Everyone knows that sometimes a little vacation does the body and mind good. It creates an opportunity to recharge the batteries and return to the grind refreshed.
In the NHL, this two week hiatus from banging along the boards can be a great thing for some teams. A large number of players get to relax at home and let their bodies rest and recharge. Some get to rediscover a jump their step may have lost. Still other players may help competitors by wearing down during the extra two weeks of Olympic hockey. Surely I have some specifics in mind?
Carolina Hurricanes – The Canes are prime target number one to reap the rewards of this hiatus. Carolina had an atrocious start to their season. They didn't win their first road game until December 7. Much like Toronto, they were well on their way to being a bug on the shoe of the 2009-10 season. However, they hit the Olympic break having won five in a row and 10 of their last 13, and have posted a 15-8-1 record since Christmas.
Where has this streak come from? An offensive resurgence. Eric Staal and Jussi Jokinen tallied 20 goals and 16 assists in the last 13 games, after posting only 23 and 40 combined in their first 83 total games played. When your top two players jump from 0.75 to 2.75 points per game, your nightly outcome is bound to improve.
Add to that the recent return of Tuomo Ruutu, who was on pace for 25 goals of his own before going down, and stud goaltender Cam Ward, and things are suddenly looking very upward for the Hurricanes. If Manny Legace can hold the fort against teams like Florida and Toronto and not embarrass himself against the likes of Pittsburgh and Washington, then Ward's return in a couple of weeks could mean a serious playoff push come Easter time for Carolina.
Florida Panthers — Speaking of Florida. You would like to think that a two week break could work some magic for a team that went into the Olympics on a six-game slide, but it's doubtful the Panthers will be so lucky. The Panthers went 4-7-2 in their last 13 games, largely due to the fact that center Stephen Weiss was their leading scorer in that span, and he only had six points.
Florida's problem all season has been a horrible lack of scoring, and that doesn't seem likely to get any better since the team isn't in any position to be buyers before the trade deadline. Not only that, but the lack of scoring has meant needing to lean heavily on goalie Tomas Vokoun to have any hopes of winning on a nightly basis.
Vokoun hasn't had a game off since December 27 and didn't get any break for the Olympics either. He's a 100% lock to either be traded or wear out if he stays, neither of which makes Florida's slim hopes of saving their season look any brighter.
Chicago Blackhawks – Yes, they've done well. They won four straight heading into the break, and are sitting in fourth in the West. However, there is certainly something to be said for being able to keep a good thing going. It appears as though Chicago has finally and definitively switched Cristobal Huet out and Antti Niemi in between the pipes, which is still a bit of an experiment no matter how well Niemi has played lately.
Chicago stands to be the team that might benefit most from the Olympics, specifically individual performances. Marian Hossa got off to a rough start in Chicago — he didn't play until Thanksgiving, and didnt really start scoring until New Year's (13 points in his first 17 games). Hossa really started to get his legs under him as the calendar turned to 2010, and a strong Olympic performance for Slovakia (nine points in seven games) should only serve to keep his offensive motor revving.
Having Hossa peaking at the right time will make the Hawks even deeper and more dangerous than they already are, and that should have their Western Conference opponents concerned.
Philadelphia Flyers - Philly also recently made a swap in net, benching the perennially overrated Ray Emery in favor of Michael Leighton. It has worked thus far, helping Philly win four in a row coming into the break. However, that doesn't change their offensive struggles, and Leighton has stumbled before.
Boston Bruins - Like the Flyers, the Bruins won four in a row to hit the break on an up note, and also made a goalie swap, dropping Tim Thomas in favor of Tukka Rask. But Thomas wasn't really the problem; the four game winning streak improved the Bruins' record in 2010 to 7-10-4, and they scored two goals or less in 16 of those 21 games. Add to that Boston's middling record on the road and a seven-games-in-ten-days road trip coming very soon, and no length of break could save them if they don't find some offense soon.
Washington Capitals - The Caps were the talk of the town in winning 17 of 18 games, but that streak covered up a lot of weakness. Washington was outgunning their opponents more than anything, surrendering 45 goals during that span. Given their pre-break losses of 6-5, 6-5, and 4-3, that style of play might finally be catching up to them a bit.
A highly disappointing Olympic performance for the team's two superstars – Ovechkin and Semin – could leave the Caps considering themselves lucky that they get a six-game home stand against the likes of Tampa and Dallas. That said, I wouldn't be shocked if Washington finished the season as the 2nd or 3rd seed with a much more challenging path to the Cup.