How five NHL teams fared after returning from COVID-related pauses

Boston Bruins' Charlie Coyle (13) celebrates the goal by Matt Grzelcyk on Buffalo Sabres' Linus Ullmark (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

In recent, normal NHL seasons, teams have been granted a "bye week" where the schedule goes quiet for a time. It's a chance to rest, regain strength and get ready for the grind to the end of the regular season and beyond.

Of course, you can still get on the ice on those bye weeks. You can still get out and do activities. You can take a break while staying ready.

But pauses have taken on a different form in this condensed schedule. If you get one, it's probably due to a COVID situation with the team (though Dallas also had to shutdown for a week due to power outages in Texas) and that means no practice ice is available. It also means you're in quarantine and still having to follow NHL guidelines. It's not your usual kind of break.

A number of NHL teams have had their seasons paused due to COVID, and it's affected other pro sports as well. The Toronto Raptors had to pause and went a week between games in March. When they returned, they lost seven in a row, became trade deadline sellers, and now their playoff hopes are on thin ice.

The fact is, every team will respond to these unscheduled breaks differently, and it's hard to tell what impact the illness itself has directly had on individual performances to those who actually contracted it. In the NHL, simply appearing on the COVID list doesn't mean you've contracted it, but it could be the result of a close contact or contact tracing.

No situation has been the exact same.

The North Division had its first games postponed due to COVID protocols last week when the Montreal Canadiens had four games deferred. It came right as they were in the middle of a playoff race, hanging on to the fourth and final spot. But the Calgary Flames struggled and were unable to move past them in the meantime.

It's hopeful the Canadiens will return to practice later on Monday and to game action Tuesday against Edmonton. Whenever they hit the ice again, they'll have an opportunity to really create distance on the Flames, who have played five more games than Montreal and still sit two points behind.

But how have these teams responded in their first stretch of games back, and then in the long run from pauses? We focus on five NHL teams who had to take a break for at least a week due to the NHL's COVID protocols and how they did upon returning.


Record before pause: 4-4-2
Record after pause: 2-20-2

The most jarring post-COVID result is from the Sabres, who weren't special in January but had at least earned wins over Washington and Philadelphia, and were playing .500 hockey. Since returning from that 14-day pause, though, they have easily been the NHL's worst team and have now gone 17 in a row without a win. They've fired their coach, their star player and starting goalie went down to injury, their top free agent signing said he's open to a trade. It's not been fun.

Buffalo was already a team with plenty of questions and played a bunch of listless hockey games last season, too. So, it's hard to say how much of this is due to the holes in the rebuilding team or the coaching, and how much of it was an effect of waiting two weeks, or perhaps the lingering impact of COVID itself. The scariest part about it all was Rasmus Ristolainen describing his symptoms.

"Sometimes there were quite disturbed states of being," he told Finnish reporter Sami Hoffren (quotes translated from Finnish). "When there was chest pain, it felt like my heart was cracking as I walked up the stairs. A couple of evenings there were such conditions when I went to bed that I didn’t know if I woke up here anymore in the morning.”


Record before pause: 2-1-0
Record after pause: 21-6-3

The Canes had their facility shutdown for six days and went 10 days between games when their season had to be paused. Immediately back from this hiatus, Carolina ripped off four wins in a row, including a 1-0 OT decision against the defending champion Lightning in which they outshot Tampa 36-32 in their very first game. Petr Mrazek earned the shutout.

Perhaps it was better to sit for a week so early in the season, when every team was getting back from a lot of time off. Since returning with that win, the Canes have the NHL's best points percentage.


Record before pause: 7-3-1
Record after pause: 14-5-3

The Avs shut down happened after a home game against Minnesota when players from both teams were added to the NHL's COVID list. Colorado went 12 days between games and head coach Jared Bednar was worried how well they would bounce back from the break after seeing his team's first return to practice.

"[I've] got a lot of concern, especially after our practice today," Bednar said on Feb. 14. "The guys don't have their legs underneath them. We'll just see how the next couple days go. We'll put our best foot forward, but do I have concerns, absolutely."

The Avalanche outshot Vegas 30-24 in their first game back, but were stymied by Marc-Andre Fleury in a 1-0 regulation loss. Two days later they beat Vegas 3-2 and then beat them again on the weekend with a 3-2 decision at Lake Tahoe.

Colorado went 4-3 in their first seven games back and the offence was a bit slower to come at first. But in the month of March they have been an absolutely dominant team with a 61.37 per cent shot share at 5-on-5 (second best team is 57.35 per cent) and outscoring their opponents 41-22 at 5-on-5. They've lost just twice in regulation in 14 games this month.


Record before pause: 6-5-0
Record after pause: 15-5-1

When the Wild had six players added to the NHL's COVID list, they had to shut down for 13 days. At the time some young kids were leading the scoring with Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Kirill Kaprizov the leaders. They were in the middle of the league as a possession team and in other measures including shooting percentage. They had new and exciting blood, and had just hung with the Colorado Avalanche for a few games. But they hadn't exploded.

Since returning, the Wild haven't improved any possession-wise, but their team shooting and save percentages have. Rookie netminder Kaapo Kahkonen got the first start back from their break and his .930 save percentage since then has been one of the best in the league. Kaprizov has continued his rise, but Mats Zuccarello returned from an arm injury that forced him to miss the start of the season and he's been Minnesota's top scorer in the past 21 games, during which he's been a point per game player.

The Wild were on a road trip when they returned from their pause and though they were shutout by Los Angeles in the first game, they won their next four, including a 6-2 decision over Colorado. That started a stretch where they lost only one game in regulation over a nine-game period.


Record before pause: 8-3-2
Record after pause: 8-10-2

Things are just about off the rails for them right now, punctuated by a couple recent lopsided losses to the Rangers. But in Philadelphia's first three weeks back from their pause, they had some strong underlying numbers. They were fourth in 5-on-5 Corsi (53.70), eighth in shots for percentage (52.47) and eighth in scoring chances for percentage (52.80), per Natural Stat Trick. Each of those were staggering improvements from what they were doing before the pause.

That doesn't tell the whole story though.

Lately defensive lapses have completely collapsed in front of their netminders. Those issues have been getting much worse lately and over the past two-and-a-half weeks the Flyers have won just three of 10 as both goalies have imploded. Star young netminder Carter Hart's save percentage is a shocking .815 this month and he will be made a healthy scratch on Monday and Wednesday. For what it's worth, Hart was never put on the COVID list.

There's also the little note that, prior to their pause, the Flyers were the highest PDO team in the league at 5-on-5. Their shooting percentage was through the roof at 13.56 and was always due for a decline. Since coming back? That mark is at 7.28, 20th in the league at 5-on-5.

Philadelphia's record was maybe showing a little better than the team had been performing before their pause and some of what's happened over the past few weeks is due to regression. But that kind of inconsistency has followed this group for a time, so their result is perhaps a deeper roster issue.

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.