During the early part of the 2021 NHL season, COVID-19 dominated the headlines.
Thirty-five games were postponed, and there were 59 players on the COVID-19 protocol list on Feb. 12.
But things have turned around, with no recent COVID-related postponements and the list in the single digits. Fans are returning in limited numbers to many U.S. arenas.
"We’ve been on this every day with the medical experts and enhancing our protocols, and it’s gotten us to a better place," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
That has allowed the focus to be back on the ice. Who are the winners and losers of the first half of the NHL season?
Winner: Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
The Golden Knights held on to both of their high-priced goalies, and Fleury outplayed 2020 acquisition Robin Lehner early. He took off when Lehner was hurt. Fleury is in the running for the Vezina Trophy with a 1.77 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
Loser: Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart
He was in the Vezina Trophy equation entering this season after recording 24 wins, a 2.42 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 2019-20. But his struggles (3.62, .884) have been puzzling. He was lit up by the Boston Bruins in the Lake Tahoe game. In a start against the Buffalo Sabres, he was pulled after giving three goals on eight shots. He made a couple big saves late in the Flyers' 5-4 overtime win against the New York Rangers on Monday. "I definitely feel better, but I still have a lot of areas I need to keep working at," he told reporters. "It's just nice to get back in the win column."
Winner: Florida Panthers
They had the pieces with three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville, two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, star forwards Aleksandr Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and former No. 1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad. They just needed time to jell. Newcomer Patric Hornqvist has provided gritty scoring and former American Hockey League standout Carter Verhaeghe was a good pickup. Chris Driedger's strong play in net gave Bobrovsky time to get back in form.
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