Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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All 31 NHL Teams Featured Throughout Roughly 100 Games Across NBC and NBCSN; 21 Teams Make At Least Four Appearances

Schedule Features Wednesday Night Hockey and Tuesday Hockey Happy Hour Doubleheaders; More Than 75% of Teams Appear on Wednesday Nights

NBC Sports announced its full regular-season schedule that will feature all 31 NHL teams across roughly 100 games on NBC and NBCSN, beginning January 13 with a Wednesday Night Hockey tripleheader on NBCSN headlined by the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning against the Chicago Blackhawks.

NBC Sports will present a record 16 regular-season games on the NBC broadcast network, beginning Sunday, Jan. 17 when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals.

In December, the NHL announced a 56-game regular-season schedule per team for the 2020-21 season, as well as a divisional realignment which limits team matchups to intra-division play and minimizes team travel as much as possible.

 • No team will have more than seven exclusive appearances on NBC and NBCSN and 21 teams will have at least four national appearances this year.

 • Some teams will appear nationally more than seven times, but those games will be blacked out in the local market and shown on their local RSN.

Additional schedule highlights:

 • Wednesday Night Hockey Presented by New Amsterdam Vodka on NBCSN – More than 75% of NHL teams will appear on Wednesday nights on NBCSN, and most will feature doubleheaders (and in some cases tripleheaders) surrounding its Wednesday Night Hockey coverage, including both early and late start times.

 •Tuesday Hockey Happy HoursThree Tuesday Hockey Hour doubleheaders (Feb. 2, Feb. 9 and March 9) that will begin at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

 • NHL on NBC – NBC Sports will showcase the NHL 16 times on NBC – once per week on average during the 2020-21 season – marking the most-ever NHL regular-season games on NBC. In addition, the final matchup on Saturday, May 8, is TBD and will feature the most compelling game with playoff implications.

 • Sunday Night Hockey on NBCSNThere will be 10 Sunday Night Hockey matchups on NBCSN, featuring teams from all four divisions, all four Conference Final teams from the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and a majority of matchups featuring a traditional Western Conference team.

2020-21 NHL ON NBC REGULAR-SEASON SCHEDULE (ALL TIMES EASTERN)

Wed., Jan. 13 Pittsburgh Philadelphia NBCSN PHI 6-3
  Chicago Tampa Bay NBCSN TB 4-1
St. Louis Colorado NBCSN STL 5-1
Sun., Jan. 17 Washington Pittsburgh NBC PIT 4-3 (SO)
Mon., Jan. 18 Columbus Detroit NBCSN CBJ 3-2
Boston N.Y. Islanders NBCSN NYI 1-0
Buffalo Philadelphia NBCSN BUF 6-1
  Arizona Vegas NBCSN VGK 4-2
Tues., Jan. 19 Washington Pittsburgh NBCSN PIT 5-4
Wed., Jan. 20 Edmonton Toronto NBCSN EDM 3-1
Minnesota Anaheim NBCSN MIN 3-2
Thur., Jan. 21 Tampa Bay Columbus NBCSN TB 3-2 (OT)
Montreal Vancouver NBCSN MTL 7-3
Sun., Jan. 24 Detroit Chicago NBC CHI 6-2
Tues., Jan. 26 N.Y. Islanders Washington NBCSN WSH 3-2
Wed., Jan. 27 Chicago Nashville NBCSN NSH 2-1 (SO)
Mon., Feb. 1 Pittsburgh N.Y. Rangers NBCSN NYR 3-1
Tues., Feb. 2 Buffalo N.Y. Islanders NBCSN PPD
Minnesota Colorado NBCSN COL 2-1
Wed., Feb. 3 Detroit Tampa Bay NBCSN TBL 5-1
Boston Philadelphia NBCSN BOS 4-3 (OT)
Sun., Feb. 7 Philadelphia Washington NBC PHI 7-4
Mon., Feb. 8 N.Y. Islanders N.Y. Rangers NBCSN NYI 2-0
Tues., Feb. 9 Philadelphia Washington NBCSN PPD
Tampa Bay Nashville NBCSN TB 6-1
Wed., Feb. 10 Boston N.Y. Rangers NBCSN BOS 3-2 (OT)
Sun., Feb. 14 Washington Pittsburgh NBC PIT 6-3
Colorado Vegas NBCSN VGK 1-0
Mon., Feb. 15 N.Y. Islanders Buffalo NBCSN NYI 3-1
Tues., Feb. 16 Washington Pittsburgh NBCSN WSH 3-1
Wed., Feb. 17 Chicago Detroit NBCSN CHI 2-0
Winnipeg Edmonton NBCSN EDM 3-2
Sat., Feb. 20 Vegas Colorado NBCSN COL 3-2
Sun., Feb. 21 Philadelphia Boston NBCSN BOS 7-3
New Jersey Washington NBC WSH 4-3
Tues., Feb. 23 Pittsburgh Washington NBCSN PIT 3-2 (OT)
Wed., Feb. 24 N.Y. Rangers Philadelphia NBCSN PHI 4-3
Los Angeles St. Louis NBCSN LA 2-1
Sun., Feb. 28 Boston N.Y. Rangers NBC BOS 4-1
Detroit Chicago NBCSN CHI 7-2
Tues., March 2 Philadelphia Pittsburgh NBCSN PIT 5-2
Wed., March 3 Washington Boston NBCSN 7 p.m.
St. Louis Anaheim NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Sun., March 7 Buffalo N.Y. Islanders NBC 12 p.m.
Tampa Bay Chicago NBCSN 2:30 p.m.
  New Jersey Boston NBCSN 5 p.m.
N.Y. Rangers Pittsburgh NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., March 9 N.Y. Rangers Pittsburgh NBCSN 6 p.m.
Chicago Dallas NBCSN 8:30 p.m.
Wed., March 10 Vegas Minnesota NBCSN 7 p.m.
Los Angeles Anaheim NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Sun., March 14 Los Angeles Colorado NBCSN 7 p.m.
Mon., March 15 Philadelphia N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7 p.m.
Tues., March 16 Boston Pittsburgh NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., March 17 Philadelphia N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
  Edmonton Calgary NBCSN 10 p.m.
Sun., March 21 Vegas Los Angeles NBCSN 6 p.m.
Mon., March 22 Anaheim Minnesota NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., March 23 New Jersey Philadelphia NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., March 24 Anaheim Minnesota NBCSN 5:30 p.m.
  Buffalo Pittsburgh NBCSN 8 p.m.
Los Angeles San Jose NBCSN 10:30 p.m.
Sun., March 28 N.Y. Rangers Washington NBC 12 p.m.
Columbus Detroit NBCSN 3 p.m.
New Jersey Boston NBCSN 5:30 p.m.
  Nashville Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Mon., March 29 N.Y. Islanders Pittsburgh NBCSN 7 p.m.
Tues., March 30 Carolina Chicago NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., March 31 Philadelphia Buffalo NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Los Angeles Vegas NBCSN 10 p.m.
Sun., April 4 Detroit Tampa Bay NBC 12 p.m.
Dallas Carolina NBCSN 7 p.m.
Tues., April 6 Pittsburgh N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., April 7 Edmonton Ottawa NBCSN 5 p.m.
Montreal Toronto NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., April 13 Philadelphia Washington NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., April 14 Vegas Los Angeles NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sat., April 17 Pittsburgh Buffalo NBC 3 p.m.
Sun., April 18 Washington Boston NBC 12 p.m.
  N.Y. Islanders Philadelphia NBCSN 6:30 p.m.
Los Angeles Colorado NBCSN 9 p.m.
Mon., April 19 Detroit Dallas NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., April 20 Washington Boston NBCSN 7 p.m.
TBA TBA NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Wed., April 21 Nashville Chicago NBCSN 7 p.m.
  San Jose Vegas NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Sat., April 24 Colorado St. Louis NBC 3 p.m.
Sun., April 25 Boston Pittsburgh NBC 3 p.m.
  Columbus Tampa Bay NBCSN 7 p.m.
Mon., April 26 Carolina Dallas NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., April 27 TBA TBA NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., April 28 St. Louis Minnesota NBCSN 7 p.m.
  Colorado Vegas NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Sun., May 2 Tampa Bay Detroit NBC 3 p.m.
Mon., May 3 TBD TBD NBCSN TBD
Tues., May 4 TBD TBD NBCSN TBD
Wed., May 5 Washington N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7 p.m.
Thur., May 6 TBD TBD NBCSN TBD
Sat., May 8 TBD TBD NBC 3 p.m.
  TBD TBD NBCSN TBD

*subject to change

*Some games will be blacked out in local markets and televised in those markets by a regional carrier.

Contender or Pretender: Is it time to believe in the Oilers?

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Now that we are closing in on the halfway point of the 2020-21 NHL season and are starting to get a sense for what each team is capable of, we are going to take a closer look each week at some teams right on the edge between Stanley Cup contender and Stanley Cup pretender.

We start today with the Oilers, who are currently one of the hottest teams in the NHL. After their 3-0 win over Vancouver on Thursday, they are on a five-game winning streak, have won 11 of their past 13 games, and have rapidly gained ground on the Maple Leafs for the top spot in the North Division.

So with that said, is it time to believe in this team?

The situation favors them this season

And by situation, I mean the schedule and season format.

The temporary realignment of the divisions and divisional playoffs has put them with a group of teams that isn’t exactly a who’s who of Stanley Cup contenders. It is starting to look as if they might the second best team in the division after Toronto, while two of the three best players in the division play on their team. That is a big advantage.

Winning in the playoffs is not just about having the best team on paper, or even the best team during the season. There are so many other variables that go into it. Playing your best at the right time, being healthy, luck, and also getting the right matchups along the way. Being lucky enough to avoid a certain opponent. Getting a team that you match up well with. As long as Edmonton can stay in one of the top-three spots and avoid a first-round matchup with the one team that might be better than them (Toronto), it would be reasonable to consider them a favorite in any possible first-round matchup.

When you have two players as good and dominant as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are, there is always the chance they can put the team on their back and carry them through a series or two. The way they have played this season, it is certainly possible.

The same concerns still exist

The biggest problem the Oilers have had in the McDavid-Draisaitl era is the fact the team as a whole has not been able to defend or get consistent goaltending, and that the offense revolves almost entirely around the two superstars. As they go, the team goes. Stop them, stop the Oilers.

If you wanted to look for some red flags right now in the middle of this recent surge, there they are.

Mike Smith is 6-0 since returning to the lineup with a .938 save percentage and two shutouts. That level of goaltending makes it a lot easier to win and mask other flaws. What happens to the Oilers when his numbers inevitably regress back closer to what they were over the previous two seasons?

Given the number of shots they allow, it may not be good. Like most of the teams in the North the Oilers are hemorrhaging shots and goals against this season and have been one of the worst 5-on-5 shot suppression teams in the league. They lack a true No. 1 defenseman and just flat out don’t defend well. They are going to have to drag teams into a track meet and outscore them. As long as McDavid and Draisaitl play the way they have been, they have a chance to do that.

[Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

But not even the league’s elite hit slumps and go cold for stretches, and they can’t play all 60 minutes. When neither McDavid or Draisaitl is on the ice for the Oilers this season they do not only get dramatically worse, they become one of the worst teams in the league.

With neither player on the ice at 5-on-5 this season the Oilers attempt just 42.1% of the shot attempts. They get outscored 22-13 (only 37.1% of the goals) and have an expected goals mark of just 40.1%.

In a lot of areas, that is actually worse than they have been in recent seasons.

A year ago their numbers were 47.2 (shot attempt share), 37.6 (goals for percentage), and 47.6 (expected goals percentage).

Two years ago they were 47.5 (shot attempt share), 41.2 (goals for percentage), and 47.7 (expected goals percentage).

Not good. Top-heavy teams do not tend to go far in the playoffs, and they do not tend to win championships.

Contender or pretender?

They are definitely a contender within the context of their own division. But at this point they still seem like they fall in the pretender category when it comes to the league as a whole.

For as exciting as they can be, for as dominant as McDavid and Draisaitl are, and for as favorable as the division is in their favor there are just still too many warning signs here that keep me from fully buying in as a potential championship contender.

It is entirely possible that they could win a round, and maybe even two in the playoffs. That would not shock me and it should not shock you. And if you make it to the final four you probably have to be considered a “contender” on some level because of how close you are and how random a seven-game playoff series can be. Weird, unexpected things happen in small sample sizes.

But they are feasting on favorable matchups. Would you put them on the same level as a Tampa Bay, or Vegas, or Colorado, or St. Louis, or Boston, or Carolina, or even a healthy Dallas team? Would they be winning as frequently right now with regular games against those teams during the regular season in their normal division? It is hard to envision it given the makeup of the roster.

For now, the Oilers are exciting. They play in a division against teams that favor them. That is going to give them a chance to maybe reach level they have not really been at in nearly two decades. But they still have some major flaws that need corrected.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Boudreau interested in Kraken; struggling Canadiens

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.

• The Seattle Kraken still need to hire a head coach and Bruce Boudreau is very interested in the job. [The Athletic (sub. required)]

• If Mika Zibanejad‘s tough season continues, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton should consider Jack Eichel. [NY Post]

• New Jersey is the latest state to allow a limited number of fans into sporting events. The Devils can welcome 10% capacity beginning March 1. [NJ.com]

• Should Claude Julien be worried for his job with the struggling Canadiens? [The Hockey News]

• The Penguins are looking for consistency, and Tristan Jarry and Kris Letang can help them get there. [Pensburgh]

• Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette would love to see the NHL take the game to an actual pond in the future. [NBC Sports Washington]

• The choice is clear in Vancouver: It’s time to let Thatcher Demko ride as the No. 1 in goal. [Daily Hive]

• Damage to his MCL, ACL and meniscus will keep Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe out 6-8 months. [Die by the Blade]

• A look at how this season’s realignment has affected the NHL standings. [TSN]

• If the Predators are going to tear down the roster, Filip Forsberg should be one who sticks. [Predlines]

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL’s COVID-19 complications could weigh heavy on playoff picture

The NHL season appears to be back in full swing, but not without interference from COVID-19.

The pandemic has taken its toll on the regular season as several teams, from the Devils to the Sabres, have experienced postponements, absences down the lineup or an entire shutdown.

“We have to do more,” Capitals forward Lars Eller told reporters in regards to preventing the continued spread of COVID-19. “I think we have to do more, whether it is testing or putting in measures that protect us without it disturbing our preparation and the game being played. So I think we have to do a little bit more and hopefully the decision-makers together can figure out what those measures are that we have to take.”

Although some of the worst outbreaks have been in New Jersey, where 19 players were on the NHL COVID-19 list at one key point in 2021, and Buffalo, where Ralph Krueger was among those out while suffering symptoms, the virus has taken its toll across the league — especially when it comes to the standings.

To accommodate for the shortened 56-game season, teams are only playing within their divisions, which underwent realignment heading into the 2020-21 campaign. Here’s how they stack up:

East: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals

Central: Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning

West: Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Vegas Golden Knights

North: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets

Taking a look at the standings, there have been some surprises, including the Panthers and Blackhawks stealing the show in the Central. However, teams like the Stars, who saw the start of their season postponed amid positive tests and then a couple of other key matchups moved in the case of extreme weather, have not played as many games and are currently out of contention.

[2020-21 NHL on NBC TV SCHEDULE]

If the season were to end today, here’s how the standings would look:

East: 1. Bruins 2. Islanders 3. Flyers 4. Capitals | 5. Penguins 6. Devils 7. Rangers 8. Sabres

Central: 1. Panthers 2. Blackhawks 3. Lightning 4. Hurricanes | 5. Blue Jackets 6. Stars 7. Predators 8. Red Wings

West: 1. Golden Knights 2. Blues 3. Avalanche 4. Coyotes | 5. Ducks 6. Kings 7. Sharks 8. Wild

North: 1. Maple Leafs 2. Canadiens 3. Oilers 4. Jets | 5. Flames 6. Canucks 7. Senators

(Note: top four teams in each division qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs)

However, one can argue that these standings are skewed; the Devils have played the least amount of games (10 GP), followed by the Sabres (12 GP), who have also been set back by COVID-19. Beyond the East, the Stars (12 GP) and Wild (12 GP) have faced the same implication.

Still, by looking at points percentage, the playoff picture shifts. For instance, New Jersey, led by sophomore Jack Hughes, has had a strong start to the year with a winning percentage of .600. By looking at points percentage, more of an emphasis is placed on team performance, and in turn, New Jersey, Dallas and Minnesota move up the ladder.

East: 1. Bruins 2. Flyers 3. Islanders 4. Capitals | 5. Devils 6. Penguins 7. Sabres 8. Rangers

Central: 1. Panthers 2. Lightning 3. Hurricanes 4. Blackhawks | 5. Stars 6. Blue Jackets 7. Predators 8. Red Wings

West: 1. Golden Knights 2. Avalanche 3. Blues 4. Coyotes | 5. Wild 6. Ducks 7. Kings 8. Sharks

North: 1. Maple Leafs 2. Canadiens 3. Jets 4. Oilers | 5. Flames 6. Canucks 7. Senators

(Note: top four teams in each division qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs)

Another implication of the virus, of course, includes players placed on the NHL COVID-19 list. This can be for one reason or another, from potential exposure to testing positive, but those names become unavailable to the team, which can leave a team shorthanded as the postseason race heats up.

Washington, though it came out mostly unscathed, faced an increasingly tough situation earlier in the year, where captain Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Samsonov, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov were all placed on the list after socializing in a hotel room without masks and, in turn, missed four-plus games. Tampa also faced a similar scenario when the Bolts were without the services of captain Steven Stamkos, who was placed on protocol following a false positive. This alone could also create a stir as teams could have to be without key pieces down the stretch.

Originally, the regular season was scheduled to end on May 8 with the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs set to open on May 11. But with 29 schedule changes on Feb. 16 — and more to be announced — the season finale is now set for May 10, with Tampa facing Dallas and New Jersey closing things out against Philadelphia.

In the meantime, the league continues to combat the virus and made modifications to NHL COVID-19 protocol, including changes to rapid testing, different seating arrangements in the locker room and removing glass behind the bench.

Though COVID-19 still leaves a sting of uncertainty, the schedule offers more flexibility and levels the playing field with all teams set to play all 56 games this season. The only question is if things will change dramatically, or if there will continue to be more surprises down the road.

NHL on NBCSN: Lightning off to hot start, but so are other top Central teams

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning have plenty of recent experience playing in a top-heavy division.

On their way to the 2020 Stanley Cup, the Lightning had to deal with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins. And, for all of their flaws and drama, the Maple Leafs boast the kind of offense that could conceivably give just about any team some headaches.

So, it was hard not to look at the Lightning as winners of divisional realignment to a new Central Division, even if they weren’t necessarily the biggest ones. (Even in that division.)

Really, many likely wondered if the Lightning’s biggest challenges would come from within. How much would losing Nikita Kucherov hurt their chances? And would they yawn and groan through some of the season thanks to a Stanley Cup hangover?

[Watch Live: Lightning vs. Red Wings, 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN]

Well, it’s extremely early — particularly for a Central Division hit harder than most by COVID — but no, the Lightning’s toughest rivals haven’t yet been the Lightning. Instead, the Lightning bump elbows with other hot-starting top teams in the Central Division.

Lightning off to hot start, but so are other Central Division teams

Take a look at the Central Division standings and you’ll see how similar the starts are for the top four teams:

Lightning, Central Division standings

Naturally, six or seven games represents a small sample size. That’s even true during a condensed 56-game season. (Then again, who knows if all 31 NHL teams will reach 56 games considering various postponements?)

Even so, it’s remarkable how similar the records and results have been between the Lightning and other top Central Division teams in the Hurricanes, Panthers, and Stars so far. All four teams have scored at least 22 goals, and none have allowed more than 17. All four of those teams are undefeated at “home,” whether there have been any fans there or not.

Looking at those other top Central Division teams, it’s easy to pick the Lightning as the frontrunner to take the top seed, or at least emerge from the bracket. Even with the Bolts lacking Kucherov, those other teams face bigger questions. Perennially, the Hurricanes face questions about goaltending. As great as the Stars look so far, they’ve been hit even harder by injuries than their 2020 Stanley Cup Final opponent. And, the Panthers … well. You know.

But it must be a touch jarring for the defending champions to begin fairly strong, yet find themselves a few bounces from either first or fourth.

On the bright side, the distance between fourth and the rest of the division is pretty large, at least for this young season. Sure, the pesky Blue Jackets (11 points) and Blackhawks (10 points) aren’t that far behind the Lightning in standings points, but they’ve burned through 11 games apiece.

Still, for a team with the Lightning’s aspirations — and, frankly, operating costs — merely making the playoffs isn’t much of a victory. Granted, they showed last season that they don’t need the top seed … but it sure would be nice. (Especially if that means getting an easier first-round draw than, say, the Hurricanes or Stars. Sorry again, Panthers, or other Central teams.)

A promising start, though

But, hey, it’s nice to see that the Lightning mostly hit the ground running.

Just look at this Lightning mailbag from The Athletic’s Joe Smith (sub. required), and you get the vibe that this team is mainly dealing with “champagne problems.”

Virtually every important Lightning player is off to a sturdy start. Maybe most importantly, Steven Stamkos looks like the Steven Stamkos we know and goalies fear. With nine points, Stamkos leads the Lightning (and he’s also tied for the team lead with four goals).

Not far behind Stamkos, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman both have eight points. Anthony Cirelli continues to look like a rising star, too.

[Related: Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

That said, for a team that went through a grueling playoff run in the bubble, it’s possible the Lightning could hit the wall down the stretch. About a week into the season, Stamkos backed off some of his early comments about feeling better than ever.

“I wouldn’t go that far to say the best I’ve felt all time. Those days are long gone I think,” Stamkos said via the team website. “Definitely the best I’ve felt in 12 months for sure, and, again, the reality was that I hadn’t played a game in a long time besides the 2:47 in the Final. Again, still a process, but I feel like I’m continuing to feel more comfortable and getting better and stronger as we progress with this thing …”

(If you want to feel old, ruminate on Stamkos using weary-veteran-speak with “those days are long gone.” Then realize that Stamkos turns 31 on Feb. 7, and maybe feel even older.)

Avoid the trap

Ultimately, the Central Division standings shouldn’t scare the Lightning.

Perhaps that lack of separation might at least help Tampa Bay stay focused against the Red Wings, though? While Detroit looks more competent than last year’s Dumpster fire version, they’re still heavy underdogs. Being that the Bolts are defending champs, Wednesday’s NBCSN game has the making of a “trap game.”

Socking away points against the Red Wings might not seem important, but Tampa Bay may regret failing to bank early wins if they hit a wall as this season goes along.

(After all, they haven’t faced the other top three teams yet this season.)

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.