Struggling NHL Playoff Contenders Who Will Benefit Most from the Olympic Break
NHL teams are divided on the value of the Olympic break. Some teams are flying high and don't want to stop, while others are limping to the deadline.
There's a wide range of players from each team attending Sochi, from a high of 10 (Chicago, Detroit) to a low of two (several teams).
Who will benefit most from the break? How much will it impact the playoff race? Here are 10 NHL teams who will surge after the Olympic break.
10. Nashville Predators
Record: Nashville is 25-23-10, 12th place in the Western Conference. They are four points out of a playoff position.
Recent Woes: Nashville struggled early in the season and were 16-18-4 on December 28. At that time, they trailed the eighth-place team by a full 10 points. Since then, the Predators are 9-5-6 and have closed the gap.
Why They Need A Break: The Predators have one of the worst goal differentials in the entire league. They are offensively challenged, but are also poor defensively. Pekka Rinne is their starting goaltender, but he has been out for a long period due to injury. The Olympic break gets Rinne two weeks closer to returning to the net for Nashville and hopefully better results. Nashville has only two Olympians, which should be a huge advantage for them coming out of the break.
9. Anaheim Ducks
Record: Anaheim is 40-14-5 and in first place in the Pacific Division. The Ducks arrive at the break with the most points of any NHL team (pending Friday and Saturday results).
Recent Woes: They are 4-6-0 in their last 10 games and have lost three in a row. For a team with only 15 losses, the current downturn stands out. The club has lost their last three at home after starting the season 20-0-2 at Honda Center.
Why They Need A Break: Anaheim has been outscored 21-23 in their last 10 games. They are 170-122 during the rest of the season. Although they were due for a slump—the Ducks have been on fire this year—time away should help them after the break. Anaheim has seven Olympians heading to Sochi.
8. New Jersey Devils
Record: New Jersey is 23-21-13, 13th place in the Eastern Conference. They are five points out of a playoff spot.
Recent Woes: The Devils are 4-3-3 in their last 10 games, and can't gain any ground on Toronto and Detroit (who hold down the wild-card spots).
Why They Need A Break: There are some good signs for New Jersey. They've played 26 home games and 31 on the road, meaning they'll have a favorable schedule after the break. The Devils have four Olympians and should be rested when the season resumes.
7. San Jose Sharks
Record: San Jose is 36-16-6, and in second place in the Pacific Division. They are 10 points ahead of Los Angeles, with a game in hand.
Recent Woes: The Sharks are 6-4-0 in their last 10 games. They recently lost on consecutive nights to bottom feeders Edmonton and Calgary.
Why They Need A Break: They have a roster with several older players who can use the Olympic break. The Sharks have four Olympians—fewer than other Stanley Cup contenders—with Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle getting a well earned rest.
6. Ottawa Senators
Record: Ottawa is 26-21-11 and in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. The Senators are one point out of a playoff spot.
Recent Woes: The Senators can't seem to catch Detroit and Toronto. The club has overcome inconsistent play and defensive lapses, but their total goals against ranks 28th in the NHL.
Why They Need A Break: Ottawa has only two Olympians this time and the break will help. The bigger item is in regard to adding help at the deadline. GM Bryan Murray badly needs to bring in at least one reliable veteran on defense in order for the team to make a playoff push.
5. Detroit Red Wings
Record: Detroit is 26-19-12, tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference. They are barely holding on to the last playoff spot, one point ahead of Columbus and Ottawa.
Recent Woes: The biggest problem this season has been their inability to ice a healthy lineup. The club has had enough injuries to make coach Mike Babcock sick.
Why They Need A Break: The break is good news for the injury-riddled Red Wings. A two-week break gives the club a chance to get better and reset for the stretch run. On the downside, Detroit has an incredible 10 Olympians heading to Sochi.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning
Record: Tampa Bay is 32-20-5, second place in the Atlantic Division. They are just one point ahead of Toronto, who are tied for fourth in the conference.
Recent Woes: The Lightning are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and have lost two in a row. The club has overachieved for much of the season, but the recent pace sees them falling back to the pack.
Why They Need A Break: Tampa Bay has five Olympians including the recently named Martin St. Louis. The Lightning have injuries to Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop and the two-week break should give both time to heal.
3. Vancouver Canucks
Record: Vancouver is 27-23-9, eighth place in the Western Conference. They are one point ahead of Phoenix and Dallas.
Recent Woes: The Canucks are 3-7-0 in their last 10 and have lost six in a row. The club is limping to the break and took a backwards step when coach John Tortorella was suspended.
Why They Need A Break: The Canucks have their share of injuries, and Henrik Sedin's is bad enough he'll miss the Olympics. As it stands, Vancouver has 6 Olympians heading to Sochi. A two-week break will give this veteran team a chance to rest.
2. Los Angeles Kings
Record: Los Angeles is 31-22-6, third in the Pacific Division. They have been losing ground lately.
Recent Woes: The Kings are 2-8-0 in their last 10 games. They've stopped scoring goals, being outscored 13-27 in the last 10.
Why They Need A Break: Los Angeles is likely to add offense via trade. Thomas Vanek and Sam Gagner are being mentioned as possible solutions. The Kings have 6 Olympians so their best players won't get a lot of rest during the break.
1. Washington Capitals
Record: Washington is 26-23-9 and 11th in the Eastern Conference. They are three points out of a playoff spot.
Recent Woes: The Capitals are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and have been outscored 27-28 in those contests.
Why They Need A Break: Washington has four Olympians, meaning most of the roster will have two weeks to rest before the stretch drive. Alexander Ovechkin may use his hometown Olympics as a catalyst for a Stanley Cup run when he returns.
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