Chicago Blackhawks: It’s not just that the Hawks are winners in eight of their past 10 games, it’s more the way the organization handles itself with heart and class. What a fitting tribute to the team’s assistant equipment manager Clint Reif that the Hawks came out and delivered an emotional 4-0 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday. The team held a moment of silence for Reif, who passed away suddenly at the age of 34 this weekend, and put his initials on their helmets. After the win, they performed a stick salute at center ice as one last nod to their fallen brother, who leaves behind a wife and four children. Well done, Chicago.
Calvin Pickard, Colorado Avalanche: The rookie goaltender has proved himself more than capable of taking the reins for the Avalanche while starter Semyon Varlamov has been on the shelf. On Sunday, that meant a 34-save effort against the Detroit Red Wings that allowed Pickard to pick up his fifth win of the season. The confident young netminder has made 109 saves over his past three starts and has posted a save percentage of .966 or higher in each one. Impressive.
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars: It was an amazing individual effort by Seguin in the Stars’ come-from-behind, 6-5 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday. With his team trailing by three goals, the league’s leading goal scorer tallied twice and set up the equalizer before Dallas prevailed in the shootout. Seguin, who recorded his fifth game this season with three or more points, continues to prove he is one of the league’s most dynamic and dangerous young talents.
Minnesota Wild: On any given night in the NHL, five goals should be enough to get you a win, right? Wrong, if you are the Minnesota Wild. Saturday’s 6-5 loss to the Nashville Predators was the team’s third straight, and it left the team frustrated heading into the last few days before the holiday break. Minny sits fifth in the Central Division, but the rising Stars now trail by only two points.
Arizona Coyotes: The Yotes have only two wins in the month of December, and both have come against the floundering Oilers. The team’s penalty kill has been atrocious; it ranks 29th in the league with only a 75.2 percent success rate and has exposed an already-suspect goaltending duo as a serious weakness. Expect to hear Keith Yandle's and Antoine Vermette’s names a lot once the league's trade freeze is lifted.
Varlamov's return: Although Pickard has earned himself an extended stint with the big club and likely has done enough to avoid a return trip to Lake Erie of the American Hockey League, it appears that Avalanche starter Varlamov will return from a nagging groin injury Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues. Head coach Patrick Roy told The Denver Post this weekend that he was “95 percent sure” Varlamov would play.
Brown shelved again: An already-injury-hampered season for San Jose Sharks forward Mike Brown took a turn for the worse this weekend as it was revealed he will miss the next four to six weeks with a broken right fibula, according to CSN’s Kevin Kurz. Brown, who missed time earlier this season with a broken finger, suffered the injury in a game against the Oilers on Dec. 9.
Jets on the mend: The holiday break will be nice for a banged-up Winnipeg Jets blue line. Although Jacob Trouba and Mark Stuart are nowhere near a return, the surprising Jets should get Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom back at some point in January.
What to watch for
Stop the bleeding: The Calgary Flames face a daunting test heading into the holidays as they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Kings before the break. Considered one of the pleasant surprises of the first few months of the season, the Flames have come back to earth a bit. Can they hang in there to remain part of the playoff picture out West?
Ilya in Anaheim: Ilya Bryzgalov’s first start since signing with the Anaheim Ducks wasn’t ideal, as he gave up six goals on 31 shots faced in a 6-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators. Have to wonder whether that was just the rust showing or whether his time in SoCal will be short-lived.