First Star, Worst Star: December 20, 2015

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year; mediocre college bowl games are in full effect, Christmas is right around the corner and the WJC tournament starts in less than a week! But until then you’ll just have to have First Star, Worst Star to tide you over. 

FIRST STAR

Todd Nelson’s short tenure in Edmonton was somewhat divisive. Some would argue that while a handful of players had their seasons turned around and looked to be making forward progress when Uncle Todd rolled into town on his hog, the Oilers still won less than 20 games in over 50 tries with Nelly and his ill-fitting suits behind the bench. Others would argue that none of that matters, and that his stint with the Oilers was a smashing success purely by virtue of him not being Dallas Eakins. 

I think we can all agree that we’re thrilled to have Todd McLellan as the Oilers head coach, but I don’t think anyone would have been mad if Nelson was given a full season behind the bench to really see where he was at as a coach. Therefore it wasn’t a surprise when he was offered the head coaching gig for the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Detroit farm team that is held up as THE standard for minor league development. His start with the Griffins? Not great… 

Grand Rapids started off the season with 4 straight losses, and finished the first month of the season with a 2-9 record. Obviously not the kind of start you want, especially with a team just two years out from a Calder Cup championship win. Since then?

The Griffins have won FOURTEEN games in a row, and look like they may never lose again! Fourteen games in a row; the Oilers have only won fourteen games all season as of right now! And they’re winning in dominating fashion too, with 7 of those 14 wins being by at least 3 goals. They are on absolute fire right now, and it’ll be fun to keep tabs on how they’re doing for the rest of the season. 

Nelson was great with the Barons, respectable with the Oilers, and looks to be continuing his strong run in the AHL with his new team. At this point it’s a matter of when, not if, we’ll see Todd Nelson behind an NHL bench again in the near future. 

WORST STAR

The Oilers have hit the skids again, but for anyone with even a remote bit of common sense this shouldn’t be a surprise. What IS a surprise, however, is another team that have hit the skids even harder than the Oilers: The Montreal Canadiens. 

Montreal came out of the gates like a horse on fire, winning their first 9 games, one shy of tying the NHL record for most wins in a row to start an NHL season. They continued to play well, cementing themselves as the best team in the NHL through the first month of the season. And then Carey Price got hurt… 

The first time Carey Price was injured backup goalie Mike Condon came in and absolutely shined, posting an 8-2-1 record with a 2.14 GAA and a .917 save percentage. The Canadiens kept rolling despite the absence of their best player, and everything seemed to be going fine. And then Carey Price got hurt again… 

This time something has been different. Mike Condon has fallen back down to earth, going 2-5-1 during this latest stretch. Not that this is entirely on Condon either, as the Habs have only won 3 games during that time, and over their last 10 are a disappointing 2-7-1.  

Frustration is starting to set in, and Habs captain Max Pacioretty didn’t hold back in letting his feelings be known after an embarrassing 6-2 loss to the Stars on Saturday. 

And it’s not just the loss of Price that has handcuffed the Habs in the month of December. They’ve also lost their offensive spark, averaging only 1.72 goals per game over their last 11 contests. Pacioretty has one goal and a minus 9 to his name. P.K Subban has two assists in those same 11 games, as does Thomas Plekanec in the last 7. 

The Habs got off to such a hot start that even with this free fall they still have a 3 point lead over the Bruins for top spot in the Atlantic, but the Bruins are surging, looking to over take them. With games against the Preds, Wild and Capitals up next for the Habs it looks like they may gift the Bruins top spot in the Atlantic by boxing day. The Habs SHOULD be fine, especially when they get Price back in the new year, but if they don’t figure something out here soon they may find themselves battling for a wild card spot, rather than a division title.