Welcome back everyone, it's been a treacherous 10 days for me, as I was a bit under the weather and even in the emergency room on Thanksgiving night. But the journey to wellness has been restful, and I'm starting to regain my energy.
Sometimes, it takes a reprieve.
Same can be said in the NHL.
Anyone else notice how the some of the hot hockey teams have kind of come back down to earth.
The only real juggernaut since the start of the season is the Washington Capitals, who I'm pretty sure will hit a lull at some point this season. They'll be another tough out in the postseason, but right now they're holding their own.
But in both conferences the teams I'm thinking of are the Dallas Stars and New York Islanders. Both were explosive and at some point early on carried the tag of "hottest team in the league."
Of late, such is not the case.
The Stars have lost four straight following a six-game win streak. They've been outscored 14-4 during the slide, losing to Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota and Winnipeg. And I'd have to say the only loss I consider to be acceptable is to the Blues. Winnipeg, maybe, but considering how good the Stars were playing, they shouldn't have lost that game 5-1.
With the Islanders, we saw them follow that incredible 17-game point streak by losing three in a row before finally beating Columbus and Detroit, which doesn’t really mean anything. Then they went north to Montreal and lost 4-2. Tonight they have the red-hot Golden Knights in town, and the only good thing is Marc-Andre Fleury is resting.
The bad thing is Malcolm Subban is in, and he's been terrific.
We’re starting to see who the best teams are and who are in the middle of the pack. And why?
Strength of schedule and availability of backup goaltenders.
These are always going to be key points to consider when handicapping hockey. Is a team starting to level off because its schedule is catching up with it? Are these teams going through win streaks against lower-standing teams, and then losing against top-caliber teams? Always important to check.
And this season, we're seeing more and more teams use alternate starting goaltenders, like the Islanders or Coyotes.
If you're looking at a game specifically because of a team on a winning or losing streak, be sure to check why. In hockey, it makes all the difference in the world.
Friday - Arizona at Pittsbrugh: As mentioned, the Coyotes have done an excellent job with their two goaltenders. Both Anti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper have been excellent in net for the Coyotes. The fact either can play the role of starter makes this second of back-to-backs after playing in Philadelphia easier.
Saturday - NY Islanders at Dallas: Here are my streaky teams, facing off in Big D on a Saturday night. The Stars will likely have big Ben Bishop in net, and he's tough to score against. Considering how the Islanders have been playing, they may need to depend on their goaltending as well. Wouldn't be surprised to see a low-scoring game.