For those who are going to Vancouver, it is the chance to play for country, to claim one of the top prizes in the sport and hang out with fellow elite players. For those left behind, it’s Maui. Or Mexico. Or Vegas.
Needless to say, the anachronism that is the Olympic break, cleaver of the NHL season, will afford some teams a great opporunity to seize or change recent momentum and bring their stars back re-energized during what is usually the doldrums of the schedule.
Here are a few such franchises:
Nashville Predators: Smashville is coming off an impressive 5-4 shootout victory over the Penguins, where the Preds went goal-for-goal with one of the most dangerous teams in the league and came out on top. That concluded a six-day, four-game Atlantic Division sojourn that earned the Preds five of a possible eight points. The break will enable the coaching staff to focus on what has gone right lately and how to keep that momentum going.
Patric Hornqvist is your leading scorer in Nashville (tied with J-P Dumont at 37 points) and the sophomore Swede will get his chance to learn from the big boys at the Olympics now. On a veteran Swedish squad featuring Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Zetterberg and the Sedins up front, there will be plenty of education for Hornqvist to soak up.
The Preds also expected more out of Martin Erat this season, as the winger trails Hornqvist by one point through 54 games played. But Erat will get that chance for a reset once he finishes hanging out with his Czech buddies in Vancouver. It’s definitely a great opportunity to get those offensive juices flowing.
Washington Capitals: The most exciting team in the league has dropped three straight since a franchise-record 14-game winning streak. After the streak-buster in Montreal, losses to Ottawa and St. Louis were practically inevitable: The streak is over, Olympics almost here – focus takes a beating.
Fortunately for coach Bruce Boudreau, the slide is only at three games and his boys now have two weeks to recalibrate. In the meantime, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Semyon Varlamov head off to Vancouver to join a potent Russian team with dreams of gold. We all know how excited Ovie is about repping his country and he’s a young dude, so burnout won’t be a factor en route to a Cup challenge. A post-Vancouver Ovechkin will either be steamed he didn’t win the gold or pumped he has a shot at winning two titles in one season. Either way, it’s good for Caps fans.
Colorado Avalanche: All those great youngsters who have helped propel the Avs back into Northwest Division title contention now get a two-week break, which is important because an 82-game schedule is new to them.
Even with Brampton’s deep playoff run last season, Matt Duchene never played 82 games in the Ontario League, ditto for Ryan O’Reilly, whose Erie Otters never went past the first round in his tenure.
Ryan Wilson has never played 82 (even including the post-season), neither has Chris Stewart nor Brandon Yip. T.J. Galiardi did it once with the Western League’s Calgary Hitmen, but again – that’s including playoffs. Naturally, Colorado is gunning to play more than the regular season maximum this year.
As for the vets, Milan Hejduk and Adam Foote are staying home from the Games, so they’ll get an extended chance to mend their battle-worn bodies and recover from injuries.
All in all, the break gives coach Joe Sacco’s troops a great chance to coil back up and start striking again once March comes around.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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