NHL Rink Wrap: Golden Knights, Penguins keep heating up

NHL Rink Wrap: Golden Knights, Penguins heat up with winning streaks
Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Top players from Sunday in the NHL

Paul Stastny and his Winnipeg Jets linemates

If you want, you can split hairs between Jets linemates Paul Stastny (two goals, one assist), Nikolaj Ehlers (1G, 3A), and Mark Scheifele (1G, 1A) for NHL player of the night for Sunday.

When in doubt, go with a significant milestone, though. Along with those two goals, Stastny collected a helper, reaching 500 assists for his career. With that output, Stastny improved to 15 points in 22 games this season.

Speaking of significant milestones, with this Jets victory, Dave Lowry collected his first win as an NHL head coach. (On Friday, the Jets lost shortly after Paul Maurice’s surprising resignation.)

Highlights from NHL games on Sunday

With four NHL games on Sunday, let’s enjoy full highlights.

The Golden Knights extended their winning streak after a shootout with the Islanders.

Watch the Jets get their first win post-Maurice.

Like the Golden Knights, the Penguins kept their winning streak alive with a narrow triumph.

To wrap up some narrow wins, the Kings held off the Capitals to earn a tight nod.

NHL takeaways from Sunday

NHL COVID postponements, possible Olympic decision coming

For the foreseeable future, COVID will hover the NHL, and of course everyday life. In a sense, that’s been true ever since games started being canceled (if not before that). But with increased recent COVID breakouts, and NHL games being postponed or otherwise compromised, there’s no sense pretending there isn’t an elephant in the room.

So keep that in mind with any talk of streaks, especially slumps.

Just about anything comes with a caveat or two. That hot team might also be healthier, or more intact. That slumping team may not exactly be at 100 percent. They’re doing the best they can, and we’ll try to assess whatever there is to assess.

With that out of the way, catch up on NHL COVID/Olympic participation news here.

Some nuts and bolts:

  • Cross-border NHL games have been postponed through at least the Dec. 23 holiday break.
  • A decision regarding NHL players participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics could come in mere days. That doesn’t sound promising.

An evolving process

When it comes to COVID and variants such as omicron, there’s clearly a lot we still don’t know — not just those involved with hockey and the NHL, but medical professionals as well. Perhaps there’s a feeling of restlessness that comes with an increase in positive tests. That may be especially true if there’s the impression that not every positive test comes with severe symptoms.

Ryan O'Reilly ranked among those elaborating on those feelings, via Lou Korac:

The NHL noted some of these impressions in their recent news dump. Maybe there’s something to a “case-by-case basis” approach.

But I’d also caution against getting too fast and loose with any changes. Again, there’s a lot we don’t yet know, and it may be dangerous to make too many assumptions. The thought of someone dealing with lengthy (maybe even lifelong) complications to squeeze in a few extra hockey games is, frankly, pretty unsettling.

Golden Knights push winning streak to five, are heating up in general

Don’t count out the Golden Knights’ chances of winning the Pacific Division.

After Sunday, the Golden Knights stood out as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. By prevailing in a shootout against the Islanders, the Golden Knights have now won five games in a row.

The hotter Golden Knights trend goes beyond that, too. They’ve won eight of their last nine games to improve their overall record to 20-11-0.

[Where Golden Knights place in the PHT Power Rankings]

Circling back to the COVID caveat, it’s possible that things can get disrupted. Yet, if the Golden Knights’ upcoming schedule remains mostly intact, they could enjoy serious home-cooking.

On Tuesday, the Golden Knights are scheduled to begin a three-game homestand. Zoom out and it’s an even larger opportunity. From Dec. 21 – Jan. 11, the Golden Knights are slated to play nine of their next 10 games at home.

So far this season, the Golden Knights’ record is nearly identical at home (10-6-0) and on the road (10-5-0). Still, this is a team that has, at times, been very formidable in Vegas, so the Golden Knights could very well solidify their playoff push to begin 2022.

Penguins hot, too, extend winning streak to seven games

Earlier this season, the Penguins looked shaky with a 5-6-4 record. After Sunday, they look like they could remain an NHL contender, as the Penguins extended their winning streak to seven in a row. That surge leaves the Penguins with a promising 17-8-5 record.

As usual, Tristan Jarry has been crucial for the Penguins. Over his last 12 games, Jarry’s managed an impressive 10-1-1 record. (Scroll up to the highlights, and you’ll notice some key saves from Jarry. That included a golden Devils opportunity in the dying seconds.)

Sunday did end one remarkable Penguins streak, though. The Penguins last allowed a power-play goal on Nov. 14, but Nathan Bastian ended that when he tipped in a Dougie Hamilton shot.

It says a lot about the Metro that, even after the Penguins pushed this streak to seven consecutive wins, they’re merely fourth in the division. (The top of the East looks stout, in general.)

Monday’s big story

Wild, Stars hope to enter holiday break on a high note

From a big-picture perspective, the Wild must feel much better about their playoff chances than the Stars right now. Even so, both the Stars and Wild have stumbled a bit lately.

While the Stars won their last game, that overtime victory ended a five-game losing streak. Before that losing streak, the Stars churned out a seven-game winning streak, and had won nine of 10. (That hot streak also followed a bit of an existential crisis.)

So … yeah, the Stars are familiar with being streaky this season. And in general, as they followed a 2020 Stanley Cup Final appearance with missing last season’s playoffs altogether.

Things have been far more stable for Minnesota. However, they have dropped three straight losses. With what’s looking like a road-heavy schedule ahead, the Wild likely want to enjoy the holiday break having ended their losing streak.

Sunday’s NHL scores

Golden Knights 4, Islanders 3 (SO)
Jets 4, Blues 2
Penguins 3, Devils 2
Kings 3, Capitals 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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