THE HAT TRICK WEEK 11: Teams On Notice for December

Matt SitkoffCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2009

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 30:  Ryan Miller #30 of the Buffalo Sabres prepares himself during warmup before playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs November 30, 2009 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages /Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images


As the weather turns colder and we enter the holiday season; Chanukah candles are being lit, Christmas trees are being put up, and hockey pucks are getting roasted on an open fire.  This being an Olympic year, the next couple of weeks will be the busiest time for teams trying to stuff as many games in before the winter break. 

December will make or break which way teams are headed in the parity filled NHL, so let’s look at three specific teams in this week’s Hat Trick.

Buffalo Sabres  

The surprising leaders of the Northeast Division have been riding one of the hottest goalies this season.  In December they have 15 games, and the good news is only two of them are on back-to-back nights.  They recently finished up a five-game home stand with a 3-2 record and had impressive back-to-back wins against the Blackhawks and Rangers. 

Coming down the stretch of this month are two contest at home against the Penguins, one on the road with the Capitals and four games against division rivals Ottawa and Toronto.  With Olympic selections for USA coming up, it will be interesting to see how Ryan Miller does with the heavy workload this month and how this team that depends on often-injured stars hold up with the treacherous schedule.

St. Louis Blues  

A team that got hot at the end of last season to make the playoffs have once again started slowly.  This month full of 15 games, including two tough back-to-back nights (home Flames, road Blackhawks and road Canucks, road Oilers) will make or break the season for the up and coming Blues. 

Good news for them is that eight of the games will be played away from the Scottrade Center, since they have a 8-2-3 road record this season.  Being one of the younger teams in the league (27.4 average age), they should be able to handle the long December stretch. If they falter, however, they do have two veterans on their last year of contracts (Kariya and Tkachuk) that could get some interest.

Philadelphia Flyers  

This one, an obvious pick for the preseason Stanley Cup favorite, is a Hurricane winning streak away from being the worst team in the East and their own winning streak away from being back in the playoff picture.  They also have 15 games in December, the problem is they have already started 1-5 in the month. 

The schedule does not look favorable either with a home and home series with the Penguins, and two games against division rival Rangers, but they do get a week of the Southeast Division (Panthers, Lightning and Hurricanes Oh MY!)  They have already fired their coach and lost their starting goalie to injury for the entire month, but should be getting reinforcements soon with the returns of Simon Gagne, Darrol Powe, and Blair Betts from injuries.  Needless to say if they continue the month they way they started you could see a major shakeup of players in Philadelphia.