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The NHL’s bye week experiment is still a work in progress

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One of the big changes in the NHL this season has been the introduction of the bye week, giving every team in the league one stretch of at least five consecutive days where it plays no games.

The theory behind it was simple: The NHL season, 82 games, plus two months of playoffs if your team is good enough to keep advancing, is a grueling grind and a five-day break in the middle of the season would be a welcome break.

One of the big problems has been the fact that nearly every team that has returned from its bye week has not only lost, but hasn’t even really been competitive in its first game back as they try to shake off the rust and get back to game speed.

After all five teams returning from their bye weeks on Saturday (Montreal, Washington, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Nashville) lost their games, NHL teams are only 3-12-4 this season coming off of their bye.

The 16 teams that have lost their first games back have been outscored by a 60-23 margin (that is a minus-37 goal differential!). Eleven of those losses have been by multiple goals, including seven that have been by three or more.

Even if you include the three teams that won their first game back, NHL teams have a minus-30 goal differential (outscored 37-67) in that first game back.

This has not gone unnoticed with the NHL.

The issue was discussed during Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast with Kelly Hrudey talking about a couple of the options that have been proposed, including an extended holiday break (which NHL teams are not in favor of). One of the other ideas mentioned was a suggestion by Calgary Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy where the each conference takes its bye week at the same time, and when they return from that bye week they only play teams from that conference so nobody has a competitive advantage over the other team.

But while the record of teams coming back from the bye week has been the key talking point, the other unintended consequence that seems to slip under the radar is what that bye week in the middle of the season does to the rest of the schedule.

If your 82-game season is going to cover the same amount of time on the calendar, and you are giving teams an entire week off in the middle of the season, it is going to condense everything else the rest of the way. It is going to force teams to play more back-to-backs, have more weeks where they play three games in four nights, and add to the wear and tear at other times during the season. Making matters worse this season was the World Cup of Hockey that preceded the season, pushing the start date back an additional week later than it normally is.

Several NHL coaches have expressed some frustration with this, not only with what it does to the schedule itself and for player safety, but also for the way it has cut into practice time. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News wrote about the subject this week, quoting Bruce Boudreau of the Minnesota Wild at the All-Star game saying that he has never had fewer practices in the league as a head coach because, “you can’t kill the guys, especially your best players.”

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was even more direct.

“I think it’s 100 percent wrong for player safety,” Babcock said, via Harrington. “You’ve got so many games in such a short period of time and you’re jamming in more. To me, the more days rest you can have by not playing back-to-backs and jamming it in, the healthier you have a chance to be.”

Given the amount of attention this current set up has received, it seems like a strong bet that the NHL is going to at least look at the way the bye week is set up and how it is utilized next season and beyond.

The Buzzer: Night of the goalies

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Players of the Night:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning needed Vasilevskiy to play like the NHL All-Star that he is and that’s exactly what he gave them, stopping 40 shots to help the Lightning to a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The win was important for Tampa, who regained the top spot in the NHL standings and ended a three-game slide in the process. Vasilevskiy’s league-leading seventh shutout of the season ties a franchise record.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: Mrazek fielded 37 shots from the New Jersey Devils on Monday night and handled each and every one of them for his second shutout in as many starts.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: Cousins got the ball rolling for the Desert Dogs in the first period, giving them a 1-0 lead. After the Islanders tied the game in the third, Cousins put the final stamp on the game with a goal 2:21 into overtime to give Arizona their second straight win.

Comeback of the Night:

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker got drilled in the head with a slap shot in the first period and had to be helped off the ice. Miraculously, Zucker returned a short time later and went on to score the game-winning goal at the 4:59 mark of the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie in the Wild’s 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night:

Granlund and Dumba:

Mrazek made plenty of saves on Monday and perhaps none better than this one (Brian Boyle‘s reaction is priceless):

Ottawa Senators fans will like this, even if the end result wasn’t great:

Auston Matthews had the celebration of the night:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Avalanche 4, Maple Leafs 2

Red Wings 3, Devils 0

Wild 3, Senators 1

Lightning 2, Blackhawks 0

Sabres 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Coyotes 3, Islanders 2 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Lightning end three-game skid with 2-0 win over Blackhawks

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Jon Cooper called declared that his team was “out of sync” prior to Monday night’s game in Chicago.

It’s three words that haven’t been used at all this season to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning who, up until Sunday, was known as the best team in the NHL.

The Lightning came into Monday night nursing a three-game losing streak, another foreign concept for a team saw four of its players elected to the NHL’s All-Star Game this coming weekend.

But just as quickly as they dropped out of the top spot in the NHL — the Vegas Golden Knights assumed that throne for 24 hours after a win on Sunday night — the Lightning snatched it back in a 2-0 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City on Monday.

For a team that perhaps forgot how to play with one another, they looked comfortable in each other’s company against the Blackhawks.

The game was tight for the most part, and it took the Blackhawks being caught napping shorthanded to break a 0-0 deadlock late in the second period as Chris Kunitz took advantage of a defensive mishap. 

Jake Dotchin’s wrister sailed wide, but Kunitz was allowed to waltz behind the net, pick up the loose puck and put it behind Jeff Glass, nearly untouched through the whole process.

The NHL’s top goalie once again lived up to the distinction as Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside all 40 shots that came his way.

The Blackhawks put up 10 or more shots in each of the game’s three periods, including 17 in the second frame. But the All-Star netminder played and exceptional game, including stopping 10 out of 10 on the power play to keep Chicago 0-for-6 on the power play.

Yanni Gourde sealed the game late in the third with a blast to make it 2-0.

It’s a win Tampa needed, especially after finding out they’ll miss forward Ondrej Palat indefinitely.

The struggles continued for the Blackhawks, meanwhile.

Chicago has now been shutout twice in their past three games and is on a three-game skid with a 4-5-1 record in their past 10.

The Lightning could afford their losing streak. They’ve earned an opportunity to slide a little bit.

For the Blackhawks, another loss means another chance missed trying to survive in a deeply competitive Central Division.

The Blackhawks are hanging by a thread and time is running out quickly.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Colorado Avalanche’s win streak hits double digits

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The streak is now in double digits.

The Colorado Avalanche won their 10th straight game on Monday night, taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2.

Yes, that’s 10 wins by the team that ended last season with an NHL-worst 48 points.

Hockey is wonderful, isn’t it?

The Avalanche have been pretty darn good during that streak, outscoring opponents 41-16 during that span. Scoring four goals per game on average will win you more than it won’t.

And the Avs have had success on the back end. Jonathan Bernier has been completely lights out during the streak. He is on a streak of his own with nine straight wins, becoming the third netminder in franchise history to win nine in a row after Stephane Fiset (9) and Patrick Roy (11).

Colorado’s streak is also an NHL-best this season and it’s the second longest streak in Avs history (they won 12 straight during the 1998-99 season).

The Avs are sitting on 57 points, good for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

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How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.