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Inside the 2021 NHL Season

 

Inside the 2021 NHL Season

The 2021 NHL season has been unlike any other in league history. A grueling regular-season schedule has turned games into virtual playoff series. Short-term division realignment has brought about new rivalries.

 

COVID-19 postponements have extended the end of the season, so the NHL is sprinting a marathon in the hopes of reaching the finish line and starting the 2021-22 season on time.

Here are some of the top stories from inside the 2021 NHL season.

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 COVID-19 Wreaks Havoc in Vancouver

Far and away, COVID-19 hit the Vancouver Canucks harder than any other team. The Canucks shut down on March 24 as COVID-19 infected the team and didn't play again until April 18. At one point, 21 Canucks players and four members of the team staff all tested positive for coronavirus.

While we've barely scratched the surface of understanding COVID-19's long-term effects, the short-term impact saw players who would normally have been in the lineup held out while reconditioning to play. Vancouver used several players from the taxi squad and the club's AHL affiliate to play the Toronto Maple Leafs Sunday night in Vancouver.

Amazingly for those betting on hockey, the Canucks erased a 2-0 deficit to tie the game in the third. Captain Bo Horvat scored his second goal of the game 1:19 into overtime to pull one of the biggest regular-season upsets in league history.

"This isn't just your regular win during the regular season," Canucks head coach Travis Green said. "It's a special win. We've gone through a lot here with our group over the last few weeks."

Buffalo's Historic Skid

The Buffalo Sabres entered the 2021 season full of promise. The club signed former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall to a one-year deal. They were hoping pairing Hall with star center Jack Eichel would result in Buffalo's first playoff appearance in 10 seasons.

What happened instead was the death of playoff dreams by 1,000 papercuts.

Buffalo set an NHL record with 18 consecutive losses, blowing a 3-0 third-period lead to lose in overtime and break the previous record of 17 straight defeats. Eichel suffered a neck injury during the skid, which has likely shut him down for the season. The second overall pick in 2015, Eichel is increasingly frustrated with the club's ineptitude and may ask for a trade in the offseason.

During the losing streak, winger Jeff Skinner was healthy scratched from the lineup because of poor play. The 28-year-old is in the first year of an eight-year extension, paying $9 million annually.

At the trade deadline, Buffalo traded Hall to the Boston Bruins. It took Hall just three games in Boston to match his season goal total during his 37-game total with the Sabres.

According to MoneyPuck.com, the Sabres have a 17% chance to land the top pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

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Rookies Leading the Way

The 2021 Calder Trophy race may be the most difficult to predict in league history. Across the league, first-year NHLers are having a significant impact on the playoff picture.

Minnesota's Kirill Kaprizov leads all rookies with 17 goals and 36 points, and he is the Wild's leading scorer. Hot on his tail is Dallas' Jason Robertson, who has scored 12 goals and leads all rookies with 20 assists. As of publication, 27 rookies have at least 10 points.

Rookie goaltenders are basking in the spotlight as well. Washington's Vitek Vanecek is the pacesetter with 17 wins. Carolina's Alex Nedeljkovic and the Islanders' Ilya Sorokin each have three shutouts and are putting their clubs in an excellent playoff position.

As of April 11, seven rookies have +800 odds or better at online sportsbooks to win the Calder, one of the closest races this late into a season in recent memory

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