how he wasn’t sure if some players were even there. While he didn’t name specific players, it’s clear that the message is being sent to his underperforming top players.
Three of their highest paid forwards, captain Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, have been especially struggling this season. Benn leads the trio with 13 points, while Radulov is second with 12 and Seguin third with 11. While Seguin is in his first full season since undergoing a hip arthroscopy and labral repair, it’s apparent that Bowness isn’t happy with his effort level.
However, their goaltending has been pretty strong. They’ve sent a struggling Anton Khudobin to the American Hockey League (AHL), opting for Braden Holtby and Jake Oettinger. The duo has played really well despite the team’s offensive absences. Holtby sports a 2.44 goals-against average (GAA) and a .922 save percentage (SV%) in 15 games, while Oettinger has a 2.02 GAA and .932 SV% in nine.
The Stars have the goaltending, but need to find the offensive consistency, and consistent effort-level, before they can truly be taken seriously in the fight for a wild card spot. They’re six points out of the second wild card spot, with three teams ahead of them. They’re looking at three games in four days leading into the Christmas break.
Found: Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights Hit Their Stride Ahead of Christmas Break
Predators Are a Train With Saros as the Engine
The NHL has shut down the Predators ahead of the Christmas break as several players and staff members have entered COVID protocol. That will make four out of their final six pre-Christmas games postponed due to COVID. While no time is a good time for COVID, this comes while the Preds are in the midst of a seven-game winning streak.
During the run, they scored 25 goals and allowed 14, a plus-11 goal differential. Goaltender Juuse Saros is carrying the brunt of the workload for them and has been solid the whole year. He’s played five-of-seven games on this run, allowing just nine goals with a .931 SV% and one shutout. David Rittich has seen very limited action this season, just five games, and in his two on this streak he’s allowed five goals with an .865 SV%.
While Saros is hot, it could be problematic down the line with how many games he’s playing. However, their offensive production has been here in a dependable way, and looks like it will be here to stay. While they haven’t scored the most goals, they’ve scored enough to back up Saros’s stellar play. Five Predators are near or over a point per game this season.
Filip Forsberg is in the final year of his deal and tied with Matt Duchene with a team-leading 13 goals. The only other player with double-digit goals is captain Roman Josi with 10. He leads the team with 29 points in 30 games from the blue line.
With their next three games postponed, the Preds will have a lot of time to rest up. It’ll be interesting to see if they can recapture the momentum they had prior, especially with three straight road games once they’re back playing. Though, with Josi and Saros leading the way, they look to be in good shape moving forward.
Golden Knights’ Offensive Firepower Fuels Goaltending on Winning Streak
The Golden Knights have found their rhythm under the “Vegas Lights,” and are enjoying a nice stretch of play. They’ve played five games in the past eight days, and won all of them. The past two wins came in a shootout.
Aside from the extra goals added from shootout wins, they scored 20 goals and allowed 13 for a plus-seven goal differential. Goal scoring has been coming at-will for the Knights, as they’re second in the NHL having scored 111 goals, and have a plus-17 goal differential on the year. Jonathan Marchessault is leading the way in that department.
He leads the team with 14 goals, while Max Pacioretty has 12 goals in just 14 games. Chandler Stephenson leads the team with 30 points in 30 games. They’re seeing offensive contributions from all over the lineup. Three of their top-10 point-scorers are defensemen. Alex Pietrangelo leads the way with five goals and 22 points in 31 games.
It’s good that they’re getting this offensive production, because their goaltending hasn’t been as sharp as many would have liked thus far. Robin Lehner has played 24 games, but his numbers aren’t the best. He’s started four games on this run, and has only had above a .906 SV% once. On the year, he owns a 3.03 GAA and .905 SV%. Despite the numbers looking bad, he’s still winning games, and when he struggles his team is supporting him offensively.
The Knights won’t catch much of a break with their upcoming matchups; every team is either in a playoff spot or in the hunt. Their offense is buzzing, and may be able to overpower some younger, overachieving teams (relative to the THW staff’s predictions), such as the Anaheim Ducks. Their goaltending should improve and plateau, but it’s the offense that leads this team forward.
Sean Raggio lives for hockey. He will be covering the Seattle Kraken, and is a co-host of “What’s Kraken” for THW. Sean gained experience in writing for television, print and radio while studying journalism at Quinnipiac University and being an active member in the student media organizations there. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out on Twitter! A link can be found at the bottom of his articles, such as this one.